By Amanda Shay-Brookhart
I have spent many months trying to figure out what I would say about the loss of my sister, Cheryl. Two years after her death, we finally received word from authorities that her death indeed was a homicide not a suicide. My heart is in an ocean of feelings including happiness and anger. I know that seems weird, but the authorities were forcing suicide down my throat and I knew in my heart she didn’t do it. I find it comforting to know she didn’t take her life.
Our father chose not to disclose that he had children when my mother married him. Our dad’s life was like a George Thorogood song. Cheryl and I did not get to be in each other’s lives until we were adults. It has been hard to process; my father stole us growing up together, and the devil stole the rest. We were able to have about 5 years together. We never met in person, yes, it is sad, but it is what it is. We spent countless hours on the phone and learned just how much we were alike without growing up together. Chery’s daughters are closer in age to me than she was, but she loved me as if we had known each other our whole lives.
I spent countless hours looking for her. I made about a hundred phone calls to random people that started with: “Please don’t hang up, I am not a telemarketer. My name is Amanda and I am trying to find my sister Cheryl, our dad is Robert Taylor.” I had just about given up when our dad’s wife said: “Did you ever think, maybe she doesn’t want to be found? If she wanted found it wouldn’t be that hard to find her. Maybe you should quit.” Little did that woman know just how much resolve I can find in myself when someone tells me not to do something. One last stab is what I told myself. Lucky for me (bad deal for the neighbor) her neighbors house had been broken into or caught on fire (you would think I would remember the details but sadly nope) her name was in the police blotter as a witness. Well, I knew she had to be the house on the right or the house on the left… So I sent two letters with my phone number and a description of who I was… and I waited… then the phone rang. We never quit talking to each other afterwards.
I’m not going to lie, I am not southern… half the stuff she said on the phone the first year I couldn’t understand, but we were talking! By the time we had known each other for a while I started to catch about 75% of what she said. We learned how much we were alike. The good and the bad. She was there for me whenever I needed her. For a while she kept me from going back to drinking. I would call her after class, about 11pm her time, she would talk with me on the phone the whole way home. I had to pass about five liquor stores to get to my house. When I was on the phone with her, I knew I could get home without stopping. Once I was home, I knew I was safe. She was there every time I needed her, and she never judged me or threw the book at me.
She spent many hours telling me about her family. She adored both of her brothers and was even worried about one of them feeling like he would be replaced with her newfound family. She had so much room in her heart and was more than willing to give you a place in it. I know that she is in heaven saving each of us a seat at God’s table, and a member of our cloud of witnesses.
My sister was retired military, hard headed, a warrior, and a survivor. She had survived two divorces and being a single parent. She was not afraid to be herself and was a strong woman. Cheryl was a born-again Christian, tongue talkin’, God loving woman. She drank and smoked and had a heart of gold. A horseback riding, baseball cap wearing, southern girl who would give you the shirt off her back. She loved her daughters and her family with her whole heart. She had pulled herself out of the ash heap a few times and had her whole life ahead of her.
Cheryl was active in her church and loved her time in the street ministry. They served burgers and prayed with the people they came across. She explained to me that there was a population of prostitutes and those addicted to alcohol and drugs in the area they served. She wanted me to come out and spend time with her there. She spent many evenings serving the population and providing prayer to all who needed it. She was unafraid of what others might think or how she would be received. Her zeal for seeing the lost saved was so strong. Our great grandfather was a Pentecostal preacher that had miracles occur during his tent revivals. Out of the three of us kids, I knew she would be the one to blaze his footsteps.
When we met, I was a long road away from being saved. Somewhere in the middle of everything I found Jesus, for real this time. I had been saved in the past but spent my time drinking whiskey and running from Him. A couple years later in the middle of a conversation about God we got into a conversation about our prayer language. You know that is an off colored topic for many Christians, both of us beat around the bush before one of us finally stated I pray in tongues, do you? Once she learned that I had what she had, she was content that I had everything she had to give from God. Cheryl was am amazing woman with a heart to see all God’s people receive the freedom of salvation. She wanted to give to others what God had given her.
One night she met Keith. He was an alcoholic whom she prayed for. She secretly prayed that any drop of alcohol he drank would make him violently sick. When they met again, he told her the story of his drinking experience, which was confirmation for her that God had heard her prayer. Keith and Cheryl began to get to know each other and date. From my vantage point the changes were subtle at first. She didn’t let me in on what was really going on in her home until about six months before her death.
Keith was controlling, manipulative, and abusive. He twisted the word of God to create a prison to keep her in. He accused her of cheating with members of her church. Having a causal conversation with members would end in a fight at home. Eventually she left the church altogether. Normal things caused accusations to fly at home. A trip to the local Walmart alone would cause a fight at home. He was constantly accusing her of cheating and running around. He broke her down into a shell of a person.
She had no freedom, no say in her life or the direction it was running. She confided in me one day about the whole thing. We prayed together on the phone, and she wept the entire time. God used me to speak life into her heart, mind, and body. God desperately wanted to break down the lies Keith had fed her. She was worthy of real love. She was a woman of virtue. She was loved by God and was precious. Words she had not heard in a long time.
Keith used small lies, just like the devil did to Eve, to distort the word of God. A signature of abuse in a “Christian” home. Keith went off the rails a few times and held a gun to both their heads and threatened to pull the trigger. The stress Cheryl went through was intense. Her phone calls and texts were not safe either, he received a transcript of all her phone activity. She commented to me that she never understood why women didn’t leave abusive relationships. She thought they needed to find their backbone and walk out. At this point in her life she completely understood why they couldn’t leave. She stated that if she left him, he would kill himself. My response was: it was a ruse to keep her captive. He wouldn’t do it, just watch. Her heart was too big, and her responsibility to his life too strong. She stayed a little longer. I warned her of what it would do to her girls if he ever pulled the trigger.
Our phone call ended abruptly with “He is here I have to go, I love you sis.” After that call we were never allowed to talk alone on the phone. He was always in the background of each call. She finally found the strength to get away and was working a plan to get out. She had confided in a few people at work but knew she had a long and dangerous road ahead. I knew nothing about her plans, if I had I would have made her come stay with me for a few months or sat on her front porch with a 12 gauge, I think she knew that I would be afraid for her.
There are many details of the situation that are hazy, and the truth has not come out yet. There is talk that she was afraid to go to her home and was staying with others. It is evident that she knew she was on a dangerous path because she was in the process of doubling down on her life insurance. Then the night came. Cheryl drove home from work talking with her youngest on the phone. After telling her daughter she loved her and hung up the phone she walked into her house. No one knows what really happened that night, Cheryl made a trip to the bathroom and never walked out. Keith shot her, ending her life in an instant.
Keith waited to call the police, maybe he was getting rid of evidence, maybe he was in shock. When the police were called, he pretended that Cheryl had no family. God provided a voice to tell her daughter that there was an incident that occurred at her mom’s home. Cheryl’s mom was the one to show up. Keith stated that Cheryl had taken her own life and he couldn’t stop her. The police agreed that “it would have been hard for another person to have shot her from the direction the gun wash pointed.” The “evidence” pointed to Cheryl. The medical examiner thought that the situation was suspicious and had Keith tested for gun shot residue. I called the detective and shared the story Cheryl had shared with me. His response was it was hearsay and that the victim was not alive to be questioned. He also told me he was 99% sure that she had killed herself and that I needed to come to terms with her choice. A year or so later the lab testing came in (yes it takes a long time when the tests are not expedited) Keith had tested positive for gun shot residue.
When the police showed up at his door to question him, he took his life. I was told by a minister that Keith was torn up about the loss of Cheryl. I believe that just as the devil used Keith to twist the word of God the devil twisted Cheryl’s death in his mind. I do not believe that he was in his right mind when he took her life, if he had he would have run and not called the police. While I feel that he should have had to face the world and tell the truth of the events of that night, the fight is over for justice. I feel that he spent many years hearing the lies of the devil that he walked through hell every day. I am sad that my sister was dragged into a hell on earth during her last years here. I know that she is walking on streets of gold and spending every day in heaven waiting to see all of us again. She is watching over us and cheering us on. I am sure she is even planning holy bomb fire parties to celebrate our new life in heaven.
I do not tell this story to scare women who are in their own hell on earth. Cheryl’s story is a sobering one. I have heard people say, but he wouldn’t really hurt me or take my life. My sister felt the same way. The reality is it takes a second to end a life, to forever change the world. How many people would the loss of your life effect?
Right now, you may think you don’t matter, that you are worthless and unimportant. These are the lies of the devil. God and I say you are worthy of the unending reckless love God has for you. You are important and have a destiny on this earth to fulfill. Your life is important, and you are precious. You were the reason Jesus came down from heaven and sacrificed Himself on the cross. He did all of it for you because He loves you and wants you to have a full life on earth and a life in paradise in heaven when your time comes to go home. He will be with you every step you take to get out of the abusive relationship you may be in right now. He has also put into place people who specialize in helping women out of relationships like the one you may be in. They have the tools and resources to keep you safe and help you out of the ash heap you may be in right now. I cannot tell you it will be easy, I won’t lie to you. You will have to find your resolve to never return to that life again. It will be easier to stay than to leave. The result of staying will be years of your life taken by stress and abuse. If you are lucky, your life will stay intact, but your heart and soul will suffer. God will give you everything you need to get out of a relationship like Cheryl’s. It is possible to start again.
“God loves you, and so do I”