By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell
The billing for the Sistahs Soiree Brunch offered advance notice: “…be ready for some candid conversations.”
With the Memphis Botanical Garden as the setting (Aug. 10), the guest speaker – Augusta (Ga.) news anchor Dee Griffin, a former news anchor in Memphis – recounted her journey from planning a dream wedding through marital abuse to recovering and becoming an advocate to help “save the lives of women, and men, affected by domestic violence.”
For Griffin, the first major sign that something might be amiss with her happily-ever-after plans happened the night before her wedding day.
“He got angry with me because I was late, but I was waiting on a surprise I had ordered for him,” she said. “He had never yelled at me before. I wanted to call off the wedding, but my family and friends convinced me that it was only pre-wedding jitters and a case of cold feet. And so, I brushed it off.”
And brushed it off, she did. All was forgiven, and the fairytale wedding in her hometown of Augusta, Ga. was everything Griffin had dreamed. She soon left Memphis and relocated to Boston, Mass., where her husband was a rising star in the education sector.
Fighting through the progressively escalating tell-tale signs of abuse, Griffin would have her dream, despite the cracks that began to show the imperfections in her relationship. She would hold fast to the illusion of her picture-perfect marriage to the man of her dreams for dear life.
Almost immediately, Griffin was pregnant with their first child. When she was three months pregnant, the mounting aggression could no longer be ignored.
“He got in my face and was yelling at me,” she said. “And he called me the n-word.”
But the storm wasn’t over yet.
“That wasn’t the end. He was so angry. He started walking toward me. I was thinking, ‘Is he going to hit me?’ So I left. I just drove around for a while. Finally, I decided to get a room at the Marriott hotel. I came home the next day. He chastised and scolded me, and then it was over.”
At seven months pregnant, Griffin says her husband got angry and pushed her.
“There was this closet where I would run and hide,” she said. “I called my cousin because I knew it was going to get worse. And it did. After I had my baby, my husband attacked me, hitting and kicking me. He was arrested that time.”
Griffin did what statistics indicate that other victims do.
“I fought for my marriage. I didn’t consider myself an abuse victim. I felt that we could make it work with some counseling, but he wasn’t interested in that.”
When the baby was five weeks old, Griffin knew she had no other option but to flee. Leaving would save her life. Heartbroken and ashamed, she called her mother, Helen Griffin. Both her mother and sister were on the road within hours to bring Griffin and little Pierce Isiah back home. (“Isiah” was the name of Griffin’s grandfather and great grandfather.)
Griffin was despondent and humiliated. Her mother had not yet apprised her own husband of the situation. When they called him on the way back, the phone was handed to Griffin. She started to tell her father the details and the dam of emotions broke. She was weeping and couldn’t speak of it so her sister took the phone and told their father about it.
Her father, retired Sergeant Major Albert Griffin Jr., who served in the 24th Infantry of the Buffalo Soldiers, fought in the Korean conflict and in Vietnam, simply told her, “Bring my grandson home.”
Now, the former news broadcaster at the top of her game is a single mother who lost everything – her home in Memphis, her money, her position – all in the name of love. She said in a prior interview how she slept on the floor of her mother’s house for fear that her husband would come shoot up the house.
Like a nightmare she couldn’t wake up from, Griffin’s trauma nearly sent her over the edge.
Her husband filed for divorce, and in a final, major hit, he terminated his parental rights, disavowing any ownership of his ex-wife or their son.
“After his parental rights were terminated, I asked my father if I could give Pierce his last name,” Griffin recalled. “He said, ‘I would be honored.’”
With no spousal support and no child support, Griffin also discovered that her ex-husband had been cheating on her since before their marriage with a Memphis woman. It was just all too much for her.
Even with her Christian upbringing, she considered suicide.
“God gave me Pierce so I could keep going,” she said. “I thought about committing suicide, but I had to keep going for him. My father taught him to salute. So, every time we left the house, he would salute my father. When he was four, my father passed away. I have a photo of Pierce saluting him in the casket. I just lost it.
“My father said, ‘I walked you down the aisle to a monster,’ and that just broke him down,” Griffin said. “He never got over that. It took him out.”
It’s been four years since little Pierce saluted his grandfather for the last time. He’s eight now, and spends a lot of time at the Augusta television station where his mom works.
“When he comes to the station, the first thing he does is go looking for the meteorologist, George Myers,” said Griffin. “George is a father figure to him, and I’m just so grateful. I lost everything, but my son and I have everything we need.”
Before Griffin’s father died, he gave her a solemn and weighty charge: “Use your words. Tell your story.” He gave her the courage to move beyond the shame and embarrassment of her abuse and tell her story.
Whether it’s a prayer luncheon in front of hundreds of women, or to one woman in a chance meeting at a grocery store, Griffin encourages women to find their own voice in abusive situations.
“I’m not trying to hurt anyone, but I must tell my story. I did not choose this mission. The mission chose me. I am working on a book about my experiences and the lessons I have learned. I hope it will help someone else.”
This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender