Legacy of horror
In the end, the kids got the last word. And who can blame them for claiming it?
Last week, Katherine Reddick placed a paid obituary in the Reno Gazette-Journal that offered no kind words in memory of her mother, Marianne, who recently died in an area nursing home. Instead, the obituary provided an incredibly scathing indictment of a mother, in a most public forum.
Think I’m exaggerating? Reddick wrote, in part: “She is survived by her 6 of 8 children whom she spent her lifetime torturing in every way possible. While she neglected and abused her small children, she refused to allow anyone else to care or show compassion towards them. When they became adults she stalked and tortured anyone they dared to love. Everyone she met, adult or child was tortured by her cruelty and exposure to violence, criminal activity, vulgarity, and hatred of the gentle or kind human spirit.”
At first, controversy swirled around whether the obituary was a fake. It was submitted to the newspaper through a “self-service on-line portal,” since no doubt the flesh and blood people who used to write obituaries were victims of cost-cutting long ago. But quickly the facts emerged. Katherine Reddick was indeed a child removed from home at an early age, who grew up in foster care, finally leaving Nevada’s state orphanage (now closed), the Children’s Home in Carson City, in 1974 when she turned 18.
Katherine and her brother Patrick Reddick from Minden described their childhood to the Reno Gazette-Journal in horrifying detail. It included physical and emotional abuse, not just by their mother, but also in the various foster homes they were shuffled through. One of their siblings, William, died in foster care in Las Vegas when he was just 16 months old. Their mother’s parental rights were never terminated so they couldn’t be adopted and have a chance at a childhood most of us take for granted.
The siblings decided to place the obituary to bring attention to the crime of child abuse in the hope that other children will be protected as they were not. Patrick told the newspaper, “People may see this as something we did to shame our mother. But this is to bring shame to the issue of child abuse.”
The Reddicks found the courage to voice their childhood rage and bring attention to the abomination of parental and systemic child abuse by revealing the very personal circumstances of their lives. We should thank them for that, hoping that the ugly obituary causes some parents to consider their own behavior.
It’s worth noting that Nevada has made significant improvements in protecting children from abuse and neglect since the ’60s and ’70s, particularly through the hard work of visionary legislators such as former state Sen. Sue Wagner, who advocated for children’s rights, and former Speaker Barbara Buckley who doggedly insisted on integrating county and state systems so children would not be lost in the maze.
In Washoe County, we were fortunate to have a dedicated child welfare leader, May Shelton, who was unafraid to face the unpleasant facts of a system where too many children were dying and advocated successfully for a property tax increase dedicated to protecting children.
The Reddicks’ harsh and unforgiving words are shocking only because we rarely hear the truth so clearly from children who suffer tremendous physical and psychic terror from the person who is supposed to love them the most. Their expressed wish that their mother will spend her days “in the after-life reliving each gesture of violence, cruelty, and shame that she delivered on her children” is a message every one of us should reflect upon to determine what we can personally do to ensure their pain is not visited upon the next generation.