Jennifer Sheehan remembers her home life well. Starting from the age of 4, the 23-year-old nurse at Memorial Sloan Kettering says her earliest memories of the violence in her home were the sounds of screaming and things breaking downstairs beneath her bedroom.
“I didn’t get up from my bed… I remember going to sleep scared.” Jennifer continued recounting a series of harrowing childhood experiences during an interview with The Forum. One by one she dredged up the memories of the household where a mother’s love was the only barrier between two children and their raging, abusive father.
“He would never say anything to us.” Jennifer recalled coming home from school; her father sitting on the sofa reading the newspaper. “He never even looked up.” There were no happy times in the Sheehan house when Raymond Sheehan was there. “You would never know what would set him off. If something wasn’t where he wanted it, that was more than enough for my mother to get beat.”
Even mealtime was a trauma, especially when Raymond Sheehan didn’t like the menu. “My brother and I love my mother’s sauce. I remember one night when we were eating. She put the dish down in front of him—it was right off the stove. He picked up the dish and poured the whole thing over her head.”
And there were other times, many of them when Jennifer says she and her brother, Ray, saw their mother getting beaten. One of the worst she can remember was after her mother had accidentally scraped the side view mirror on the car when pulling into the driveway.
She heard crying and screaming coming from the living room downstairs. “I came out of my room to look. My father’s gun was lying next to him on the table. He was on the couch, on top of my mother. He just kept punching her. All over her body. Harder and harder. She just cried and cried, begging him to stop. Asking him over and over again, ‘Why are you doing this?” But Raymond Sheehan never answered. He would finish with his beating, get up and go out.
Of the beatings and the bruises, Jennifer says there are far too many to recall. “Her eyes were black and blue. There were marks on her arm. And then I would see my mom in her pajamas, where other people did not. And there were bruises all over her.”
And the reflections of other violence in the house; when on occasion her father would use his hands on her. “I remember one time, I was about eight. He grabbed me and picked me up. He threw me across the room. My mom got in between to help me. Then he beat her.”
Now Jennifer says she doesn’t get as upset as she used to when talking about the life she and her mother and brother spent with Ray Sheehan. She says life is much better. “The most anxiety comes from worrying about my mom’s trial. We are still not free to move on until we have that behind us. But at least we are all safe.” And she says that she hopes her mom will have the chance to work helping other victims of domestic violence.
When asked about the personal relationship with her father the pain in her eyes is obvious. “There was no relationship. Never. Not with me and not with my brother. We didn’t go to his funeral and the only reason I went to his wake was because I had to see for myself that he was really dead. I had to see that now we were really safe.”
Of her mother Jennifer Sheehan says very simply, “No matter what was going on with my mom, she never let anything get in the way of her love for us. She protected us from him. She is the best mother we could have.”
Jennifer Sheehan says she still suffers from anxiety attacks whenever she thinks about the trial. “I have to believe that when the judge and the jury hear what we have to say, they’ll know the truth.”