Trigger warning: This post deals with domestic violence and suicide.
Popping my head into the lounge, I glanced at my daughter Kellie, 15, who was elbow-deep in her make-up bag.
"What do you need all that for?" I groaned, rolling my eyes.
I'd only asked her to pop to the shop for a carton of milk, but she insisted on applying a full face of make-up first.
I didn't wear a scrap of the stuff, but Kellie loved getting dolled up.
She went on to study beauty at college, then had three children and life as a busy single mum took over.
Kellie always made time for me and her friends, though.
Every Sunday, she'd put on a huge roast dinner and invite everyone over.
It was lovely, but I hoped she'd soon meet someone special.
So when Kellie asked me to babysit while she went to the pub one night, I happily agreed.
Weeks later, I popped into Kellie's for a cuppa, and found a tall, short-haired bloke on her couch.
"Hello," he said, getting to his feet. "I'm Steve."
Kellie, then 29, had met Steve Gane, 30, in the pub that night I'd babysat. He'd moved in with her two weeks later.
It seemed a bit quick to me.
"As long as I'm happy, that's all that matters," Kellie reassured me.
As our family got to know Steve, who was an ex-soldier, we came to like him.
Kellie's brother even helped him get a job as a delivery driver.
Whenever I popped in to Kellie's place now, Steve was busy pottering about the house, fixing things or mowing the lawn.
"I'm glad he's taking care of you properly," I told Kellie.
"Me too," she smiled.
She also stopped using make-up and wearing crop tops and tight jeans.
Finally happy in her own skin, I reckoned.
During the day, she'd go around in the delivery van with Steve and on the odd occasion I'd see her alone, he'd call to check in with her.
One afternoon, Kellie was over when her phone rang for the second time.
It was Steve again.
"Oh, for God's sake!" she said, hitting the green button.
"Hi Steve," I shouted in the background. "Kellie's still with me, love!"
Afterwards, I asked her if everything was okay.
"Oh yeah," she said, grinning. "Typical bloke, he just gets jealous."
We laughed it off.
One Saturday morning five months later, I was waiting for Kellie to text what time I should drop by, but when my phone beeped, it was her friend.
What's wrong with Kellie?, the message said.
Then I saw a picture of an ambulance outside her house posted on Facebook.
I tried calling Kellie, then Steve, but couldn't get through.
Then, someone from the local hospital called.
"Get down here as fast as you can," he simply said.
On the way, I wondered if Kellie had broken her leg.
If it had been serious, surely Steve would have called me?
I was escorted to a waiting room in the ICU, where Steve was pacing, and two police officers were standing by.
"They're going to blame me," he told me.
"For what?" I said, confused.
"She went and hanged herself," he replied.
Goosebumps raced up my arms.
"You'd better leave," I said, beginning to shake.
Police showed him out as a doctor arrived and explained Kellie had been found at home.
Paramedics had spent 45 minutes reviving her.
Now, she was on life support.
"When will she wake up?" I asked, devastated.
But they weren't sure that she would, and ordered tests on her brain.
Numb, I was taken to Kellie's room. I took her hand in mine and began to sob.
What had been going through her mind? How on earth had this happened?
Soon, the waiting room was packed with friends and family.
Nobody could believe Kellie would try to kill herself.
"She wouldn't do this," I assured our police Family Liaison Officer.
I heard from Steve's mates that while Kellie lay in a coma, he was in the pub, joking about where he'd live now.
Those weren't the words of a caring, grieving boyfriend. We urged the police to investigate.
On the third day, tests showed Kellie had suffered permanent brain damage.
The doctor told us there was no hope for her.
We said our goodbyes, then the machines were switched off.
Kellie's chest instantly fell still, the colour draining from her skin within seconds.
I began howling as I realised my beautiful, bubbly daughter was gone.
For four months, we couldn't bury Kellie as post-mortems and police investigations continued.
Steve was arrested, charged and bailed.
Three months after her death, hundreds attended as we laid Kellie to rest.
My grief turned to anger as Steven Gane, 31, appeared at St Albans Crown Court, where he denied controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate relationship, assault by beating and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
During the trial, the horrific truth came out.
All the time I'd believed Kellie was in a happy, healthy relationship, he'd been abusing her, even splitting her head open and choking her.
I couldn't believe we were talking about the same man.
The court heard Kellie had gone from positive and outgoing to isolated and anxious.
When she'd told Steve about her plans to end her life, he'd texted: Do everyone a favour and go ahead and do it.
When she didn't reply, he'd rushed home and found her.
Finding Steve guilty, the judge told him: "You inveigled your way into her affections and her house and you then sought to dominate and control her.
"You treated her as a meal ticket that was yours to control. You beat her and you ground her down and you broke her spirit."
Steve was jailed for four years and three months, the maximum possible.
The judge also imposed a Criminal Behaviour Order, lasting 10 years, requiring Steve to inform the police of any sexual relationship he has in the future lasting more than 14 days.
I still feel robbed as Steve will be out next year, having served just two years.
It's a disgrace.
I have to tell myself Kellie is away on a holiday, because knowing I'll never see her again is too much to bear.
I want other women to know what some men are capable of and how to recognise coercive behaviour.
It's unbearable that when Kellie needed me most, I didn't know it. But that's what men like Steve do – bulldoze their victims into silence.
Abusive relationships are not just about the bruises. It includes your spirit being broken.
So I beg of you, if your partner makes you feel like Kellie did in her final months, please ask for help. It may just save your life.
If you or someone you know is struggling to cope, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit their website here.
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Now To LoveDec 05, 2019