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A group of people stand in a circle in a small room in Wentworth. They join hands, bow their heads, and pray. Many of them try to control their tears but others can’t hold back. They wipe their faces with tissues and hand towels before sitting down.
Every second Wednesday, this room at the Women of Wentworth Centre in Austerville Drive serves as a safe space for these people to share their grief, frustration and pain. They all have one thing in common – dealing with the death of a loved one.
After the prayer, the meeting is opened by the group’s founder, Audrey Anderson. Ten years ago, she was in a car accident with her mother, father, and 10-year-old son. While she and her father survived, her mother and son did not.
Within the same year, she lost her uncle, grandmother, and partner to various illnesses. “It was devastating, and I had nowhere to turn to for help in coping with my pain,” she said.
The realisation that there were very few places for people to go to to cope with the death of a loved one led Anderson to start the grief support group.
“Grieving is a process,” she said. “People don’t understand that and they don’t know how to cope with it, so they turn to alcohol or drugs as a way out, not realising they need to face the trauma head-on.”
Moving in a circle, each person told their story and spoke about how they were coping.
Ruby Blackburn, who was there with her husband Carl, spoke about losing her 17-year-old son when he was hit by a car while riding his motorbike two years ago.
“Joey was ripped out of my heart,” she said. “That morning, he gave the dogs a bath and washed his father’s car, and then got on his bike and said he was going to his friend’s house to watch a movie.
“His motorbike was loud, and I could hear him driving down Ogle Road. And then I heard a loud bang, followed by the sound of the bike being dragged along the road. It felt like a block of ice was opening my head,” she said. “I knew my child was dead.”
Blackburn said she eventually phoned the woman who had knocked Joey. “I needed to hear the voice of the woman who killed my son,” she said. “She said she was sorry and I started crying. She did sound sorry, but she gets to go on with her life, and I don’t.”
Blackburn said the support group meetings were a great help as it was good to see people who were going through similar things.
While many people spoke about losing relatives to cancer, heart attacks, and in car accidents, Anderson said most of them were there because their children had been murdered.
Colleen Heslop’s 17-year-old daughter was murdered in 2008. She became angry when she spoke about how the police had failed her.
“My child wasn’t sick, she was murdered, and the cops do nothing,” she said. “She was beaten up and dumped on a field, and I need closure in my life.”
Sharon Alliesaib, 57, has lost two of her four children. In 2009, her eldest son drowned at Cuttings Beach, and the next year, her youngest son was shot and killed by a group of men after his brother had allegedly killed one of their friends a week earlier. She said her second son was now receiving threats on his life.
Shirley King, the newest member of the group, sobbed as she spoke about how her 20-year-old son was stabbed at Suncoast Casino last year. “It makes me so angry,” she said. “He was stabbed in the heart and the guy who stabbed him just disappeared. I don’t know why he killed my son.”
While the support group may not provide any answers, most of its members say the meetings help with their grief. “Emotions are something you can’t control, but we have to allow ourselves to breathe,” said Anderson. “Grieving is a process and we have to work through it. If you don’t deal with it, then it destroys you.”
The grief support group is open to anyone, and is held every second Wednesday at the Women of Wentworth Centre in Austerville Drive at 7pm. Call Audrey Anderson at 083 613 0688.
Daughter, grandson no more
Hazel Eastwood is battling to find closure to the murder of her daughter in 2007 and her grandson just 11 months later.
The 64-year-old Wentworth woman has had to endure seeing her daughter’s naked body lying in a bush, and her grandson being shot and killed in front of her.
Candice Stanley, 22, was raped and murdered on August 22, 2007.
“She had gone out with a friend that evening, and told me she would be back by 9pm,” Eastwood recalled. “The next morning she wasn’t home. A few hours later, the police came and spoke to my son, Dean, and said that Candice had been murdered.”
Eastwood was taken to see the body, and found her daughter lying naked in a bush. “She had been strangled, her neck was cut open and she had been raped,” she said.
The distraught mother believes her daughter knew her killers, and said that police had questioned a suspect, who ran away.
“I don’t know why Candice was killed. I’ve spoken to the boys who I think did it, but they all deny it and blame each other,” said Eastwood. “Up to today, I have no closure on her murder.”
She described her daughter as “reserved”, saying she often kept to herself.
She said the murder had affected Candice’s nine-year-old son, who was five years old at the time, very badly. “He gets so angry when people talk about his mother.”
Eleven months later, in July 2008, Eastwood said she witnessed her 18-year-old grandson’s murder.
Enver Stanley had gone out with friends, and Eastwood had woken up early the next morning to wait for his return.
“I was standing outside my house with my other grandson, and I saw Enver. He was backing away from a group of guys. Then one of them pulled a gun and shot him in the neck.”
Enver was rushed to Wentworth Hospital, but died on arrival.
“He knew those guys well,” said Eastwood. “I don’t know why they killed him.”
She said although she was an eyewitness to the murder, police said they had insufficient evidence to make any arrests.
“Police here don’t do anything,” she said. “Our children are being molested every day and there are no arrests. Gangs are running the show here.”
Stabbed while trying to stop a fight
“Hello sweety it’s me ToeToe. Just wanted to say I love you and please keep me in your prayers. I’m going for an operation just now ’cos the doctor said he needs to operate on my heart. Will see you when I do come out, but not sure when that is. Hope you had a nice time at Suncoast, ’cos I did. Just the ending was not good, but I’ll be ok. I’m in a lot of pain but I’ll make it through. Goodnight. I love you and I mean it.”
These were the last words sent by 20-year-old Antonio ‘ToeToe’ King to his girlfriend via Mxit on October 1 last year before he died during a heart operation at Addington Hospital.
King was stabbed at Suncoast Casino after trying to stop a group of men from beating up a young boy.
Speaking from her Wentworth home, his mother, Shirley King, said her son had gone to Suncoast with his friends and was waiting for a taxi to go home when he witnessed the fight.
After rescuing the boy from being assaulted, she said, her son backed away, but was then stabbed in the heart.
“He didn’t realise he had been stabbed at first. He was up and walking,” King said. “He went back to his friends and when they saw that he was bleeding, they wrapped their T-shirts around him and rushed him to hospital in a taxi.”
She said her son phoned her at about 1.30am to tell her he had been stabbed in the heart and needed an operation. “When I got to the hospital, the doctors said he would make it,” she said.
“He even sent a message to his girlfriend, saying he would be coming home.”
King went in for surgery, but was declared dead at 7am.
“ToeToe had just passed matric and had started working,” King said.
“He wanted to help me with money.”
It’s been 10 months since her son’s murder, and King said her pain was not getting any better.
“If the guy who killed my son were to walk into my house, I would kill him. He must be punished. I just want justice for my son.”
King said she had spoken to the boy who her son had protected. “He said he was sorry and that it should have been him who died,” she said.
Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said investigations were continuing.
‘A group of men killed my son’
Wentworth grandmother, Sharon Alliesaib, still mourns the death of her youngest son more than two years ago, while fearing for the life of his older brother.
Alliesaib’s 20-year-old son, Sheldon, was shot dead in June 2010 by a group of men who were allegedly taking revenge for the death of one of their friends.
Alliesaib, 57, explained that her 30-year-old son, Alwyn, had killed a boy a week before Sheldon’s murder.
“Alwyn said this boy kept interfering with him,” she said. “The boy had a big knife and a broken bottle and wanted to stab Alwyn. Alwyn tried to chase him away, but he kept coming forward, so Alwyn shot him. Our lives changed that second.”
A week later, after the boy’s funeral, Alliesaib said his friends came looking for Alwyn. But when they couldn’t find him, they went after his younger brother.
“They wanted to hurt Alwyn the way he hurt them,” she said.
“Sheldon was at his girlfriend’s house that day, and witnesses told me there were six cars out looking for him. As he was walking home, they stopped him in a park, and said: ‘Remember what your brother did the other day?’”
Sheldon was shot four times – in the neck, shoulder, chest and thigh. He died at the scene.
While Alliesaib still celebrates Sheldon’s birthday and visits his grave, she worries about Alwyn’s fate.
“Alwyn was arrested for shooting that boy, and his case is still going on,” she said. “I’m worried that if he doesn’t go to jail, these guys will kill him.”
“He says he knows they’ll shoot him.
“He fears they will hurt me or his daughter.”
Police spokesman, Captain Thulani Zwane, said Sheldon’s murder was still being investigated.
‘I now focus on self-healing’
After losing her boyfriend of 14 years, a Wentworth resident has decided to focus on healing her emotions rather than focusing on the legalities of his death.
Antoinette Jacobs, 42, received a call in December 2009 to say that her boyfriend, Roland Sanders, had been assaulted and had died in the Northern Cape.
“He had been there for about a year working for a refinery,” said Jacobs. “He phoned me that night to say he had been beaten up, but that he was okay.”
The next morning, Jacobs received a call from Sanders’ uncle saying he had died. “I thought he was joking,” she said.
“I still don’t understand what happened. Roland was a friendly guy who liked to go out drinking, so he could have been involved in a bar fight or he could have been mugged on his way out.
“I don’t think I will ever know what really happened.”
But Jacobs said she would rather not focus on the legal side of the situation, instead focusing on healing her emotions to get closure. “When Roland died, his parents focused more on his funeral arrangements than on finding out what happened,” she said.
Sanders and Jacobs had been together for 14 years, and were thinking about getting married.
“He had a beautiful personality and people were drawn to him. He was a good Christian. We had our ups and downs like everyone else, but we were a happy couple.”
Jacobs said for about a year after Sanders died, she had panic attacks and couldn’t handle her grief. “I was still connected to him and I wanted to blame God. I wanted to die too,” she said. “We don’t think about death. We go on with our lives and make plans for the future, and we never think that death will come.”
Since then, she has become stronger and has accepted the death, despite still not knowing what happened to Sanders.
“The main thing for me was getting over the shock,” she said. “But now I leave it in God’s hands.”
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