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Mourning moms rise from the ashes - After losing kids to violence, group therapy heals mothers

Published:Sunday | February 17, 2019 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris/Staff Reporter
Yvonne Saunders is overcome with emotion as she talks about her son who was killed.

Maureen Williams was still trying to come to terms with the murder of her 35-year-old son, Altiman Bryan, when her 25-year-old son mysteriously disappeared and rumours started circulating that he, too, had been murdered.

Both losses occurred six months apart in 2017, and since then, life has been unbearable. The mother of six is now responsible for raising five grandchildren as a result of her sons’ demise. As if providing for them is not hard enough, she finds that she often has to provide the answers for their fathers’ absence from their lives as well.

“You see the 35-year-old one, him little boy a go a school and the teacher a have problem with him. Him say him want his father,” she said.

“When the teacher call mi, mi go and mi tell him say me a go carry him where his father is buried, so he would calm down,” an emotional Williams told The Sunday Gleaner.

Williams uses every opportunity to take the three children he left behind to Meadowrest Memorial Gardens in St Catherine, so that they can visit his grave, but she cannot offer this small reprieve to the children of her 25-year-old son because he disappeared without a trace. This has been a painful reality for her.

“Like how mi have him daughter, she would say, ‘Grandma, Grandma, my father soon come from work’?”

Like Williams, the 24 other women who make up the parent support group, Mothers Against Gun Violence, are often required to provide answers to loved ones about their children’s death, while seeking answers themselves.

The group was started by the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) in October 2018 with financial support from UNICEF, and seeks to provide mothers with coping strategies. They meet once per month.

“We have mothers in the programme who have lost three children in less than two years,” said Berthlyn Plummer, a senior manager at the PMI and head of its social work department.

“What we are doing now is to have counselling and therapy with them to help them to overcome the trauma, to help them heal and to process that trauma in a manner in which they are able to cope and deal with the loss properly,” she said.

Healing process slow

For Yvonne Saunders, the healing process has been slow. Her 39-year-old son, who went by the name ‘Pete’, was shot to death in a west Kingston community last year.

“I don’t know when I will ever forget him. When he was alive and anything a gwaan, I could say ‘Pete, I want this, enuh’, or ‘I want that’. If I want to go to the doctor or I want my medication, he would buy it and give me,” she said, while using the back of her hand to wipe tears away as they flowed.

“He was my only source. Him dead leave one child and everything leave on me,” said Saunders, who now sells ice cream so that she can financially support her granddaughter.

Clinical therapist at the PMI, June Torey-Scott, often assists these women with the grieving process.

“It is a lot of things that they are carrying, but you allow them to ventilate and to just feel free to just empty themselves,” she said.

The death of a loved one is painful, but she finds that the loss of a child, in particular, is very deep.

“It is very hard, you have to be really strong, because it is coming from deep down, something that hurts to the core, and some of the persons, those persons were their sole supporter, and that even makes it worse,” added Torey-Scott, who volunteers her services.

Plummer said that under the Mothers Against Gun Violence programme, grieving mothers are introduced to varying strategies to help them cope. They generally have them undergo a full medical evaluation and then have them do both group therapy and individual counselling.

“In some instances, we have to refer some of them to outside help,” she said.

“We have mothers who are suicidal and have suicide ideation, depression, and all the other things that go with trauma and loss,” she explained.

The facilitators of the programme also offer occupational therapy. In December, they offered floral arrangement lessons, and then the mothers were provided with funding to earn an income from this skill.

“We had what you call ‘turn your hand and make fashion’. It was an assignment that they should do over the Christmas period, but they got a stipend of $5,000 to buy material and resources for that,” she said.

“It helped them to develop their own self-help project where they use their money and design projects that they could earn some money over the holidays,” she explained.

When The Sunday Gleaner visited the women recently, they were doing table and napkin setting.

Plummer said there is demand for the intervention, but they have intentionally kept this current group at 25 persons.

“There are so many mothers wanting to join, because there are so many grieving mothers and family members in the community, but we could just start with that small number. It is therapeutic, so we cannot bring them all in. If we are able to get funding, then we would do another batch,” she said.