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A guiding light - Tina's story

A guiding light - Tina's story

Image of Tina who lost her brother

Tina began her letter to Victim Support with a whakataukī – a Māori proverb.

Kia hora te marino,
kia whakapapa pounamu te moana,
kia tere te Kārohirohi i mua i tōu huarahi.

May the calm be widespread,
may the ocean glisten as greenstone,
may the shimmer of light forever dance across your pathway.

“It’s a really old proverb,” she says, when asked about its meaning in her letter.

“When you go to a marae and we have our Kaikōrero or our men speaking, a lot of the time what they are saying are proverbs which are repeated within our culture over and over again and used to describe life and describe events. They describe how someone feels in a certain point in their life.”

“These are proverbs to guide your life by really and that was one I thought about often when Shelley was dealing with us. It really summed up how she impacted us.”

Shelley is Tina’s Victim Support Worker. She was there almost from the beginning, when Tina lost her brother to homicide.

Tina wrote the letter to Victim Support to express how she felt about the support she and her whānau received from Shelley. "I wanted to let everyone know, at a time when you are lost in a sea of tragedy to have that beacon of light guiding you back is of vital importance and largely goes without thanks or unappreciated. With regards to Shelley, she went above and beyond to help us as a whānau.”

Victim Support assigned another Support Worker to assist the family with the autopsy in Auckland and then Shelley made contact with Tina as soon as she returned home. “To establish that relationship with Shelley early on in the piece was I think vital to our family’s ability to start healing as soon as possible. You break a little bit as a family when a tragedy happens,” explains Tina.

“The family unit becomes very shaky and having Shelley there and not having to meet new people and having to explain over again how you are feeling. Shelley was right on it from day one. She was right on top of everything we needed. She knew where we were at in terms of our emotional state of mind. To have that continuity was I think pivotal in our family’s ability to start healing.”

Aside from one occasion when her grandchild was born, Shelley was by Tina’s side at every court appearance.

“There was only one time she wasn’t at court and that was when her moko was born, says Tina. It was a long drawn out process – I think it went for seven weeks, it might have been eight – she made herself available and guided us through it.”

“It can be really hard on families, and it’s really hard to watch that as a Support Worker,” says Shelley of the court process.

"I wanted to let everyone know, at a time when you are lost in a sea of tragedy to have that beacon of light guiding you back is of vital importance and largely goes without thanks or unappreciated. With regards to Shelley, she went above and beyond to help us as a whānau.”

“It was very overwhelming and scary to be fair. Hearing things you don’t want to hear, seeing things you don’t want to see, in terms of evidence,” remembers Tina. “It was quite shocking really what came out. A lot of it was expected but when you’re faced with it, it takes your breath away.”

Shelley came to Victim Support with a degree in Social Work and spent her initial three years with the organisation as a volunteer. She is now a staff Family Harm Support Worker but also works on other more complex cases such as homicide when the need arises.

The approach to her work remains the same as when she was a volunteer.

“She really feels it,” say Tina, about Shelley. “This is not a job, this is her. Giving her love, support, understanding and guidance to people at a time when your judgement is clouded, and your thoughts are clouded. It’s scary. Everything is new and you are thinking – ‘what do I do’?”

The trial had many long, gruelling, emotion filled days.

“There were times when we were still in Rotorua at 6 o’clock at night during the trial and we said ‘you’ve still got a two-hour drive home Shell – you don’t have to be here with us’. Her wanting to do that just blew my mind,” says Tina.

Shelley got to know the family at a time they were at their most vulnerable. The lengthy time frame of most serious crime cases means a high degree of trust and strong connection is built. "It’s about being there for them. Supporting them at their pace every step of the way. If a family didn’t want me to go to court, I wouldn’t go. It’s all at their pace and according to their needs."

Having been both a volunteer and then a Support Worker on staff, Shelley has experienced the two sides of Victim Support’s mixed service delivery model. Underpinning both is the ethos of providing help with heart.

“I’ve worked in government departments and my history is I did 16 years with WINZ as their Outreach Manager and then I’ve worked in education and I’ve never met anyone as pono (honest and true) or tūturu (real) as Shelley, says Tina.”

“She made time and she made me feel important and heard. To feel heard is another really important thing.”

The journey of a serious crime victim is not one with a finite ending. There may be times further practical help is needed with re-trials or parole hearings, more emotional support might be needed if grief or trauma reappear.

Tina knows Shelley continues to be there for her and her whānau. Just like she might be guided by her ancestors and the wisdom of whakataukī. Another proverb might come to mind, similar to the one that so beautifully captured how she felt about Shelley in her letter.

“These words move so freely into today,” she says of whakataukī.  “To a whole new generation and a whole other lifetime and you keep the culture alive by remembering and sharing these thoughts of our tūpuna.”

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