Worst of Clubs, best of support

2009-01-10 00:00

NOT long after her son Brett Goldin was murdered by gangsters in Cape Town in 2006, Denise Goldin received a call from a man who had also suffered the death of a child. “He was a pharmacist, Bruce Watson. He and his wife, Hillary, came to visit me because they had lost their daughter to cancer.

“They hugged me and Bruce said to me: ‘Welcome to the worst club in the world.’

“That struck a deep note with me,” says Goldin. “They came as grieving parents themselves to offer their support. I found that extremely moving. I needed to know I would survive this. They were the first of many parents who came to visit us. When you lose a child, all you want to do is die and be with them. You can’t believe they are gone. I used to run around the house saying: ‘Brett, where are you, where are you?’ The grief is unbearable.”

Goldin and her husband Peter’s lives changed irrevocably when, Brett, who was one of the stars of the popular local film Crazy Monkey — The Movie (Straight Outta Benoni), and his friend Richard Bloom were hijacked, assaulted and shot execution-style after leaving a party in Camps Bay.

The close-knit couple and their daughter Samantha had no idea they were about to become members of what has become the Worst Club in the World, but it was, in fact, the support of other parents which sustained the family.

“Many people came to visit us during our mourning period. One day there were a number of us sitting round the table and I said, we really do belong to the worst club in the world,” says Goldin.

We are meeting in Camps Bay at the home of a friend of Goldin, where she is linking up with Cape-based members of the club to which nobody wants to belong. Since Brett’s death, Denise Goldin has herself been reaching out to other parents whose children have been lost to crime. She has also become closely involved with the group Stand Against Crime and hosts its weekly meetings in her home.

With her today in Cape Town is another member of the club, Megan Kaimowitz, mother of Ashley Kaimowitz, who was killed when the car she was driving was hit by a drunk driver in January 2005. An outstanding pupil, Ashley, before her death, was named Rotary Young Person of the Year. The Kaimowitzes were one of the couples who contacted the Goldins after Brett’s death, and a strong friendship was forged.

“It is healing to meet with other parents who have lost children. In my case, I reached a stage where I realised if these people could survive then maybe I can as well. People who have been through this don’t have to say anything.

They provide an unspoken comfort,” says Goldin. A warm, engaging woman, Goldin is best summed up by the words of renowned actor, writer and director Antony Sher — who, with Oscar-award winner Jon Blair, came to South Africa to make a documentary about murder and violence in the country, Murder Most Foul, which features the murder of Brett and Richard Bloom. Sher described her as a woman with “remarkable eloquence and stillness”.

He related how her husband and daughter both had the same look in their eyes as Goldin — “a particular dark tiredness”.

“These three people had wept more in recent months than the rest of us might in a lifetime,” Sher wrote. At one stage, Goldin was suffering such overwhelming grief, it was thought she might not survive it, he continued.

Goldin was advised to face her demons head-on after Brett died. “So that is what I did. I found great spiritual fulfilment in speaking to other mothers who have lost their children. That is how the Worst Club in the World came about.

For all of us there has been such a sense of relief to know that there are others who really do know what you were feeling,” she says. One member of the Worst Club is Sharon Matthews, whose daughter Leigh was kidnapped from the Bond University campus in Johannesburg and murdered in 2004. Donovan Moodley was convicted of shooting her dead after extorting R50 000 from her father, Rob Matthews.

“Sharon just knocked on my door and came to see me. She held me and we just cried and cried together. There was an instant bond between us. There was also a great similarity between her case and mine. Both children were kidnapped and we didn’t know what happened to our children in their final hours. We didn’t know what they were thinking. Were they terrified? How quick were their deaths?

“Both surviving siblings, our daughters, are in touch with each other. Sharon does amazing work with the Leigh Matthews Trauma Centre.”

As backbones of the Worst Club, Matthews and Goldin and a group of other people meet regularly to help other people through their loss. “Whenever we hear of a parent who has lost a child, we go and see them. It is usually passed on to us through the media or through Stand Against Crime. We have among us some incredibly warm and generous souls who feel privileged to go out and visit people who have lost their children.

“Our little group meet often and have lunch together and a good laugh. We have a very close bond. We talk openly about our children, then about politics, then back to the children again. It is such a healing process to meet and be together. We all feel that when we connect our children are connecting.”

The Worst Club in the World meets regularly for informal meetings, usually over tea. “Our meetings are upbeat, especially on birthdays and other milestones. We celebrate our children’s birthdays.”

Another member of The Club is Elaine Siebert, whose little boy Steven was murdered by paedophile Theunis Olivier in Plettenberg Bay at Christmas time in 2005.

“Elaine is like a daughter to me. We have become very close,” says Goldin. “We met at a candle-lighting for children lost to crime. She came to see me after Brett’s death and we have met a number of times. It has come to us through a number of sources that Brett is looking after Steven. Psychics have given us descriptions of Brett holding the hand of this little boy. They say: ‘Tell Steven’s mom he doesn’t hate school anymore and doesn’t get tummy ache anymore.’ ”

Another member of the club who has also become a dear friend to Goldin is Sophie Kupane, whose daughter Angela was butchered with a kitchen knife after two robbers broke into her family’s Johannesburg home in April 2006.

“We heard, during a meeting of the Worst Club, that Sophie was taking a lot of strain, so I called her and she came over. We have maintained steady contact.”

According to Goldin, there is an unwritten rule in the club that if one of the members calls another, they take the call.

“You have to, because you know what they are going through. You know that that person is learning to live around that black hole I spoke about. Sometimes, they stand a chance of sliding in. But you can’t afford to slide in, or to allow anybody else to. I have a friend called Rosalee, who sometimes phones me at 2 am. We talk about such trivial stuff. We start by saying what’s wrong. Then we remind each other of how we used to walk around Hillbrow having coffee, where I grew up. We don’t dwell on the pain. It is an unbelievable release to know that somebody else has felt your fear and can empathise.”

When I ask her how women who have lost a child carry on, she replies: “All of us do something. One friend does spiritual jewellery, one makes music. One woman does yoga and gym. I spend time with people.”

She beams: “And I now have a grandson, Maximillian — son of my daughter Samantha — who is the light and joy of my life. I try to see him every day, but, sadly, they are due to leave for Australia in March.”

When her daughter emigrates with her family, Denise will only have her father — “a very active 94-year-old” — left in South Africa. Goldin describes how she always had a close bond with Brett. “He was asthmatic as a child. I carried a doctor’s pager with me everywhere. I was always very protective over him. Brett and I had an amazing relationship. Thank God I have no regrets. I never have to say if only I had said this or told him this. We spoke every day, sometimes twice a day and every conversation ended with ‘I love you’.

“You become very introspective after you lose a child. I am a completely different person now — far more caring and understanding. I am so much more spiritually aware and understanding of the frailties of human life — and much more tolerant .

“When Brett died, I saw this tremendous outpouring of grief from people whose lives he touched. I remembered how he would sometimes come home from a shoot and say, “I thought it was great, but the director never said anything.”

Those same directors wrote tributes to him. If only they had said it when he was alive, it would have made such a difference in his life.

“I’ve learnt the importance of telling people how you feel. If your children do something, stop and watch them. Listen to them. Say well done, that’s fantastic."

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