For Those Left Behind

Let’s talk about supporting the women and children left behind when a man goes to prison, shall we? Today seems like a good day to do it. I didn’t sleep much last night, and I woke from my fitful rest with a heavy heart and a mind full of memories. Yesterday two families experienced a tragedy – one man’s life lost and another man’s life forever altered as the result of a deadly fight. I read about it here, and was so sad to see that the man taken into custody for suspicion of murder was Heneli Kaufusi, an old high school buddy of mine. We weren’t particularly close, but I always respected him and admired the kindness he exuded and his easy smile. Of late, I’ve followed his success as an artist and clothing designer – an urban clothing line called LOA clothing (an acronym for Law of Attraction) that focused on the theme of love and bringing the Polynesian community together. I think now, more than ever, it’s obvious why we need to focus on love and oneness as a community: because this event proves that even those with a deep commitment to that theme can fall victim to the longstanding history of violence that plagues us.

My heart hurts this morning. This hits close to home, both because of my association with those involved and also because of my own experience with this type of violence and loss. I mourn for both men – Sione Mangisi who lost his life, and Heneli Kaufusi who allegedly took that life and has to live with the consequences of that decision for the rest of his. Such a tragedy. I’m overwhelmed with sadness for both of them. And, perhaps even more so, I’m overcome with grief for the families of these men. My heart is particularly softened towards the women who have lost a husband, son, and brother, and towards the children who have lost not one, but two fathers in one horrifically tragic event.

Over the past decade and a half, there have been many times when, in bewilderment, anger, or grief, I have looked to God and wondered why he saw fit to bless me with the particular experiences I’ve lived through. I was pregnant with our oldest when Finau went to prison for homicide by assault, and pregnant with our fifth and youngest  when he went back to Utah and was incarcerated again, where he remains today. My children have spent the majority of their lives fatherless as a result of the Polynesian on Polynesian violence that Heneli Kaufusi’s clothing line sought to mitigate, and now it would appear that Heneli, too, has fallen victim to that violence. I’ve wondered more than once what lesson I could possibly need to learn from the sad, hard circumstances I’ve endured, what good could come of the tragedies I’ve encountered. And, while I don’t always find the answers when I seek them, I’ve often thought that maybe these experiences will help me help others. I’ve thought about writing this post many times, but each time I talked myself out of it for one reason or another. But, in light of the tragedy before us, on behalf of the women and children left behind, today I want to share some experiences that I hope will help those that ever have the misfortune of being left behind in the wake of this type of tragedy, and maybe give those inclined to be supportive a starting place for showing that support.

To the women and children left behind: You are loved. You are loved and remembered. You are loved and remembered and I pray you will be supported. This post is for you.

And to those who would offer their support to women and children in these kinds of circumstances: I would like to share a little bit of my life with you in the hopes that you are able to ease the burdens of the collateral victims of such tragedies.

Please remember the children, and, when you do, let them know you are thinking about them.

I have been so grateful for the many father figures that have wandered in and out of my kids’ lives as their biological father has been unavailable to them. I’m thinking right now of the bishop who took time out of his very busy schedule to come to our house the night before school started to give my kids a beginning of the school year father’s blessing. As a father himself, it would have been easy for him to feel like he had enough on his plate the night before the first day of school. But, as the father of our ward, he could never know how much it meant to me that my kids were remembered and cared for and ministered to in that way. It meant so much to me, and it meant so much to them.

I also think about the time my friend’s husband went out of his way to allow an excitable – and undoubtedly annoying – little 3 year old boy tag along and follow him around all night, asking him questions, asking to sit on his lap. He probably didn’t realize that this 3 year old was desperately missing his dad, and will never understand how much it meant to us that he made my son feel loved and welcome and like he was a part of their family, if only for a moment.

My own brothers, dad, stepdad, and cousins have stepped in time and time and time again to make sure that while my children don’t have their biological father in their everyday lives, they never lack for father figures. I am so grateful for their love and for the positive role models my kids have to look up to.

So, please, remember the children on holidays, on important milestone days, and also “just because.”

Please remember the children’s mother, and, when you do, let her know you’re thinking about her.

For all intents and purposes, losing a spouse to long-term incarceration is much like becoming a widow, but the women left behind are not usually given the same support that a widow might receive. I don’t think this is intentional, it’s just that people don’t realize exactly what a woman whose companion is incarcerated experiences. When Finau went to prison, I lost my physical and emotional companion and my sole financial support. There have been so many times when I felt like I was absolutely at the end of my rope, but there was no one there to catch my children if I let go of that rope. I had to figure out a way to support a family of six by finding a job that would allow me the flexibility I needed to be the mom of a newborn, medically fragile 1 year old twins, a 2 year old with special needs, and an 8 year old with severe ADHD, all of whom got sick easily, had frequent doctors appointments, and needed a parent that could be available at a moment’s notice. I had to find daycare, and spent hours on the phone getting medical insurance and daycare financial assistance and the like, and it was HARD. Really hard. I am forever grateful for the friends I’ve had along the way who have picked up the pieces when I’ve fallen apart and given me a safe and warm place to land. I’m grateful for my mom and stepdad for taking my little family in when we needed a roof over our head, even though it was – and continues to be – a huge, noisy, messy disruption to their otherwise quiet, organized life. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve had that saw me drowning and said, “Here, let me help. We’re going to get you a sitter once a week so that you have some time for yourself that you can count on and use to regroup and center yourself when things get hard.”

Remember the children’s mother. She has physical, emotional, and financial needs. She needs a break. She needs a friend. She needs a nap. She will need your support, and probably won’t ask for it.

Please remember the family members of both parties, and, if appropriate, let them know.

I’ve witnessed firsthand what violence and incarceration do to the family members of those involved in the violence and its aftermath. It is soul crushing and incredibly sad and stressful, and we often don’t think of the collateral damage that occurs when a person goes to prison. Those left behind need your love and understanding. And they do not need for you to speculate about what happened or why. Let the facts come out. Remember that there are real people on both sides of every tragedy who love and care about those involved. Give them space to mourn and process with dignity and peace. I felt a lot of guilt and shame over what happened with Finau, and I appreciated the love and support of kind, non-judgmental people at that time in my life. The extended families of those who are involved in a tragedy like this deserve your kindness, your love, and your well-wishes. They do not need your condemnation, your nosiness, or your disdain.

Remember the family members, and if you have an established relationship with them, express that love in ways you know they would appreciate; if you do not have an established relationship, offer prayers or send positive thoughts out into the world on their behalf, but don’t be pushy with your support, as you will likely come across as merely curious and insincere.

If you are called to walk the path I’ve already been down, I mourn with you. I wish you didn’t have to walk that road. It’s hard and sad and it hurts like hell. But, you can do it. I’m sending you love and strength, and I hope this inspires those who will be put in your path to help you in the ways you need and in the times that you need it. Praying for healing and peace for those involved and for the community at large. Love is always the answer.

tukuafu kids

12 responses to “For Those Left Behind

  1. I love you Kalani. You are a hero to me.

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  2. You are an amazing and inspiring woman!!!

    Thank you for sharing your story and giving us the insight we need to help those left behind. It’s always difficult to know when to give help or how to give help, but your experiences will help us help others.

    May the Lord continue to comfort you and your family, as well as all the women and children left behind.

    Alofa atu.

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  3. Thank you for shedding light on this very topic. I, too, had walked a similar path and had to deal with all the emotions that you have expressed during, after and now, while trying to rebuild a life. My heart immediately went out to the wife and kids affected and I was sad for them and the road that was ahead of them. I pray that this woman and her children will receive the same support you and I had while traveling this difficult path. So much love and prayers to all families involved in this tragedy….Alofa Tele & Ofa atu.

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  4. I HEAR YOU LOUD AND CLEAR AND WE HAVE NOT MET YET, BUT I TRULY SYMPATHIZE WITH YOU AND THE REST WHO HAVE FALLEN ON HARD TIMES JUST BECAUSE OF UNFORESEEN CIRCUMSTANCES IN YOUR YOUNG LIVES. I’M PRAYING AND ASKING GOD FOR HIS INTERVENTION IN THESE MATTERS, AND TO HELP ALL FAMILIES RELATED TO THIS PARTICULAR CASE AND ALL OTHERS WHO ARE IN THE SAME BOAT. I KNOW THE DECEASED FAMILY FOR I WENT TO SCHOOL WITH HIS 2 AUNTIES IN TONGA, AND ALSO KNOW NEARLY EVERYONE INVOLVED BUT FROM A DISTANCE ONLY. OH HOW I WISH THAT I HAD A MAGIC WAND SO I CAN JUST WAVE AWAY THE BAD DREAMS AND SITUATIONS WHICH WE ARE ALL IN . PRAYING AND HOPING FOR PEACE IN ALL THE FAMILIES INVOLVED, AND MAY THE ALMIGHTY HELP EVERYONE TO UNDERSTAND AND TO HAVE COMPASSION AND HUMILITY TOWARDS THOSE WHOSE LIVES ARE TURNED UPSIDE DOWN IN THIS CASE. ‘OFA LAHI ATU MOE HUFAKI KE TOKA ‘A SIONE MANGISI ‘IHE NONGA MOE MELINO ‘AE TAMA HEVANI PEA KENE FAKAFIEMALIE KIHE UITOU KAE’UMA’A ‘AE SI’I HOA MOE FAMILI ‘O HENELI KAUFUSI.

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  5. I love your story haven’t been down that road and wont wish it on anyone.thats just sad. My heart goes out to u and ur lil family hope all is falling into place for u now. And my heart goes out to the mother and children . Oku ikai ha lea feunga mo fkfiemalie e oatu he oku ikai kete sii ilo ae hala Ko ia.ka oku ou kole ki he tamai hevani kene oatu ha nonga mo ha fiemalie ki he fanau tau tefuti ki he nau fa’e. ‘Ofa Lahi Atu

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  6. Thank you for sharing this heart felt story sister
    Shedding light on this is the best thing sister to let others know the truth
    I’m praying for you and your family sister
    You are a strong, courageous, kind, loving, caring, beautiful, diligent and spiritual sister
    There are many words of greatness to describe you sister, you are a beautiful heart and soul
    May Our Heavenly Father watch over and bless you and your beautiful family sister
    My love and thoughts are with you sister

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  7. I thank you for your courage and love to share your experiences, hats off to you and I wish your story should be shared to every Tongan families in the world. We may not know each other butone of the deceased is a relative of mine…RIP Sione Mangisi and love to all families that are included in this terrible tragedy.

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  8. Thanks for sharing this, Kalani. I’m sorry you’ve gone through such difficulty. I appreciate you offering these pointers to people about what has been helpful as support.

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  9. I love you cuzzin!! I know you are a strong woman! Thank you for sharing your story of survival to help us become better people!! Thank you for your wisdom & intelligence!!

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  10. Great heartfelt love and information for so many. One thing I have loved in my years is my friendships with so many Polynesians. They have always been such good friends while sharing the love and ones culture with me. The gentle giants are so many. Luckily I’ve only experienced all the good they have to share. By example and sharing of the great food and most of all so many I’ve been lucky enough to know have such great personalities. They really have a wonderful bond when it comes to family. This is a sad story all around as a woman shares what she has been through while another senseless murder awakens her heart and love that she shared so much good with us. I know the cousin of the deceased. He has been a great example and is another who is strong and very kind. I pray that us men will all learn what the definition of a man is so that we will put childish things behind us and serve and protect our loved ones at all times. As it is said the tears of the woman are counted by the lord so I hope we all can mature even more and do our best to be the men we were sent here to be. The Domino effect of these terrible actions and bad choices will go on for many years. I pray that somehow we will all realize that we must always work together as one. I know these children have a long road ahead. But I also know that there will be no shortage of good men willing to help and teach them along this short yet painful road. Bless both families. I hope that we will follow our hearts and react by example and actions. If it is in our heart we must make it an action otherwise it was for not and we have wasted a great opportunity to serve. Even though we all know that we will get more than we could ever imagine back from the ones we show love. I know all will come together and use this tragedy as a wake up call. I hope we all can love one another just a little more and avoid making decisions that cause so many to mourn .

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