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Violent deaths: ‘Circle of Healing for the Soul’ helps overcome losses

Fellowship Story Showcase

Violent deaths: ‘Circle of Healing for the Soul’ helps overcome losses

Picture of Francisco  Barradas

This article was produced for El Tecolote by Francisco Barradas as a 2013 California Endowment Health Journalism Fellow.


George Jurand and Paulette Brown accompanied by friends and SFPD agents, pray for Aubrey abraska on the corner of Grove and Baker streets on Aug. 14, seven years after Abraska was murdered. Photo Francisco Barradas
George Jurand and Paulette Brown accompanied by friends and SFPD agents, pray for Aubrey abraska on the corner of Grove and Baker streets on Aug. 14, seven years after Abraska was murdered. Photo Francisco Barradas
Las palabras salen sobrando
Al luto, en San Francisco se suma la escasez de servicios públicos de apoyo psicológico a dolientes. Quienes sufren un luto traumático, por la pérdida de ser querido en un hecho violento, suelen aislarse y sufrir en soledad. Tampoco abundan los llamados "círculos de sanación", en los que, básicamente, se proporciona una terapia de grupo para paliar el dolor.
El Tecolote
Thursday, August 29, 2013

George Jurand pointed towards a mosaic of posters. “There are many more,” he said.

He spoke of the homicide notices distributed by the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), that show photos of the victims.

Durand is the coordinator of Community Programs at the Sheriff’s Department. In his free time he pastors the Círculo de Sanación para el Alma - (Circle of Healing for the Soul) a mutual support group for survivors of violence; the family members of those who are shown on the homicide bulletins.

“It’s a club that you wouldn’t want to be in; but one that you should be in,” commented Elsa Casillas, mother of Alberto Casillas, murdered in 2007.

Casillas has served the circle of healing since at least 2009. “There are a lot of people suffering, mentally, because they don’t have connections. We know many parents who have lost their children and fallen into drugs and alcohol; they isolate themselves, quit their jobs and they just can’t move on,” he added.

The Silence
The mothers of the dead children continue to carry their sons and daughters with them. In public, they hold signs that report their deaths, and the amount of the reward paid for accurate information leading to the arrest of the murderers.

Teresa Zavala is one of these mothers.

“They took my sons life away on February 26, 2005. He had just turned 29. He was an engineer, he worked for NASA in Mountain View. The case remains unsolved. There are no witnesses. No one is saying anything.”

It happened on a Saturday. Gabriel Zavala was a father to two sons.

“Losing a son in such a tragic way, I think, is the deepest pain that could ever exist,” said Zavala. “Sometimes a mother who is expressing this feeling—needs people to understand her and listen to what she is feeling.”

She mentioned that SFPD gave her phone numbers, “To see the doctor and get therapy.” This happened in 2013. “I called only to find out that those numbers no longer exist.”

Relief from the pain

To explain how the Circle of healing works, Jurand shared a story about a mother whose son was murdered in Richmond. “She came and didn’t say anything; we didn’t force it, because sharing is voluntary.”

When the woman finally decided to tell her story it brought back all of her sadness, and feeling of loss and she began to cry. At this moment Jurand asked the group: “How many of you in this room have felt like this, or have lived something like this?” As everyone stood up, the mother began to feel a sense of relief.

“When a homicide happens, the majority of families do not confide in anyone,” continued Jurand. “While they go through the process of pain, denial, impact—the next phase is isolation.” The relatives do not know who to trust, not even aware of who killed their children, so they isolate themselves he said.

“The pain doesn’t change, it never leaves. You have your good days and your bad days,” described Elsa Casillas. “The anniversaries and birthdays are the most difficult,” she said. It has been six years since the homicide of her son.

“It’s like you have to block your mind and focus on moving on,” continued Casilla. “You heal by talking about what happened letting your feelings flow, crying, and letting the memories all surface. That’s how you become more capable of facing what happened after time.”

This story was originally published in El Tecolote.

Photo Credit: Francisco Barradas