A mother's vow to a son; Gone but never forgotten

By Daria Sokolova
  A grief support group, Mothers of Murdered Sons was founded by Phyllis Duncan, whose son Dodavah Duncan was fatally shot in May 2006 in northwest suburban Elgin.
Also known as MOMS, the group seeks to provide grief counseling to those whose children were senselessly taken away by gun violence. The group holds their meetings on sthe econd Saturday of each month at the Bellwood public library, located at 600 Bohland Avenue.
             "We started here in western suburbs six years ago, addressing the crimes and the homicides here in a Proviso Township," says Duncan, founder of MOMS and women's community leadership counsel.
"When I started MOMS, we were having almost five  or six murders sometimes a year, sometimes in a month. It occurred here in Maywood and Bellwood."
         Years later, the problem of crime still plagues the Bellwood area, which Duncan says local authorities do little to solve the nagging issue.
            "The mayors in our village feel like they don't like to publicize how many murders we have in our community," says Duncan.
            Duncan says MOMS tries to keep the community alert in hopes of  preventing new deadly violence.
            "We want to continue to educate our community in ways of prevention," says Duncan as a group of mothers sat recently around the table in Bellwood library’s meeting room. "We are very diligent about trying to address this so young men would be safe, and that they would be protected and that they would be loved and taken care of."
            Duncan says that contributing to the problem of violence is the fact that many young people in her community don't have access to jobs, education, or places where they can spend their free time productively and therefore, have little opportunity for advancement in their lives.
            "When you are in a community that is economically deprived from some of the other things that other communities take for granted, you tend to have a problem. There are no jobs in our community for young people, there are no centers or community organizations with their doors open for young people," says Duncan.
            Once bereaved, a mother never stays the same, says the mothers in MOMS. A death of a child changes her life forever. According to Duncan, the process of grieving has the stages every mother of a murdered child goes through.
            "I believe when we first lost our kids, we went through a transition," says Duncan. "First, we have to come to acknowledge and the last stage of grieving is acceptance. As you go through the steps of grieving, you go through the denial, you go through the feeling like you can't live again, that you can't breathe, that this is not real. You actually go through the point saying this is a nightmare. You want to wake up next day and see your baby."
            Bobbie Hamilton, of Bellwood, whose son Timothy Hamilton was fatally shot in his house in April 2010, says acceptance is the hardest stage of the grieving process.
            "A parent is not supposed to bury a child," says Hamilton. "Your mind does not want to accept it, it does not want to comprehend it because that's not how it's supposed to be. That's the hardest part of it to accept. Your mind is not prepared for that."
            "I could not even feel my stomach," says Hamilton, choking back her tears. "What I lived on for two months was 7Up, cranberry juice."
            MOMS welcomes every new member who needs support and comfort. And their ranks are constantly being filled by mothers whose children fell victim to gun violence on the streets of Chicago.
            Veteran members share their experience and talk about how to cope with the ordeal. Denice Parks-Hayes, the author of the book "Grieving After the Death of Child: Personal Perspective,", lost her only son on a day after Thanksgiving in 2005, and she among is one of them.
             Tarrence Darnell Parks, 28, was shot in a West Side area called "The Square," located between 18th and 19th Streets and Keeler and Karlov Avenues. Years of anguish and fruitless anticipation went by and Parks-Hayes' son case went cold leaving her with questions that remain unanswered to this day, the mother said.
            "He was good boy, drew really well," says Hayes, recalling memories of her son as a half-smile lights up her youthful face. "Very outgoing, very loving young man. Christmas and Fourth of July were his favorite holidays."
             From his high school profile picture, Tarrence flashes a cute boyish smile, in another photo, he sits on the porch of his mother's house. Another shows him  at the hospital holding his newborn son. A neat dresser and a loving person, Parks stares out from all the pictures his mother has lovingly put in a white plastic folder.
            Parks-Hayes gets emotional as she talks about Thanksgiving 2005—the last memory of her son she cherishes more than anything else.
             "It was really a weird thing that he was late this particular holiday and yet, he was able to see everybody still. It was like God's will for him to see these people,” she recalls. “My husband said it was really strange that as he was leaving he held his hand and shook it twice.”
             "We never really found out what happened. No one is accountable like so many," says Parks-Hayes.
               Hopeless and alone in her grief, Parks-Hayes started jotting down her thoughts on one of the sleepless nights after her son’s death.
            "I did not initially intend on writing a book, it was just really hard time for me," says Parks-Hayes. "So much inside, so many unanswered questions. And I could not sleep, every body would be sleep, I would be up walking, flipping the channels, brain would not shut off. So this one particular night I just started typing thoughts, and I ended up accumulating a lot."
            With the help of Mary Morris, author of "Young Lions"
whom she once met at MOMS meeting, Parks-Hayes said she published her own book, "Grieving After the Death of Child: Personal Perspective" in summer 2011.
            Survived by his friend Lanard Guider and his family, Tarrence will stay in people's minds the way he was: outgoing, smart, with a talent as a hairdresser, a talent that  might have taken him far in life.
             Left with no closure, Parks-Hayes found the strength to move on and is determined to not let the devastation of losing a child to murder ruin her life, even if the death of her son has left a permanent scar on her heart.
            "The thing about it is that reality would slap you in your face and take you: 'Look, that boy is not coming back,'" says Duncan. "You have to accept that he was gone and you have got to move on. And that's what we are doing."