27 Nov 2021

Jo Guy: searching for your lighthouse person

From Saturday Morning, 5:35 pm on 27 November 2021

In caring for her grandchildren's emotional needs after their father Scott was shot dead on their farm 11 years ago, Jo Guy came to see how many other children needed help dealing with difficult life circumstances.

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"When Scott was killed I had such a strong sense of how short life was and the importance of doing good things before my time is up," she told Saturday Morning.

Now a grandmother to 14 tamariki, Guy has used the insight her own experience provided to write a children's book called The Search for the Lighthouse People.

She said she hoped the book would help children figure out how to ask for help if they were struggling with trauma ... and importantly, who to ask.

As a role model for the Duffy Book Foundation, Guy often visits schools and talks in assemblies about the difficult time her family went through following Scott's death.

She said she encouraged kids who may be experiencing difficult circumstances themselves to find a "lighthouse person", which she described as someone who shone brightly, listened and who could help them process their thoughts.

"It's easy for kids to understand what a lighthouse person is," she said.

"I've noticed they're really good at finding a lighthouse person; they just see that this person is safe and calm, so I say to them, look for somebody who makes you feel like that."

She said when she looked back on her own life she could identify different people who had supported her at various difficult times and "really made a difference" and she encouraged children with trauma to keep looking if they hadn't yet found their lighthouse person.

"Sometimes it's a grandparent or an aunt, an uncle," she said, adding that school teachers were "wonderful lighthouses".

Guy, who has written several children's books and lives near Feilding with her husband Bryan, said lighthouse people were crucially important to her in the days and months after her son's death.

"When you're in a crisis you need good advice; you can't figure it out yourself because it's all just chaos and you can't think clearly."

She said her family was overwhelmed at the support they received from people around New Zealand at the time.

"It's amazing how many people come out of the woodwork to help and give their time and their love freely and that's the bit that helped."

However for a family more used to giving to the community by helping out others it was "quite painful" to let that love in at times, she added.

"We could never repay the good things that people have done for us."

The dreadful blows Guy's family suffered in short succession 11 years ago weren't restricted to her son's death and her daughter's husband being accused of the crime before being acquitted but imprisoned on other charges. In addition, a nephew of Guy's died in Perth after being pushed through a pub window and her father-in-law passed away three months after Scott was killed.

"It just seemed to go on and on," Guy said.

She credited both the community support they received and the "strong Christian faith" she and her husband share for getting them through.

"We've never blamed God because he didn't do all those things - it was a person … if you look around, it's people that do all the terrible stuff," she said.

"I think it's just life and we don't know what's going to happen to us; there's going to be storms, there's going to be bad things that do happen."

She said anniversaries of the tragic events could be triggering but she had learnt to focus on what she could control.

"That's where the Christian faith comes in, of needing the grace to get through the days and to be loving and all of that kind of thing and to hug as many kids as I can ... that's my main goal, one of my main goals, because a hug feels so good, a warm hug."

Knowing the story of an unsolved murder would continue to be revisited by the media and the public could also be tough, but Guy said she found gardening to be good therapy when the attention became overwhelming.

"Bryan and I have the sanctuary of our three acre garden … when it gets too much at times, we can come home."

She said there was a conscious choice on behalf of the family right from the very first media interview they did to "get through this with our family intact" and ensure some good came out of a dreadful situation.

An early piece of advice she received to take "one step at a time, one day at a time" was really helpful in processing the trauma, she added.

"Otherwise you look ahead and it's too big and too overwhelming, and then you sink - and if you look back it's too depressing because you want that life that you had before and it's not there."

She said her aim now was to continue creating good memories with her  grandchildren, who she and Bryan loved "with every fibre of our being".

"Our focus has been making sure that we get through all of the pain of it so that we can help these children, these six grandchildren (the ones whose parents were directly involved in the tragedy), to have a good life, because it's not fair on them and I guess their childhood has been dominated by the tragic events and they have challenges working through all that."

"If we're in a good space, then we can help them do that."

The Search for the Lighthouse People is available by order here.