Patricia "Wowo" McGrath was a mum, a sister, a daughter and a friend. Now she is gone but definitely not forgotten. The man who killed her - 33-year-old Phillip Andre Mahanga - was yesterday sentenced to three years behind bars for manslaughter. The McGrath whanau talk to reporter Kristin Edge about Wowo, the pain and sorrow of losing her and the harrowing journey they have travelled since her tragic, needless death.
"LIVE. Pure. Simple."
They are bold words handwritten in black pen on a whiteboard hanging on the kitchen wall of John McGrath's family home.
The three words are the mantra for the McGrath family trying to make sense of their world since it was flipped upside down on January 4.
Beneath is pinned a photo of Patricia Ann McGrath.
Her piercing blue eyes capture the attention of anyone who looks.
Phillip Andre Mahanga assaulted 34-year-old Patricia, affectionately known as Wowo, in a house on Fairway Drive in Kamo.
The mother-of-two was taken to Whangarei Hospital with head injuries. But four days later she was taken off life support and died, surrounded by family.
"Not in a million years did we think she was going to go now," John says.
"Someone so young and beautiful is gone and I think we all feel ripped off."
The death could have torn the McGrath family apart.
The stress. The pain. The confusion.
But instead they have hung tough and together turned the tragic death into a way of raising awareness that domestic violence is unacceptable and communities need to stand up and help those caught in violent relationships.
You don't have to look hard to see the anguish in John's eyes.
"We can let the domestic violence issue die with the person or we can keep pushing the issue and hopefully other families don't have to go through what we have.
"He's turned our world upside down. It's been an emotional rollercoaster and we are still picking up the pieces," John says, referring to Mahanga.
John's wife, Kate, has been committed to getting the message out that violence is not okay.
"If we can try and influence the people committing the violence to make them realise they have to take ownership of their actions. What they are doing is abominable,"she says.
"No amount of time served by this man in jail will be a reflection of our loss."
The family say it was ironic Wowo died as a result of domestic violence as she had helped cousins and numerous other friends out of abusive relationships, recalls Kate.
"She supported them through those times and that was the measure of the woman. She was always prepared to give 200 per cent so they had somewhere safe to stay."
IT'S NOT the first time the McGrath family have dealt with tragedy and not the first time they have laid a Patricia Ann McGrath to rest.
In August 1976, the McGrath family were travelling back to Auckland when a drunk driver slammed into their car. John was 2 at the time, and flung from the vehicle. His mum Jane was injured and survived, as did an uncle in the car.
But his dad Robert and sister Patricia, 9, nicknamed Lolo, were killed. They were buried together at Papatoetoe.
Three years later in Middlemore Hospital Jane gave birth to a baby girl on January 5.
She was named Patricia Ann McGrath.
A smile forms on John's face as he remembers the big day.
"When she first came home from hospital she was like a little skinned rabbit. I was 6 at the time and I had some idea about why everyone was excited. She was our second chance at having a sister."
For Jane the loss of a second daughter is harrowing.
"I've been through this before. I never thought I would have to do it twice. The system doesn't work. That drunk took two of my family from me and got 18 months' jail.
"This death will never go away."
As Wowo matured "she didn't suffer fools or boredom lightly".
John and older brother Albie were like a father to her. Wowo's dad was a Scotsman but he returned to his homeland while Jane chose to stay with family in New Zealand.
"She was a good baby. She was a people's girl right from the start. She was pretty mouthy from the word go and we had a few good debates when she got older. She called a spade a spade," Jane laughs.
"She's my daughter and my baby. We might have a bit of a dispute every now and then but it was always good in the end."
John said his mum and Wowo were very close, as was he and his older brother Albie, nicknamed "Flange".
He reckons Wowo was a younger version of his mum and had adopted her trait of dishing out acts of kindness.
"She was, a bit like mum, there to feed the people and make sure they are okay."
Wowo went to Mangakahia Area School then Whangarei Girls High School, and was a keen netball player.
She was a confident woman and prepared to work hard in all sorts of jobs that included restaurants, security and a stint in the SkyCity Casino.
Back in Whangarei she was a case manager with Work and Income and was part of the team to travel to Christchurch to help those devastated by the quakes.
In 1997, her daughter Brooke was born and in 2000 there was baby boy Payton, both with long-term partner, Gareth.
Her goal was to join the police and she had eye operations done to help her achieve that dream.
IT WAS during the 2011 Rugby World Cup that the relationship between Wowo and her children's father started to break down and they separated. The wider whanau were devastated.
Enter Phillip Mahanga.
Fourteen months later Wowo would be dead.
The family were concerned about her reluctance to introduce her new partner to them.
"He met the kids and Wowo but he wasn't introduced to our lives," Kate says.
Jane noticed subtle changes in her daughter's body language.
"She wouldn't bring him to meet us."
John spoke with his sister but she assured him things were fine.
"He was never introduced to us and this is a tight, close family ... it wasn't right," Kate says.
"We asked the person who we love and trusted and who always called a spade a spade. She told us things were good."
February 4 this year and their worst fears were realised. For four days they gathered round her hospital bed praying she would survive. But it was not to be.
The life support was turned off and again the McGrath family had lost a Patricia.
February 14, 2013 - ironically Valentine's Day - was the first time the family came face to face with the person who killed Wowo. Mahanga stood in the court dock and the McGrath whanau got their first look at him.
John said his life was existing in two lanes of love and hate.
"Love for my sister and hate for this man who has forced me out of my comfort zone.
"At the end of the day we want the message out there. This violence towards women is totally unacceptable.
"Like people say, get help for your loved one. If you are in doubt about someone who could be doing something to a loved one, face them as a family.
"Offer support to the loved one, be there and be open."
NINE DAYS after Wowo was buried at Korokota Marae, Titoki, the ripple effects of her death were felt in Northland.
John led hundreds of people through central Whangarei on a march in the hope it would prompt women to leave violent relationships and highlight the domestic violence issue.
He's not a man who enjoys being in the limelight.
"It was nerve racking and mind blowing. We knew we had a big family but it was much bigger than we thought.
"It was a humbling experience to have that support and be able to get the anti-violence message out there to such a wide audience.
"We are the biggest losers in all this but we have gained some positives out of this by bringing public acknowledgement of the domestic violence problem," John said.
"People are discussing it and hopefully doing something about it.
"We don't want people to go down the road we have had to.
"If we can make one household change there will be less suffering."
Figures released to the Advocate show 2011 domestic violence incidents were reported in Whangarei/Kaipara in the 12 months to June 30, and 1504 in the Far North; a total of 3515, or 67 a week on average.
The McGrath family are still adjusting and are haunted by the places where Wowo is no longer but were once filled with laughter. John is looking to the future.
"We are all down about our loss but we will rise."
Live. Pure. Simple.