Sofia Athanassiou's life of suffering
Sofia Athanassiou was a beautiful baby, but her childhood and later life was plagued with "tragedy, sadness and suffering", mourners at her funeral have heard.
Athanassiou, 39, an unemployed Housing New Zealand tenant, was found dead off a running track near Alexandra Park above Wellington East Girls' College last Monday.
She had suffered minor injuries but they had not contributed to her death, the cause of which remains unexplained, police say.
Results of an autopsy were inconclusive and the results of further laboratory tests are weeks away. Drugs have not been ruled out as a factor in her death.
About 120 filled St Anthony's Catholic Church in Seatoun for her funeral this morning.
Athanassiou's cousin and godmother Maryanne Macintosh said she was a "beautiful baby" and her arrival brought "great joy" to her parents – Anne and Simon Athanassiou. She was named after her father's sister.
She grew up in Seatoun, but "tragedy was to hit Sofia's life quite early on" when her father suffered a massive stroke and required her mother's constant care.
"This must have been a difficult time for an active young child – stuck at home with an incapacitated father and, no doubt, a stressed mother."
Simon Athanassiou was unable to work so, money must have been tight, she said.
"I imagine life was quite hard for Sofia."
She was a pupil first at St Anthony's school and then Wellington High School.
"Sofia had quite serious learning difficulties and in those days these difficulties were not always understood and the needs of the child often not met. This could lead to feelings of poor self worth and frustration."
When she left school she took part in a retailing course run by the YMCA and went on to work in a second-hand store in Newtown.
"At this point in her life she started to move in darker circles. She began to adopt a gothic lifestyle – wearing black and making choices that were influenced by the dark side of this particular way of life," Macintosh said.
"We began to notice changes in Sofia – in her personality and her behaviour.
"Everyone in the family felt concerned for the choices she was making, the people she was associating with and the activities she was becoming involved with were not healthy and in fact quite destructive," she said.
In 1996 Athanassiou gave birth to the first of two girls.
"Sofia was so proud of her two little girls. The tragedy was that during those years Sofia was still being influenced by those she was associating with."
After her mother died in 2002 her daughters were placed in Child, Youth and Family care.
"Sofia became more entrenched in her chosen lifestyle and there were a number of times when different members of the family extended the offer to help her consider a different lifestyle and to support her, but each time would fall back to what was familiar to her.
"As we reflect on the life of Sofia, which seemed to be so full of suffering and sadness, we wonder why it seems some people seem to have it so stacked against them.
"Would it be better that she was not born at all? I don't think so. There are two lovely young women who would certainly be a delight to their grandparents. We don't know who among her acquaintances Sofia may have touched."
- © Fairfax NZ News