Monday, March 2, 2020

Some personal reflections on grief and support



Te aroha
Te whakapono
Me te Rangimarie
Tātou tātou e


The song Te aroha has a simple beauty to it. My mother loved it. She was particularly impressed when my son came home from kindergarten and sang it for her with accompanying hand gestures. He was 4 then, and he was still 4 when my mother died.

It seemed appropriate to ask him if he wanted to sing Te aroha at a small family event after she died. He did. A small kid singing a song he learned at kindy as part of a farewell to his grandma is a very beautiful thing, and I still shed a tear when I hear the song. For me, Te aroha is a bridge between my son, who is very present, and my mum, who is a fading memory. Te aroha brings her back, and she usually brings waves of sadness with her.

I was happy that the kindergarten was bringing Māori language and culture into my children’s lives. They have a karakia kai before their lunch, and they sing ka kite at the end of the day, and I heard that my daughter was chosen to do a pepeha today at kindergarten, at the same time as I was doing one in my class on Cultural Competence (for Assessment and Diagnosis) at university. When I was a kid, I remember we had just weekly exposure to te reo and I’m pleased that they have so much more. It’s a normal part of their day.

The reasons why te reo is not a normal part of my day are many and varied. For others, like teachers and health professionals, I see those reasons are outweighed by the pressing need for decolonisation. I get it, and I have a queue of readings to help me understand this issue rationally, including Rachel Selby’s Still being punished and Hirini Moko Mead’s Tikanga Māori: Living by Māori values.

But I haven’t read them yet, and even when I do, it will feed what I fear is a hand-wringing, woke part of my consciousness. I fear I won’t feel it. I worry that any progress I make will be fraudulent, tokenistic, and superficial.

I liked of the idea expressed today in class that one’s tīpuna can join and support you when you stand to speak in public – the speaker told us how they can give you mirimiri (like a supportive shoulder massage). But that idea is not for me, right? As Pākehā, my emotions are my mine alone, not influenced by dead relatives. I did my pepeha with anxiety. I stuttered a little and even briefly missed a line. It was fine, but I was alone when I did it. If my pronunciation is ok, and I corrected myself well, this was down to my own mahi.

We carried on, and it wasn’t very long until somehow the class was singing Te aroha. As soon as I heard it, I thought of my son, and then my mum was in the room, one of those quick, sad flushes that stopped me paying attention to everything else. Dead relatives can influence my emotions. Rationally and emotionally, this idea of tīpuna providing mirimiri rushed back to me with great force.

For the first time since my mother died, I entertained the idea that I could welcome my mother’s visit. With more time, I can make better sense of this, but for now I know that this wave of emotion does not need to be about sadness at her absence but can be comfort in her presence. If she comes, she is here to support me, not to hurt me.

When she was alive, I would wince if she put her hands, warped, weak, and painful from rheumatoid arthritis, near my shoulders. Te aroha brings her back, and there is power in her hands now, which are the simple beauty I hear in the song. Next time I will appreciate the offer of mirimiri. Te aroha is a bridge not just from my son to my mother, but far beyond.



Te aroha
Te whakapono
Me te Rangimarie
Tātou tātou e

(Love)
(Faith)
(And peace)
(Be amongst us all)


I


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