It was last month, when the government started repatriating Cook Islanders stranded in New Zealand.
Mata had been living in New Zealand since 2018 after moving there from Australia and had visited his home island couple of times in the past two years. But due to his ongoing dialysis, Mata was unable to make the cut to be part of the returning cohort.
He passed away on May 12.
Now his children are trying to fulfil Nooroa’s final wish: to help their dad return home to Atiu.
Joel, Nooroa’s second-eldest son, says Covid-19 has “mucked everything up”.
They have been trying for days to repatriate their dad’s body to Atiu but due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions, they had no luck.
“We had a family service this week at the funeral house where only 50 people were allowed. We asked to take the body home for a night and return to the morgue (today) while we wait to get some clearance so we can take him back to Atiu,” says Joel.
“Some of my family booked their tickets to attend the burial on Atiu but it was cancelled because Air New Zealand is only taking cargo, not any passengers.
“We just want to honour our dad’s final wish. We want to take him home, that’s what he wanted and as his children we want to do everything we can to grant his last wish.”
Joel says the Covid-19 restrictions on travel and gathering has affected their family.
While they were grieving their father’s loss, they were mentally affected by the uncertainty of not able to give their dad the goodbye his deserved and wished for.
“The Ministry of Health in New Zealand said they can allow them to take the body but we will need clearance from the health department in the Cook Islands. We are working on that at the moment.
“It’s tough on us especially when you are not sure when the borders will reopen or when we will be allowed to take him back to Atiu. As for now, we will wait and do our best to take out dad home,” says Joel.
Puna Rakanui, secretary of the House of Ariki, says grieving is an important part of Cook Islands Maori culture.
The inability to grieve or mourn the loss of loved ones in a proper manner can be detrimental to those in grief, says Rakanui.
He says it can also be disrespectful to the person who has passed on.
“When our loved ones leave us, they are leaving on a journey to our ancestors. We are not going to see them again,” says Rakanui.
“In our general traditional, there is no after live but there is vaerua (spirit) and that is the essence traveling back to our ancestors. Grieving is a process where we come together and we remember, we share in memories for our loved ones.
“But if you are unable to grieve properly, it’s like you are not allowing our people the goodbye they deserve. When a person is leaving us, he/she expects a nice farewell, they expect us to give them a good tangi.”
Clinical psychologist Dr Evangelene Daniela-Wong says funerals are rituals that people go through to grieve together.
Dr Daniela-Wong says Covid-19 disruption of those processes is challenging, because often it’s the process that creates space for storytelling, crying, laughing, singing, and collective healing.
“Grief come in waves – at time we are fine, at times we are not, waves of disbelief, waves of sadness, eaves of emptiness, waves of normalness, waves of guilt waves of acceptance,” says Dr Daniela-Wong.
“Being together – we realise those waves are normal, and we are not alone. Not being able to grieve together may be hard – especially for those young ones – who don’t realise that grief comes in waves.”
She says when people don’t grieve it can come out in other ways.
“But remember that everyone grieves in their own way – and there is no right way of grieving. Also grief never really goes away – the waves just get smaller – and sometimes they come back, sometimes they are calm.
“It is also important to remember that not that long ago, and still now in the Pa Enua, we didn’t have morgue, and funerals are within 24 hrs – often without family.
“That is why the Kave Eva or the unveilings are so important – because it gives the space to grieve, to remember, to laugh and to come together.”
· If things are overwhelming or someone is acting a bit “off” or different after the death of someone close – ask them firstly are they ok, cry with them, and if they are not coping, then seek help 0800-1814.