My whanau lost three of its kaumatua in the last two weeks. Two of them had run a long race, one died too early. These things give life a kind of pause to those who outlive them. A chance to re-evaluate what is genuinely important and what seems to be but probably is not. My shit grades from last semester fall in that second category. Uprooting my life and moving it to the Waikato a couple of years back is most definitely in the former. It led me to right here for one. But more importantly, it gave me a couple of years with my grandfather before we laid him to rest last weekend. Time I would never have had with him if I had stayed where I was. Experiences I would have missed and would have never known I had missed. Those truly mattered. The ones I lost on the path I left behind do not.
At the funeral my tuāhine attended by video link. She is a nurse in Victoria where COVID is running rampant and she is on the front lines. She feels a lot further away than a three-hour flight right now. I worry about her and wish she was closer to home. My cousin and Aunty were watching from the UK where the same thing is true. They were there in the strange and only way they could be but while we hugged our loved ones and spoke in low tones to those all around us they could not feel us. They could not hear. That is the tyranny of distance. As surreal as that experience was however, they were there. That is important.
I was late to the tangi. I had run up to Auckland to pick up my Nan. She is 96 years old. The oldest living Love, as far as we know. We walked in during the eulogy from my taina. I was able to re-watch the service later, a recording of the live stream that our diaspora had watched in realtime. His kōrero was beautiful. My cousin’s little girl leapt from her seat, ran down the aisle to take Nan by the hand and lead her to her seat in the front row. The great-granddaughter and the matriarch. That was important. The fact that we were late was not.
In the time before and since I have watched my family grieve and I have grieved with them. Each have our own way. Māmā has been marking the days since with reflections on the ups and downs of that process. Some days are heavy and sad. Others are lighthearted and fun. Grief is strange that way. Whichever way they land there is no escape from them. Nor should there be. We must feel everything that comes, let them move through us in that moment and allow them pass. They will pass. As all things do. Good and bad. That is important.
The ones that we buried left deep holes and in the vacuum of that space we have poured our love and our laughter and our tears. They will be missed but they will never truly leave us. They are woven into our DNA. Their blood is our blood. In the end, in a paradox that rubs against my reason, their existence, their whakapapa, and the new life they gave rise to are what is truly important. The fact of their passing is not.