Toku papa

The new moon is coming up next week and with it comes a new kaupapa (topic) for the blog. So I thought to wrap up ‘transformation’, I’d share the biggest transformation I’ve had in my 24 years: adjusting to a life without my dad in it.

Ahakoa kāre he kupu, i rangona te aroha. Although no words were spoken, love was evident.

My pāpā passed away, one year ago (next week). It was the worst pain I'd ever felt, while also being a moment of release and liberation. An extreme version of a backhanded compliment maybe?

I remember that day and the days leading up to it in perfectly vivid detail. I was in Kuwait. I’d been here for the past two and a bit weeks, visiting pāpā in the hospital and spending time with my mum and younger brother.

Your dad was in the hospital, in Kuwait??! What is a Kuwait? Ok let me set the scene..

Dad, mum and the little bro moved over to Kuwait to teach and attend an international school over there at the end of 2015. They were nearing the end of their first year, with only a couple months left of school. In early April, I received a call from my mum to let me know dad had suffered a stroke. The doctors weren’t sure how serious it was at this time, but I received regular updates as the weeks went by, and he seemed to be improving, slightly. In early May, my nan, uncle and I travelled over to tautoko (support) mum and little brother at home, and comfort and keep dad company in the hospital.

Our daily visits to the hospital were a mix of: auditions for Kuwait Idol, storytelling and getting lost from the cafe back to dads room. Nan, uncle and I taught ourselves how to play his favourite songs by Eric Clapton, The Doobie Brothers and Dire Straits on the guitar and learned the lyrics too. Nan's singing was always on key, only because she kept stealing my notes and making me sound flat, but dad enjoyed it either way. He was limited to facial expressions, subtle movements and a vocabulary of 'yep' or 'no' but boy were he expressions more than enough to tell you how he was feeling. I talked to dad about a lot of things, my recent surgery and trip with my cousins to Rarotonga and also about my partner and our plans for Australia; to which he rolled his eyes and gave me the ‘why are you like this’ look.. maybe he was hōhā (annoyed) at our lousy singing and unimpressed with my life choices, but I bet it didn't compare to how he felt about his current circumstances - he was trapped inside a body that had broken down on him.

It was hard. It was hard to watch him suffer and be in pain, and not be able to fix it. But if anyone was gonna pull through, it would be my pāpā. He’d overcome two major medical procedures in the past to come out the other side, what was another one? Third time lucky for him..

The day before I departed Kuwait, was the day I visited dad for the last time. At the end of visiting hours and just before time to go home, I told him I was leaving the next day, “Kaua e mate, ka kite anō i a koe ki Aotearoa nē? - Don’t die, I’ll see you back in New Zealand, ok?” He said ‘yep’ and raised his eyebrows with a cheeky grin. We shared a big hug, a few tears and I said goodbye. I had a blind faith that we’d see each other again in this world, I couldn’t doubt otherwise. He had to get better you know, I'd known him my whole life - I couldn't even begin to imagine a life without him.

The following morning, I said goodbye to mum, nan and my little brother then jet set out of there on my way back to Aotearoa. I had a loooong stopover in Abu Dhabi: I lapped the airport 10 or so times, took a nap, made a snap-story of the 101 things to do at an airport. I bought some chocolate, then found one of the lounges to chill out in, ready for nap #2. I’d been talking to friends and whānau (family) back home, messaging mum, all was good. About 3/4 of the way through my stopover, I received a call from mum, 

“Kia ora, how’s it going?” - “… ….” 

The silence told me all I needed to know. Kua mate taku pāpā, my dad had passed away. Everything just stopped. Everything. Air, time, feelings, thoughts.. they all disappeared, sucked into a vacuum for what felt like forever. In that moment I felt nothing, I was weightless, I was nothing. Then, without notice, gravity switched back on and it all came crashing down on me, like a massive tidal wave. It was hard to breathe, hard to comprehend what was up or down.. I remember thinking it was weird because there was a build up; it wasn't a sudden accident, there was time to prepare that he might die - but I never really thought it was gonna happen. You’re never really ready for someone to never feature in your life ever again, well I wasn’t. I was so sure he'd pull through on his word because although he'd lied to me in the past - he'd fart and say Sonny (our cat) did it and things like that - he never lied about seeing each other again. 

He abandoned me to fend for myself against any future conflicts with my mum and brothers, we were supposed to be a team and he tapped out (we joked that I was his daughter and my brothers were their mother's sons - if you don't get it, you don't get it). Who's going to cook my fried rice for my birthday (he had a killer FR and cooked it for me every year)? Did he wait for me to leave Kuwait, before he decided to go? What if I never told him I was leaving, would he have still fought? Was it me who left him? What have I done...

So many thoughts screaming for attention inside my head! Which ones do I listen to? The waves never ended, they just kept coming with new mamae (hurt) and pouri (sadness). Amongst the darkness there was a tiny speck of light, a sense of relief knowing that my pāpā was now free of his broken down body, and free of the pain. I hopped on my plane carrying my own grief with a subtle feeling of calm for my pāpā. I waited for my family to bring dad home and that's when we saw each other again. 

So, technically, he didn't lie. We did see each other again back home, I should have bloody been more specific..


Tōku pāpā, pāpā Pat Tapiata.


This scenario demonstrates how sometimes transformation is initiated by our own awareness and our actions thereafter; while sometimes the circumstances happen to us, to which we must navigate our way through. Death, birth, illness, epiphany, taiao/environmental shifts, other people and the rest; they all happen to us in ways that we cannot control. Or in the famous words of Forrest Gump:

“shit happens.”

Things happen in life that suck: things happen in life that are awesome. We get attached to people, places, things and ways of doing things that come under threat when "shit happens," but hellooo, have you been paying attention? When 'life happens' is exactly when self-awareness, whakapapa and our why come into play. If we know ourselves intimately, we can communicate clearly to others how we're really feeling or that we're not upset ,we just want to be left alone with our thoughts for a while. Or maybe we want a big hug instead. Understanding the whakapapa (evolution) of how we've arrived to where we are and what is within our control, will provide insight into how we can continue to grow. Lastly, our why becomes the driving force to grow and evolve rather than remain and experience the same problems and suffer over and over again in one form or another.

Mum and Dad at their 30th wedding anniversary, 2014 (iPhone).

We're born into te ao mārama (the world of light/physical world) and we depart from it at some stage. Whatever your whakaaro (ideas) about this process; you can't deny that we show up, then we leave. Some leave too soon, some not soon enough (jk) but we all do sooner or later. The passing is also part of the transformation whakapapa (process); maybe it's the finale? Maybe it's the just a phase before something else, who knows - go wild.*

The death of someone we love is hard to put into words, kia maumahara/remember, I only write of my own experiences and learnings so don't go judging right or wrong ways to do things based on what you read today. I've had so many different emotions as I processed my new reality. In the first hour alone I was devastated and heartbroken I'd never see him again; I was relieved he didn't have to suffer anymore; I was indifferent, I felt nothing; I was angry, how dare he leave my amazing mum - what did she do to have her best friend of over 30 years taken away from her; I was grateful for the time him and I shared together; I was appreciative of the love and compassion from friends and whānau.. 

I still have my moments here and there, it was his birthday the other week and I liked to think he had a better party this time around than he did last year hooked up to the machines. But something that pulled me out of my slump was awareness, no word of a lie. I was carrying the mamae of him no longer being there with me for so long, there was no way for the light to get in and for the healing to begin. Yes it's a painful process, but it's a process nonetheless. Feel the pain, don't shut it out. Allow yourself to be sad, angry, miserable and the rest. But learn to let it go. It might happen overnight, it might take years but let it go. Just because you let go of the pain doesn't mean you let go of that person. I had to become aware of what I was doing and finally accept that he's not coming back. I'm not necessarily a fan of it, but it doesn't change the fact. They moved on, so must we.

Heck yeah I miss him, but I find comfort in the legacy that he left behind. He loved everything and everyone. He had more patience than a rock, if he was any more laid back he’d be horizontal.  I would know. I crashed his car, twice (while I was learning, pre-license - I am much better now) and the first thing he said was ‘kei te pai koe? are you alright?’ in the most calm demeanour, followed by a cheeky ‘kaua e whākī atu ki a māmā, don’t tell your mother.’ 

One thing I enjoyed observing with the old fella, was how he always thought of new ways to make money. If you were one of the many he tried to coax into his businesses, you’ll remember the way his eyes lit up like Christmas sharing his ideas with you. They never worked, just ask my mum but he put himself out there, he always tried something new. I like to think that’s where my curiosity and determination comes from - if we add our understanding of whakapapa (genealogy) to the fold, we’ll see that this is very likely. He was a ‘creative problem solver.’ As young children my brother and I, actually, my friends and cousins too, were treated with ‘love as punishment.’  Here’s a few favourites:

“Ki te kore koe e…. ka kihi au i a koe..” :If you don’t …, I’m gonna kiss you…” 

There used to be a tree stump at our home growing up, we’d get sent out to stand on it, count to some random number and come back inside - miraculously we’d go out huffing and puffing in rage and come back without a clue what the fuss was about. what if it was raining? Take an umbrella with you, e puta, go on.

We’d get hung up on the clothes line or on the hooks behind the door. One time i got hung up and Mum came back from work asking where I was. Dad forgot he’d hung me up and found me fast asleep, just hanging out. (punny, right).

Transformations come in all different forms and sometimes when you least expect it. Sometimes change can be a reality-shattering experience and just because it hurts like hell, doesn’t make it wrong or right. Transformation is what it is: circumstances force it upon us, or we consciously demand it of ourselves. Can we agree that; knowing yourself (self-awareness), knowing the whakapapa (process, origins, evolution) of your circumstances and knowing why you want to grow into who you really are (as each circumstance changes us in some way) are integral parts of transformation. Right or wrong way? As long as you have a way - which may look like chaos to everyone else - you are more capable than you realise. 

Kia ora rawa atu, love you all.



*Don't let the reincarnation or life after death kaupapa overshadow what this post is actually about. Whether you believe in it or not, go you. Maybe death is the end of the process? Maybe it's just the next step? An in depth conversation to have no doubt, but not the essence of this post today.