‘I feel like my ancestors are always present. I know that there is a chief from my grandmother is always to the left of me. I don’t know who he is but I know that he is always there. I’m still trying to understand when they actually reveal themselves and when they don’t. I don’t want to be selfish and think that they’re my babysitters. I do feel that I carry them inside me and that whenever I do really need help or guidance, they will come through and either reveal themselves in something or reveal what I need.
‘I feel more comforted about death as a result. I think it’s because I don’t know whether my spirit will stay when I leave but I feel comforted that at least my ancestors are here because if I have children, they will still be looked after. If it’s not by me after I’ve moved on but someone will always be there. That’s such an important part of our understanding of our culture is that everything you do is to ensure the safety and protection and preservation of the next generation in this life and the next life.
‘I’m not scared of death. I’m scared of pain for sure and the process of dying and how that happens. If I was to be scared of death, I would be scared of what there is to understand about spirituality. There is a lot of power in that and there is a lot to be scared of in the unknown but it’s also cool. Most of the ancestors that I interact with are beautiful and really lovely and caring and are just trying to help but it’s just about being aware and knowing and being respectful.’
‘As long as I can remember I’ve seen people cry and grieve and celebrate life by singing and dancing in the name of a person’s life.
‘I’m Tokelauan Fijian – my mother’s Tokelauan and my father’s Fijian. Both sides have quit similar mourning processes but on my Fijian side the whole mourning process is 100 days. On my Tokelauan side it’s 10 days.
‘I found out my nanna passed away when I was 17 and I was on a plane from Australia and thrown in to 2 weeks of planning, organising, crying, cooking, singing, dancing, praying with my family from 7am to 4am, 10 days in a row.
‘Sitting with her body and my family for ten days – actually sitting and talking to her and holding her and seeing that it was real; there was no tangible life left in her – that really helped me.
‘In my mother’s culture, when you begin the mourning process you have these things called Leos – each community or family member that’s connected to the person who’s passed away will come together with their family and present to the immediate family of the person who’s passed away gifts, prayer and song.
‘So many people came to my nanna – it was leo after leo after leo. Each time we did a leo, I grieved again – even when I thought I had nothing left in me.
‘If you know the songs and dance, you get up and join in – even if it’s not your family. The power of the call of community and the call to celebrate was so revealing for me because it was really my community and my family saying you’re not alone.
‘Going through that entire experience really slapped me in the face because it taught me about the importance of sitting with death and sharing your grief. It also taught me the importance of celebration for a person’s life.
‘You share everything throughout the process – there is no hiding; there is quite literally nowhere to go away and just be private. It can be very overwhelming too but I personally found a lot of comfort in it.’