‘I have Stage IV cancer – it’s under control at the moment. I value every moment. I value the time I’ve got. I value friends and just the beauty of the world around me. You don’t have to go out in to the countryside to see beauty. There’s beauty here. There’s beauty everywhere. I seem to notice it more. I notice things more now. I don’t need to do spectacular things. I get pleasure out of very simple things in life.’
‘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.’
‘They (Department of Education) told me in later years I wasn’t to hug the children and I said, “Well, it will be a long day before I can’t hug somebody.”
‘I can’t stop children from coming up and hugging me. I said that I won’t stop hugging them. I never did.
‘You know all children, doesn’t matter which ones they are, they all need love. You have to give it to receive it. I doesn’t matter how much their mums and dads love them, you can always give them a little bit more because everybody needs love and you can always do with a little bit extra of that.
‘Children are so hungry to be loved. That’s all most of them wanted – to be understood and loved. Because that’s the real main thing in life. Nobody listens much you know – they talk but a lot of people don’t listen to you, you know?’
‘One of my biggest challenges in life is just dealing with people. With some people it depends on how they’re day is going as to how they approach you as a person.
‘The way I was brought up though means that I just don’t really care about it. You don’t need everyone you meet. There are so many people in the world that if someone puts you down there are other people that can bring you up.’