Kaiora Tipene opens up about supporting heartbroken families during lockdown

Losing a loved one in lockdown takes grief to a whole new level, and there have been many tears shed as the Tipenes support heartbroken families.

Returning to lockdown was hard for all of us. I really felt for the families that were in our care. It’s been so hard for whānau having to experience loss during these challenging times and then having to deal with the restrictions on funerals on top of that.

The families know what to expect and they are receptive to the rules, but at the same time, the grief is raw, and it’s real. I’ve never seen my staff cry so much. They’ve been coping with a lot.

In one funeral session under level 4, you’ve got so many people on Zoom, you’ve got the minister, they have a song together, and as you’re transferring the loved one out of the chapel, you’re the only person – it’s just you. You can’t help but have a moment.

One of my most challenging moments was when I was assisting my funeral director with pall-bearing. When we got to the cemetery, we were informed there were no other staff to help us lift this loved one out of the hearse. We called our other staff to come and help us, and as we were going through the gates, we heard the family crying. They’re watching us go through these gates, they’re crying so much because they can’t be with us.

In that moment, I felt like I had robbed them of their time. It didn’t belong to me and I felt so terrible for them. That’s when I look forward to giving the families a hug when it’s safe to do so.

It’s been a privilege for us to care for their loved ones on their behalf in lockdown. Our people, we love to hug, we love to kihi, we love to hongi – all the gestures of caring, of manaaki, that’s what we’re about.

So we’ve been helping our families to cope by doing live stream, we do Zoom, we video call families and we leave our phones in the room and say, “Look, here’s Mum, you want to share your message?” I’m so grateful for my eight-year-old. He’s showed me how to work all this technology!

We’ve been holding some families’ loved ones. There’s been a few in our care waiting for alert levels to drop so they can have the burial the way they would like to.

Francis and I have been trying to look after our staff too. We come together as a whānau, we have a debrief, we laugh, we cry, we have a kai, and then we go home. That’s been an outlet for us this time around. We all get tested at least once a week. Some of us are fully vaccinated, others partially. So we’re doing our best to stay safe.

For myself, even though it’s busy, I’ve been making the time for those simple walks in the morning. It’s really important. My local café was closed under level 4, but I actually loved my own homemade decaf mochas. Most of all, I love going home to my kids.

He hono tangata e kore e motu; ka pa he taura waka e motu.

Unlike a canoe rope, a human bond cannot be severed.

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