kete

Bereavement

Soothing the mamae

"There are many things that can help us to soothe the mamae (pain) that accompanies loss and grief. "

Whānau manaaki who took part in the Pae Herenga study cared for themselves by saying karakia to lift mamae, restore energy, and to find solutions to challenges. Walking at a beach, visiting the bush, spending time in, or near water, and being with ancestral landscapes can be healing for kaumātua at the end of life and also for those caring for them. Meditation, mindfulness, Māori Tai Chi, saying karakia, receiving rongoā healing, taking a relaxing bath and talking to family, friends and spiritual practitioners are also helpful ways of relaxing and restoring broken hearts, tired bodies and worried minds.

Ancient spiritual customs (karakia, waiata, mihimihi, for example) help to lift the pain associated with deep loss. The tikanga around tangi (cry, weep) encourages whānau pani (bereaved families) to openly allow their tears to flow and their heartache to be expressed with others. Being together with whānau following a death, and sharing tears, words and memories helps to lift the burden. The wailing cry of a kuia as she shares her tangi speaks to whānau pani – her wailing lets them know “I relate to your pōuri (the way you are feeling)”. Some kuia still observe this ancient practice of tangi mokemoke and tangi hotuhotu (expression of pain of deep longing and loneliness) as they relate to the family’s grief. Their deep pōuri (sadness) spiritually transports them into another time and space.

In this space (reserved for this time), their wairua (spirit) and hinengaro (mind, emotions) are taken back to memories of earlier bereavements and mamae (pain). This form of expressive tangi encourages whānau to express their grief; the wailing evokes emotions in other mourners. Although the practice of wailing is less common now, some kuia have retained the expression of this form of tangi, as is their right. Aching hearts are soothed when extended whānau and friends come together to express their love to whānau pani after the death of a beloved kaumātua.

Whaea Marilyn, in her Pae Herenga interview, spoke about rongoā and its healing potential for helping the grieving process:

[Rongoā is] not just one thing. It’s not just one thing because everybody’s needs are different. So, whatever you have to offer to soothe that need is rongoā. Doesn’t matter what it is, you know? If the need is physical, then you might have to have a panipani (ointment). Or you might have to have he inu rongoā rākau (herbal medicine). But if the need is [the] heart, then just kōrero, just crying. Allowing the tears. Sitting with someone and allowing them to cry is a huge rongoā. Some of the old customs are coming back now and some people are frowning at them [because we live in modern times]. A classic example is ‘te puna roimata’ at a tangi. This is such an important part of our healing because once the tears begin, the healing begins.

Kuia K. commented on the process of grieving and the role of whānau manaaki in easing the pouritanga (sadness, depression, gloom) throughout the life/death/grieving cycle of life:

[W]hen a loved one is, is dying, it starts right from the beginning and I’m talking about the, the process of grief, anxiety, unwellness and then healing. And I mean there’s a lot of things in-between but… for myself the big feature… is the grief you go through and you go through that grief when you hear that sick person say ‘I’ve got cancer and I’m dying’. That’s when you start grief/grieving, and it goes right through that whole period. How long it takes, 12 months, 2 years, that grief and that anxiety is there with the whānau, with that woman, that sick person and with the whānau, the whole time. But the amazing thing is how it’s dealt with. You know you can feel grief, you can feel anxiety, but you just have the ability to cope. Because you have a caring whānau around you and this is the other thing, whānau Arohanui [deep affection], manaakitanga [kindness], tiakitanga [guardianship & protection], kotahitanga [togetherness, solidarity, collective action], wairuatanga [Māori spirituality], karakia [prayers, incantations, chants], all those things. Together, those ‘tanga[s]’ [suffix to help make verbs into nouns] helps to carry, not only the one person [but] the whole whānau through that whole process from grief right through…

And it doesn’t stop at the dying either (at the death) - it continues right through because, after that… it’s what you do, how you awhi the whānau pani [chief mourners]. That’s a really important part of how you awhi the whānau pani at the end you know, it doesn’t finish at the burial, it carries on. Then what do you do with the whānau pani [do] you just leave them up high and dry - you can go home it’s all over? Not like that- the whānau, the extended whānau takes that whānau pani home. That extended whānau take that whānau back to where they were, they were. So, everything goes back to normal. So… that whole awhi process just goes right through. I think it’s beautiful…

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