Caring for kaumātua before and after death

Staying with the tūpāpaku

A consistent post-death care practice among whānau pani (bereaved family) is to companion the tūpāpaku (body). Someone is with the tūpāpaku every moment of the day until they are either interred (buried) or cremated. Whānau believe that the wairua of the kaumātua will stay near their tūpāpaku until the tangihanga (funeral customs) and nehu (burial) has been concluded.

While reflecting on whānau practices after a loved one has passed away Whaea S. (nurse) said that there will always be someone who stays with the body:

Māori are ones that they always have someone with the body.

When asked about what tikanga and kawa that were prominently used by whānau that she has worked with Whaea S. spoke about tikanga practices involving tapu (sacred, prohibited, restricted) and noa (without restrictions). In particular she spoke about the restrictions placed on tikanga (customs) involving kai around unwell whānau members and those who have passed on:

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It was important to Ivy-Lee that someone was always with her father after he had passed away:

So when, when Dad had passed, and we had gone in to see him… and, the whānau had all left, it was time for Dad to be [taken by the] undertaker… He turned up, everyone had left… myself, ah, and Abigail [sister] were left with Dad. And [name of uncle] he stayed. And [name of aunty]. So… we stayed with the undertaker, because I didn’t wanna leave Dad. I had to make sure that someone was always with him.

After his passing, Ivy-Lee stayed with her father and helped the undertaker:

He turned up, lovely man... He came and he says, ‘Well this is what we’re gonna do.’ First of all, he greeted Dad... It was amazing. I was like, ‘Ooh.’ Then he goes, ‘Oh, kia ora.’ Pats him on the chest, and he says, ‘This is what we’re gonna do. I’m gonna wrap him in the sheet that he’s in, and we’re gonna move him from here to his first waka after he had passed’… So, I said, ‘We’re helping, we’ll help you.’ And so, we supported him with that, and he was in this little teeny space, and we said, ‘Oh, should we just move the bed out, ’because it’s got wheels? So, we can fit everything in?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, very good idea!’ Anyway, we got him from here, onto the gurney, wrapped him up… and as we walked out, then Uncle stayed, and Dad was out the door… and Uncle did a karakia… to clear the room…

… We go through, and we move Dad down to the ramps. And I was going ‘Where’s the elevator? The escalator?’ or something, because it’s [rural hospital] [laughs]. And he’s [the undertaker] saying, ‘Oh, this place is very rickety,’ and so we’re going down. ‘And you do this by yourself?’ And he goes, ‘Yes’… Yeah, as we go down [bumping along]. Which is not unusual for Dad, it’s like, we’ve been on lots of roads heavier than that… And so, we get him down to… into the hearse and we move down to where they’re gonna prepare Dad. So, from there, he asks that we give him an hour or so to prepare, so they can go through their processes with Dad. And he informed us from there, so like, [quoting the undertaker] ‘Once we’re finished here, you can come and view. And if you would like to dress… that’s fine.

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