Sitting in the meeting house looking at five coffins set out along one wall, I was overcome with utter sadness.

This is not something you expect to ever see. One, perhaps two coffins for family members who died either at the same time or shortly after each other, that does happen.

We had Theo's brother Eric and his brother in law Henry, they died within 24 hours of each other, in the meeting house at the same.

But five people from one family, that needs enormous amounts of love to surround and embrace grieving family members.

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In the time that I spent at Te Pākira Marae at Whakarewarewa last week I saw wave after wave of family, friends and members of the community come in their hundreds.

This is where you see the strength of family relationships. Where you also see a working marae in action, serving its purpose. Looking after the multitudes who come over three days as a tangi progresses.

And it works like clockwork. Everyone is welcome, not matter how small or large the groups of visitors are. They will be looked after.

A marae is always on standby. It never knows when it must swing into action. You can plan for meetings and to receive visitors but tangi don't make a booking. They just happen. And invariably marae always rise to the occasion.

For some people I know they find it hard to understand a tangi. They are not familiar with a marae funeral that takes three days.

I wasn't brought up experiencing tangi in my childhood. We always had the bodies of our family members at home. I liked that. It was homely and familiar.

There was usually just our immediate family with us until we went to church for the funeral service. Living in Kawerau and Rotorua I became familiar with what happens during tangi. And what is expected of me. With Theo at my side I eventually became very familiar with marae. Their value and importance to whanau, hapu and iwi.

Shortly after Theo died a friend visiting from Wellington asked me "how could you sit beside Theo's coffin for three days, looking at him"?

I remember I got annoyed at first. Or maybe I was just hurt that she would ask such a tactless, insensitive question but then I saw that my friend was quite genuine.

She said she couldn't think of anything worse. And of course if you don't know or understand what goes on during a tangi then you probably won't like it.

I told her I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. For three days the people who loved Theo, and me, came to be with us.

Of course there were tears, heaps and heaps of crying. I was all cried out after three days. But there was laughter too. Lots of laughter. And after three days I knew I would be fine.

Without the love and support of family and friends and the embracing environment of the marae over three days the loss of my darling Theo would have been so much more painful.

A marae funeral is not what all Māori families want. That is their choice and I see many families keeping their loved ones at home now until the day of the funeral service and burial.

What I saw last week wasn't just a tangi for five much loved family members. It was a coming together of Te Arawa and Iwi Māori to share the pain of their loss with the Rangikataua, Morgan and Wikiriwhi families.

A demonstration that pain and love can be shared at this time and that the marae is central to this happening. Moe mai ra e te whanau, moe mai ra