The profound grief of losing two daughters would emotionally cripple most people - Chris Brewer isn't most people.
She's an outstandingly courageous woman who's kicked sand in the face of adversity, consigning personal tragedy to a place she holds dear but where she refuses to wallow in self pity.
Rather, she's enthusiastically embraced life, becoming a mentor to the disabled. It's a unique accomplishment that demands the obvious "how can you possibly stay so positive?" question.
The answer zooms back.
"I choose to be positive, there are choices we make in life. You can let things that have affected you make you bitter or they can make you a better person, I chose to be a better person."
Chris Brewer is up there with the best of the best in this community heading Te Maru, Western Heights High's unit for students with special needs.
She didn't go into the job cold. Her eldest daughter, Luea, was born with profound cerebral palsy, she died at 11.
Another catastrophe lurked.
Daughter Kate died on the cusp of her and fraternal twin sister Nyssa's 21st birthday. Despite extensive medical investigations Kate's death's never been fully explained but is believed to have been caused by her heart stopping suddenly.
"Doctors said it's not uncommon in girls in their early 20s, because of the time lapse it wasn't possible to establish a link with Luea's death. The family's been extensively tested, particularly Nyssa, a cousin was found to have a hole in her heart."
Before returning to these double tragedies Our People presses the rewind button for an overview of Chris' earlier years. Rotorua born, she was Robert and the late Judith Bould's fourth daughter and youngest child.
"We had a great childhood, Dad's a brilliant carpenter, joiner, he's made me a ukulele stand during [Covid-19] lockdown."
From Girls' High Chris enrolled in Hamilton Teachers College.
"I've still got the wonderful friends who were my flatmates then."
Her first posting was to a small country school - she hated it.
"The headmaster was horrific, chauvinistic, he made me feel useless."
She told a school inspector she was quitting the profession, she talked Chris out of it.
Her second teaching year brought her back to Rotorua and Selwyn Primary.
"By then I was engaged, it was a training college romance, we married but it didn't last, we were far too young."
Alan Brewer, also from Rotorua, came into her life.
I choose to be positive ... I chose to be a better person.
They married, launching themselves on their European OE via Queensland.
"We were living like locals in a little village in Germany when I became pregnant, I wanted to come home to have our baby."
That baby was Luea, named after a close German friend.
"I had a very long labour, when she arrived she was a little bit snuffly so was taken to SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit). A young doctor came and told me the baby was having seizures, probably due to lack of oxygen during labour or delivery, then he said 'she's going to be disabled.' I couldn't believe him, she looked so perfect."
Chris and Luea were sent to the then Auckland Children's Hospital.
"It was the loneliest week of my life, Alan had to stay behind and work. Eventually two neurologists stood at my door and said 'she's got moderate to severe cerebral palsy, any questions?'. Before I'd mastered my thoughts they'd walked off."
Back home the Brewers "simply got on with it".
"There were three super heroes in our lives, Luea's paediatric specialist, Dr Michael Miles, paediatrician Johan Moreau (Our People, April 27, 2019) and Sylvia Beamish-White, our neuro development therapist. I lived from appointment to appointment."
The twins were born when Luea was 4 and attending an IHC junior training centre.
"That was before the disabled could go to a normal school, the 1989 Education Act gave them that right. I always thought there was a spark in her but she couldn't get it out. She was a cheeky little thing, when the twins got a growling she'd laugh her head off."
If life as a mother of a disabled child wasn't difficult enough, with the twins' arrival it became frenetic.
"Alan and a builder were altering our house to accommodate Luea's needs so we lived with my parents for three months. Once home it was chaos, if I got my hair brushed by lunchtime I was doing well. The kids were in cloth nappies, I'd be scrubbing them at 9pm.
"I told our insurance company I wanted to cash in my policy to buy a dishwasher. The man said 'in normal circumstances we'd say no but by the look of you I think you need one'. I don't have one now."
Alan stopped work to help out when Luea was born.
"We were living on a benefit, there were no extras, only staples. Alan made German bread and had an amazing vegetable garden. When he went trout fishing our boxer dog would catch wallabies, so we made our own dog food. One day welfare called and said they could see we were resourceful."
The twins went to Koutu play centre then Homedale kindy, Luea was at the IHC live-in facility where she later died.
"They found her not breathing, she couldn't be brought back. We took her home, the twins were 6, they covered her with forget-me-nots and spoke at her funeral."
Chris was relief teaching at Aorangi Primary.
"After Luea died I was an absolute mess, burnt out. My turning point was when I stopped grieving for her not as the person she could have been but for the person she was who I loved."
Chris' empathy for those with disabilities remained, when there was a vacancy for an assistant teacher at WHHS' specialist unit she applied and was appointed, becoming its head in 2010, less than a year after Kate's death.
"I hadn't worked with older disabled children before but just loved it, they enrich my life daily and have taught me so much about myself, not to sweat the small stuff."
Chris was on study leave and on the verge of completing her Bachelor of Education, focusing on special education when the twins were about to celebrate their 21st. Kate came home from Wellington where she was a third-year fine arts student to prepare the party. Nyssa was at Auckland University studying chemical engineering.
"Kate and I had this wonderful, fun day together. The next day she didn't feel too good but had her period which did affect her so we weren't worried. That evening I took some washing into her room, she wasn't breathing. Alan rang the ambulance the 111 operator coached us through CPR."
Kate was admitted to ICU where she remained until the gut-wrenching decision was made to switch off her life support.
"ICU was amazing, the room was packed with family, friends, her teachers, it's that Rotorua cultural thing."
Following Kate's death, Chris and Alan separated, she attributes the rift to coping with their shared grief in different ways.
"Losing two daughters was surreal, I think of them every day, I could have jumped in the lake but that wouldn't have done anyone any good, least of all them."
Te Maru unit a place of nurturing and nourishment
Western Heights High School's Te Maru unit is a very special place.
It's where 22 students with special needs flourish under the leadership of Chris.
The name translates to "a place of nurturing and nourishment".
"That's our philosophy, we focus on our students' gifts and talents, build them and their self confidence up," she says.
During Covid-19 lockdown the youngsters, like most in mainstream education, connect via Zoom.
If they don't have computer access Chris phones or Face Time's them.
"We chat and celebrate every day, play games, have fun. Some are pretty anxious but most are really happy to be back in class, I've had lovely feedback from parents."
Losing two daughters was surreal, I think of them every day.
In 'normal' times the unit is creativity-centred.
"Lots of music, singing and visual arts. Students take part in the school's talent quest and Heights Creative.
"We have a lot of interaction in the community, sing at rest homes, enter the garden festival, join in [artist and performer] Jill Walker's projects. We're big on the environment, run a worm farm selling its by-product through an organic food co-op."
Visits to the library, Arts Village and performances at Te Manawa are class favourites. Before lockdown students swum at Poly Spa every Friday.
"They're very generous to us and the kids go out on work experience in businesses like The Third Place [café]."
Two-thirds are involved in Special Olympics.
"It's a great sporting opportunity for them, some play in up to four codes."
Te Maru's inclusiveness with the main school's a given. Three of its members became prefects in 2015.
Educationalists laud it for its achievements. Pre Covid-19 there were whispers it was in line for a Prime Minister's Award, whether that will eventuate is uncertain. Regardless Chris has no intention of turning her back on the workplace she loves.
"I want to keep working until I see a new building, we've been waiting years."
About Chris (Christine) Brewer (nee Bould)
Born: Rotorua, 1957
Education: Glenholme Primary, Rotorua Intermediate, Girls' High, Hamilton Teachers College
Family: Surviving daughter Nyssa, chemical engineer, Kawerau. Father Robert Bould. "He's almost 89."
Interests: Family and students. "Being creative, making boats out of driftwood, art, photography, gardening, sewing, music, reading, preferably crime novels, walking, my caravan at Waihau Bay." Member Special Olympics committee.
On her life: I think I'm a better person in my 60s than when I was younger, certainly fitter and healthier."
On Rotorua: "I love living in Koutu, the culture, hearing te reo Maori spoken daily,"
Personal philosophy: "Be kind and considerate."