Growing up in Whanganui, my weekends were often spent delicately balancing my scrawny legs on a ladder, with a bucket of soapy water and scrunched up newspaper, cleaning my Nan's windows.
I always felt hard done by as a kid having to work alongside my cousins at Nan's place, but we would often be rewarded with takeaways for dinner. "What do you want for tea tonight?" Nan would ask us carload of kids. Being polite, we would say, "Oh, anything Nan," to which she replied, "Well we will have nothing then!" And we would ask for KFC.
You could see the sparkle in our eyes as we sat down in the restaurant and eagerly awaited our three-piece quarter packs. Then, much to our dismay, Nan would ask us to pray before we ate.
So, there we all were, sitting at KFC, clasping our hands as low beneath the table as possible and bowing our heads to pray, all the while peeking up in embarrassment to see if anyone was watching.
When we got home, she would lay my pyjamas before the heater to warm them up. She would throw me in the shower and then meticulously rub Vicks on my feet, back and chest. Then we would watch TV and I would rub her feet until it was time for bed.
Her bedroom windows were always open so at night, I found warmth and comfort nestled against her soft body, a little spoon, falling asleep to the sound of her whispering the Lord's Prayer.
These memories have become even more precious. On Sunday November 22, my powerhouse of a kuia, Wahi Marama Teki, died at Whanganui Hospital at 89 years old.
The sudden loss of my Nan has left us truly heartbroken. She was my Nanna Teki, Nanny Wahi to others, and Nanny Kui to the hundreds if not thousands of children she nurtured in her lifetime.
In 1992, after Nanna Teki and Big Mum (Aunty Dell) opened a kohanga reo at Koriniti Marae, and I was a founding student. For almost 30 years, Nan would take tamariki an hour up the River Rd to our marae and immerse them in te reo Māori me ōna tikanga, teaching them where they come from and who they come from.
Nan was well known in the Māori community, often attending hui and events, and supporting a wide range of kaupapa. People knew her front door was always open, a sign for passersby that she was home and up for a visit and a kapu tī.
She loved to chat and took interest in other people and their families. She was honest and sometimes had a sharp tongue. She always had our backs and made sure her mokopuna never went without. She had impeccably high standards and was a formidable woman with great integrity.
In all honesty, the past fortnight has been very distressing, and I am still struggling to come to terms with what has happened. But I have found comfort in the way we handle death as Māori.
From the moment Nan died, our family did not leave her alone. Someone stayed with her body every step of the way, which is our tikanga in Te Ao Māori.
Nan was taken to her home on Taupo Quay the afternoon of her death, where around 200 mourners came throughout the evening. Her neighbours, our whanaunga and the family of her late best friend Nanny Nat, opened their home and cooked around the clock to keep us and our manuhiri fed.
The next day we took Nan to Koriniti Marae, where the haukainga were poised to have us. A massive marquee was set up on the marae grounds where Nan's body laid for a couple of days. In that time, hundreds more people came through the marae to pay tribute to our Nan and to extend their sympathies to us.
They spoke of her contribution to kohanga reo and te reo Māori and they joked about her tendency to order people around. They spoke of her windows and doors always being open, and of the sadness they feel for her passing. As her immediate family, we got to spend our days next to Nan, not permitted to do any work around the marae.
Our aunties and kuia slept next to Nan in the tent at night, stroking her face, shedding tears, and sharing stories about her. We sang songs, we hugged, our babies fell asleep on the mattresses and we cried together. All the while our relatives offered a shoulder, welcomed people, did whaikorero, sang waiata and cooked and cleaned.
As a whanau, we have been overwhelmed by the support we have been shown the past fortnight. We did not have to lift a finger. The tangihanga process afforded us the time and space to grieve, to see and touch her cooling skin, to come to grips with our loss.
Through all the sadness, I could not help but think about how lucky we are as Māori to handle death in this way. But it dawned on me that so many of you would never have seen this before. There are still stark differences between how Māori and Pākehā process death, and I am so glad we hold fast to our tangihanga tikanga. It meant that we paved the way for her journey to the afterlife and I was ultimately ready to give her that final kiss.
As tears fall down my cheeks, I am encouraged by a sense of gratitude. Gratitude to everyone who has supported us, thank you so much, and gratitude for my Māori culture. But most of all, gratitude to my Nan, who taught me how to dress sharp and to have good posture. Who taught me how to write on the lines and how to get windows clean with dishwashing liquid and newspaper.
But most importantly, thank you Nan for blessing me with the gift of te reo Māori, and arming me with this strong sense of identity, belonging, and purpose that comes with it. I would not be the woman I am today without you and I carry you with me always.
Tangi hotuhotu ana te ngākau. Moe mai ra e te pou kuia o Te Awa Tupua