In my ‘aiga (family), I am the first child of the first child; the eldest grandchild; and my nana’s namesake. Moreover the name that I carry is of no little consequence for those familiar with Samoan and Tongan history. My nana was the namesake of her aunt, Leafaitulagi, and I in turn am my nana’s namesake (my full name being Leilani Leafaitulagi). The combination of meanings in just those two names is significant also: Leilani = heavenly flower + Leafaitulagi = hurricane in heaven. No wonder, my grandfather opted to add ‘Grace’ as a middle name to balance it all out (!)
The passing of my nana ten days ago devastated me beyond belief. The days leading up to and the time of her passing were peaceful and beautiful but the shock and physical severance of her leaving this word affected me in a way that I could never have imagined – even after losing my father and grandfather.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for my beautiful nana – at 87 years old she was sick and tired of living with her various disabilities and her latest fall had taken its toll. For at least the last three months she had made it explicitly clear to me that she was ready to go. But the extent to which I miss her presence in my day-to-day life , the impact that she had on my life is such that each salt tear shed is representative of an ocean of grief that will ebb and flow over the course of my life to come.
For those who did not have the privilege to meet my beautiful nana in person, it’s fair to say that she was a force to be reckoned with. And to boot the most generous person I’ve ever met. On top of that she was my soulmate and my best friend. When I was seven years old she told me she loved me more than words could describe. She told me I was her soulmate and that although she loved all of her children and her husband, she could not describe the love she had for me. It was different. And for the girl who was trying to make sense of a world that was upside down – with a father who was a compulsive gambler and, a ‘pretend’ step-father (first initial R., just to be clear) who promised the world and then left us high and dry – this was the difference between later self-harm and suicide.
My nana was my rock, my top advisor, my number one supporter and my soulmate. And I will miss her every day for the rest of my life. I feel privileged to have been her grand-daughter and to have had the time that that I had with her during this short life. And more importantly I have absolutely no regrets about life spent with her as I know we both gave the relationship our all right to the end. It was a relationship that was honest and that was full and beautiful. What more could either of us have asked for?
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who was there for my nana during her life and right to the end. I would especially like to acknowledge my parents Ellie and Mike, my Aunty Vonnie and Uncle Joe, and sister Chantelle for their dedication love and commitment to caring for Nana right to the bitter end. Nana made it clear that she did not want to go into a rest home or hospice and up until four weeks ago was still determined to be as independent as possible. To everyone who has sent messages of love and support and flowers, and to all of our ‘aiga who came from Samoa, Fiji, Hawai’i, Australia and the USA – we love you and thank you.
Finally I would like to acknowledge all of the grandparents raising grandchildren out there and those with significant care responsibilities, whether for young children or elderly parents. As I look at the next sixty days in the lead-up to the General Election – which is on my 35th birthday – in the midst of my grief I feel even more determined, more resolute to stand for Parliament to make sure that we have a government and society that fully recognises and values the important contribution you make. While the value of care cannot be quantified, one thing is for sure, it is currently under-recognised and undervalued and that needs to change!
From the bottom of my heart to all of the carers out there, THANK YOU for all that you do and please know I will be giving the sixty odd days in the lead-up to the election my all, for my nana and for each of you xo.