#OPINION Sharing the kindness to grieving children

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t try to escape “managed isolation” to say goodbye to their father.

At the weekend we heard about a family, whose members escaped isolation in an attempt to attend their father’s funeral.

“Lock em up”, “Rules are rules” and “Selfish”: These words blasted across the online commentary, commentary that disregards the emotional state of children and the heartache that a mother feels when trying to care for her grieving children.

Headlines reeled in the haters of New Zealand and played on the fear that is felt globally through a pandemic. An already difficult time was made worse by time, place, situation and uncontrollable grief.


Tangihanga (funerals) for Māori are unique. They are a spiritual experience. They are a necessary and unavoidable part of the Māori way of life.

It is absolutely essential for Māori to have the time and space to grieve the loss of a loved one in a way that allows the spiritual being of the deceased to feel and be filled with love so they can have a safe and smooth journey to Hawaiki (the final resting place of spirits). This is achieved through roimata (tears), waiata (song), whaikōrero (oratory), karanga (spiritual calls) and other customs that are used in the grieving process at tangihanga. These are not only important for cultural processes but also help families work through the spiritual and mental impacts of loss.

The problem with headline grabs is that people believe the standard five to seven words they read and take it as truth when in reality the truth of this story is that there are four children, aged 12, 15, 17 and 18 years old.

They lost their dad unexpectedly, and, in their grief and heartache they tried to say a final good bye and fulfill the most important custom in the Māori culture – tangihanga.

I’m not saying that escaping isolation in a global pandemic is acceptable but what I am saying is the statement given by Minister Megan Woods about the family saying “These people knew the rules and chose to break them and will now face the consequences” is unacceptable.

“These people” are these grieving children who have lost their dad and felt so helpless that the only option they saw in front of them was to break out of a window and climb a 6ft fence.

These 12-, 15-, 17- and 18-year-old grieving children “will now face the consequences.”

That is unacceptable.

What about kindness?

The Coalition government calls for the country to be kind, yet the issuing of this information has led to the public humiliation and ridicule of grieving children and a caring mother – so much for kindness.

There is no question about the health and safety of New Zealanders being paramount but there seems to be a lack of regard for the grieving children in the way that this case was handled.

The minister said the funeral that was to be attended by the family was on Saturday - the same day they were made to stand in front of a judge.

If we really looked at the possible effects of this on those children we would understand the level of trauma that they may have very well experienced. To be 15 years old explaining to a judge what you did in a moment of deep grief while your family buries your father will no doubt be difficult. Was it kind to do that?

Would the kinder option have been to detain them and have them stand before court on Monday?

Or was it completely necessary to have this family face the consequences in such a way?

In my opinion kindness is necessary.

I just hope that as a country we can find a way to share that kindness to people who need it even when it’s scary.

Rukuwai Tipene-Allen is Te Ao Maori News’ political reporter.