My experience with Maori funerals is incredibly limited. So this is simply some of the things I discovered for myself.
But first I should go back to how I first encountered a funeral. Like most people it was a grandparent who died when I was around ten years old. I never saw her and there was discussion whether the kids should even go to the funeral service.
It used to be that when someone died the undertaker came and looked after the body and the minister came and looked after the funeral service. The family were almost spectators while the professionals did their work.
So death was distant and foreign and a little scary if we’re honest. My first funeral as a teenager had an open coffin, but you couldn’t see the person because the coffin was on a stage. I had no desire to take a look.
When my father died at 46 from drowning we went to see him at the funeral home. I was doing ok until I went into the room and actually saw him. I quickly left and spent the rest of the time outside. I didn’t want to face that as a 20 year old.
So death wasn’t something I had a lot to do with. Then, many years later, a Maori man passed away and we were invited to see him.
This was very new to me. The person was in the coffin on the ground surrounded by friends and families. Kids were there playing around and people were just talking normal. People were even laughing and making jokes. But there were also tears and the grief wasn’t hidden at all.
This made such a huge impression on me because I saw death as something not to be afraid of, but something we all will deal with and eventually go through ourselves.
Making death less frightening is important. And I don’t do this at the expense of appreciating the life changing event it is for families. And it isn’t at the expense of the grief losing someone.
It is always a privilege helping the families simply because of their approach. There is a lot of good things we can learn that helps remove the stigma, fear and foreignness of death.