Getting Through Together / Grief and loss / A tangi for Mummy Daph during Covid-19

Amaru Morgan’s mother, Daphne, was mum to 12 kids, and ‘Mummy Daph’ to all the friends of friends that were always welcome at the Morgan household in Ngāruawāhia. To Amaru, she was the heart of the family – a ‘humdinger’ of a mother who kept the home together and the children out of mischief. “That wasn’t always easy,” Amaru laughs. “With 12 kids, we could definitely get into trouble.”

The Morgan family has weathered a lot of loss; of their 12 children, Daphne had to bury four – three from cancer, one from a heart attack. Amaru’s eldest sister, Kaa, died when she was just 10 years old, and he was eight.

“Mum really epitomised the women of that era for me; they were pretty tough and very caring. Life still had to go on because the kids had to be clothed and fed. She was a great source of strength for the family.”

At 93, Daphne was still living mostly independently in a self-contained unit at the family home. Earlier on in 2020, Daphne’s age had finally caught up with her and she was being looked after by a wide group of family members, as well as being in the care of hospice. When Covid-19 hit, Daphne’s bubble included two of her nieces, and Amaru’s sister, Wai, a retired nurse.

Mai and Mum

“Wai was calming for my nieces,” Amaru says. “There was a lot of fear and grief that she was going to pass, which was tough for everyone. I spent a lot of time on the phone; as the eldest, Mum asked for me a lot.”

One day when Amaru was making his regular phone call, it was clear his mother had gone downhill fast. She was in and out of consciousness, but Amaru believed she could still hear him, and asked his nieces to put the phone on speaker, next to his mother’s bed.

“I said to her, ‘Mum, I just want to talk to you about me growing up, and my brothers and sisters.’ I started by talking about my eldest sister, and I talked about the two visits that I had from her over the years.”

In the years since Kaa had died, she had appeared to Amaru twice in his sleep. Once when he was a teen, and the second time when he was in his thirties. He then went on to talk about each of his siblings, living and dead, and what they had been like to grow up with. As he was nearing the end of his list of siblings, his mother woke up briefly before going to sleep again.

“I said, ‘I’ll leave it there, I’ll come back another time to talk about the rest.’” Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance to – Daphne died shortly after. But it brought Amaru great comfort that he had been able to talk to her, at length, in her final hours.

The funeral was a mix of great tradition and new technology. Amaru’s nieces organised the tangi at the local marae and the funeral home sorted out a live stream for the service, with people accessing the funeral via Facebook live. Unfortunately for Amaru, the link didn’t work for him and a handful of others. By the time it was working, the service had already ended.

“That’s technology – when it doesn’t want to work, it doesn’t work,” he says ruefully.

Because Daphne was so well-known in the community, people who lived close to the marae came out and stood, in their bubbles, in their driveways as the procession went by. It was a sign of the love that so many people shared for Mummy Daph.

The extended Morgan whānau is large – there are 40 grandchildren, 71 great grandchildren and 12 great, great grandchildren – but they’ve all been keeping in contact via phone or Facebook. For Amaru, one way he chose to remember his mum was through food. Their childhood garden was blessed with a bountiful garden and Daphne’s apple pie was legendary.

“After she passed, there was a day where I felt like an apple pie,” Amaru smiles. “I went to the supermarket and got one – it wasn’t the same, but I ate it in honour of my mum, and I savoured every memory.”