The Grief Journey

Teina aged 17

Teina has a zest for life. He’s described by his Mum, Debbie as respectful, fun loving, much-loved and super-talented. He was diagnosed with Acute Myloid Leukemia at the age of 16 ½ and passed away on 17th August 2016, a month before his 18th birthday.

Teina Lee Terei is the youngest of three boys, his brother Dalton and Jack adore him and could never get enough of him. My name is Debbie and I’m his one and only mum and his dad Pio (as Teina wrote in a school paper) is “a funny person, who always has your back and is a great father and role model”

Our Teina is such an easy boy to love, uncomplicated, honest, loving, a traditionalist and very whanau driven. A zest for life to give anything a go, regardless of being good at it. He is not a risk taker, very respectful and thoughtful and funny….oml so quick and funny.  Teina has the ability to turn a frown upside down.  He embraced anyone of any sex, age, colour or culture, he just loved people.  He takes everything in his stride, never jealous, although envious of others at times, but never pondered on it. Teina captured peoples attention with his charismatic way and quick witted one liners, no one not liked him. If they did they were jealous and something he found strange to comprehend. He is quick to acknowledge others for their talents and happy to just be alongside. Hugely talented and did a lot of TV work and from an early age, taking the stage was a walk in the park, the bigger the crowd the better, perhaps a chip off the old bloke of his dad, but his father many a time would admit Teina had a huge natural talent and was quicker than him. He held the attention of the room and has a huge kind heart, always considerate of others. Loved by his fathers and brothers so much, he truly was the hub of our whanau.

Teina’s illness

Teina was diagnosed with Acute Myloid Leukemia on 1 April 2015 at the age of 16 ½.

So we lived fulltime at Starship Ward 27B for about five months. He gained remission and was full steam ahead to get a part time job, bought a truck, motorbike and managed to have a special friend. 10 months later it was back and back with a vengeance.  He was scheduled for another 5 rounds of chemo, bone marrow transplant and 3 rounds of full body radiation.  After the 2nd round of chemo he contracted pseudomonas, causing a form of septicemia and he passed in ICU after 3 days on 17th August 2016 - exactly one month to the day before his 18th birthday on 17th September.

The first year - the toughest bits and major challenges. 

The first year was a blur really now I think of it, so much anger, so many tears, trying to get our heads around what had happened and had this really happened to us and our Teina. Why? Why? A very unsettled home, his brothers struggling to even get through the days, let alone his father and I. For me, I can remember thinking there is nothing left of me to continue on. Waking first thing and having a very brief moment of normality, but it was those few seconds only after waking, then the punch in the pit of your puku to remind you that this really did happen. Everything meant so much; his things, anything he may have touched in the house or anywhere else. The pain and overwhelming ache to not touch him, feel his skin, feel his breath as he spoke, the sound of his voice, hearing him laugh,  the way he enveloped me in his arms and never hesitated to kiss my lips (unless I had that lipstick stuff on he would say). Even all the things we shared in hospital, words, bathing, fevers, chemo, surgery trips, sleepless nights, the laughs, the very social room with lots of visitors, the very new normal regime, trying to  feed him up and so much more was missed.

Initially, I lived on sleeping pills and tried so many alternatives. Seeking answers in spiritual readings, searching for signs, hoping that the vehicle that just came down the drive was him. Socialising was gone, I may go to a mall for a coffee, mostly with someone, but it had to be where I knew no one and if I needed to go home, I went…this was really another form of distraction.

Marking milestones

Milestones for us really haven’t happened, or we have only acknowledged his 18th and 21st birthdays. Teina’s 21st was driven by a small group of friends from his part time work place of West Wave Recreation Centre in West Auckland. They wanted to ride push bikes from Auckland to Mitimiti in the far North Island, to his marae and resting place, and arrive on the day of his 21st birthday. This is about 350km, approximately five hours by car. This was achieved and was featured on TVNZ programme, The Hui.

For us to acknowledge the worst day of our lives - the 17th August (the day Teina died) is just not an option at all. Birthdays perhaps may come back in time as it was the day we were blessed with his birth, but we are allowing the layers to peel back and let’s see.

What have you done to cope?

Wow! There is not much we have not tried, so I speak for the whole whanau and a variety of aids that have been utilised. Counselling, religion, talking of Teina, drugs, alcohol, medication, reiki, spiritual healing, creating a Trust in his name “Trust Teina”,  Helping Parents Heal, friends, Healing Hearts whanau and reaching out to people who have also lost a child to help ease or distract my own pain. Some very unique people have come into our lives that have been alongside. Day by day is how we have got this far, one foot in front of the other, doing what feels right at the time, making mistakes and learning from them.

What is the ‘one thing’ you would say to a newly bereaved parent?

There are no magic words, but the power of touch is so comforting. Be gentle on yourself, you cannot take any blame for anything you may say or do that other people don’t agree with. Cry when and as much as you want and surround yourself with people who will only support you, love you and ask nothing of you. It's enough to get up and start a day and if you are only ok for a short time, that is ok.

Know that your grief is the physical loss of your child and your tears are all the love you have for them which you cant show them in a human form. Believe they have truly gone nowhere, just changed their form and one day you shall be reunited in the same realm.

Retaining his cells in my body as his mother gives me comfort, as no one else will ever be his mother. That's mine role until the day I die.