‘Cherish every day those moments become memories’

My first Mother’s Day without my mum - a daughter’s tribute

Nunualofa Tipi pictured with her mum, Toeolesulusulu Leata Laine Tipi. Photo / Supplied

Toeolesulusulu Leataata Laine Tipi MNZM was a big promoter of early childhood education for Pacific communities in West Auckland and is the founder of the full-immersion Samoan language Leataata o Tupulaga o le Pasefika preschool. She died in March after a three-year battle with cancer, aged 72. Her daughter and guest writer, Nunualofa Tipi, shares a tribute.

Today, as I sit in the preschool office and look around at your things on your desk, I find myself drawn to the memories of you, mum.

Every day, I have the urge to share your story. Your essence, your impact and the void your absence has left in my life.

Growing up, my mum was the epitome of grace and strength. She wasn’t just my mum - she was my mentor, my confidante, my biggest cheerleader and protector in life. Her unwavering support shaped my worldview; teaching me resilience and compassion.

From the simplest acts of kindness to the trials and tribulations of life and its lessons, she instilled in me a sense of empathy and integrity.

Leata Laine Tipi pictured in September, 2012, with pupils at the preschool she founded in West Auckland: Leataata o Tupulaga o Pasefika. Photo / Richard Robinson / NZME

Mum wasn’t just a presence in my life - she was the heart of our home. Her warm cuddles and soothing and not-so-soothing words were my refuge in times of stress.

She could take my mountain of a problem and reduce it to a small hill with her unique view of life and her constant belief in the good of everyone.

‘Cherish every day those moments become memories’

Reflecting on moments we shared, when I was younger, when I would be in my room singing songs with my cousin Elaine and she’d come and ask us to keep her company in the study room and sing there - while she tried to finish an assignment.

When we’d hit an off note, we would get a “kai lava” (thank you), her most iconic saying. I remember seeing her surrounded by books and struggling to stay awake - working full-time and studying on top of that, while also maintaining a household.

I’m reminded of the boundless love and sacrifices she made for a better life for us, her children, but also for our extended aiga, her village and her community.

She laid the foundation for my dreams and aspirations. She taught me the value of hard work and determination. Always leading by example.

Nunualofa Tipi pictured with her proud mum on her graduation day. Photo / Supplied

As I navigate through life without her physical presence, I find solace in the memories we created together. Her smile is etched in my memory - as is her joyful spirit and laugh. They are a gentle reminder of the joy she brought into our lives.

My mum was a strong woman of God. She had an unwavering faith in the Lord that always amazed me. Her favourite saying that I would hear her say every day - on good days and bad - was: ‘I am so thankful to the Lord’.

Although she may no longer be with me in the flesh, her spirit remains alive in every aspect of my being. The void left by her absence is palpable; especially when I see my daughter Kira and when my little girl innocently asks after her beloved Nana.

The legacy she leaves behind

In those moments, I’m filled with a bittersweet longing; wishing my mum could see the beautiful soul Kira is becoming.

In the first six months of my 3-year-old’s life, her Nana would come into our room at dawn, every day, and take Kira outside for a walk and a breath of fresh air - something that was done in the old days in Samoa, mum said.

The Tipi aiga: Leata Laine and her husband Su'a Tapuai with children Ivoga, Toeolesulusulu Fa’amalua, Rachel, Lole and Stefanie, Nunualofa and Jonathan, and grandchildren Ashleigh, Penitito, Grace, Fa’amalua Junior, Alesana, Katalina, Henry and Kira. Photo / Supplied

Looking back at that memory now, I see it as my mum’s bonding time with my daughter and something I will always cherish. Kira also knows several Samoan Bible verses thanks to her Nana and we will sing pese lotu (hymns) more often now as a reminder of what used to be.

I find comfort in knowing that her legacy lives on through me and the values I pass on to my daughter.

As I face my first Mother’s Day without my mum, it’s days like this that feel heavier than others. Cherish and appreciate every moment you spend with your mum because one day, those moments will become memories.

To my mum, you may no longer be here with us now, but your love continues to guide me through life’s ups and downs. For Mother’s Day, I celebrate you not just as my mother, but as the eternal beacon of love and strength you will always be.

Mum, I am so thankful to you. Happy Mother’s Day. With love, your daughter.