The Casketeers' Francis and Kaiora Tipene lift the lid on their 16 years of love

Francis was by his wife’s side as she battled depression and the TV sweethearts still have the look of devotion.

By Marilynn McLachlan
As New Zealand's most famous funeral directors, Francis and Kaiora Tipene are used to dealing with grief and sadness each and every day. But for this couple – who shot to fame in 2018 with their hit television series The Casketeers – love, laughter and happiness are never far away.
When the pair sit down to talk with Woman's Day about their incredible journey together, it's obvious theirs is a special relationship that has only deepened since they met in 2004 at a Maori teacher's training college in Auckland.
"When I first saw him, I was wowed," confesses Kaiora. "I was wowed by his singing, his guitar playing – and his hair was so fine, just like now."
And the feeling was mutual, with Francis, 36, gushing, "I loved the way she did the poi and was just so, so beautiful."
Their wedding day in 2005.
Both in relationships with other people, their feelings were put on hold but eventually circumstances changed and by August they were a couple. Then, four months later, Kaiora discovered she was pregnant.
"My first thought was that I would have to get work and the second thing was facing her mother and family," recalls Francis. "But I didn't want to hide because I really was in deep love."
It was a complicated situation for the two lovebirds. While they'd both grown up in similar circumstances in Northland, Francis came from a Catholic background while Kaiora's family is Mormon.
"You know those missionary boys that go around?" jokes Francis. "Well, her mum probably wanted her to marry one of those boys!"
Things, however, soon settled down and the couple moved to Kaitaia to live with Kaiora's mum, although she insisted they sleep in separate bedrooms, in single beds, until they said "I do".
The couple now have sons (from left) Moronai, Nikora, Mikae, Mihaka and baby Francis.
The doting duo tied the knot quietly in 2005, at the Kaitaia Courthouse, in front of 12 people, with five-months-pregnant Kaiora wearing a dress borrowed from her sister.
Francis, who is also father to Haimona, 18, from a previous relationship, tells, "We didn't have any rings and one of our good friends took hers off and gave it to me to give to Kaiora. And then we went down to the local Chinese takeaway to celebrate."
For a couple whose lives are dedicated to ceremony, Francis says he regrets the event was so low-key to this day.
"I have considered redoing our vows, but it's just one of those things," shrugs Francis, who lost 43kg after undergoing gastric sleeve surgery in 2018.
But Kaiora looks back on their wedding day with fondness. "I don't regret how we did it – it was so simple and we had the important people there."
The sweethearts still have the look of devotion.
Since then, the pair have had their share of ups and downs. They've welcomed sons Nikora, 14, Moronai, 12, Mikae, six, Mihaka, five, and Francis, one, to the world.
In between, they've lost family members, moved to Auckland, opened two funeral homes, launched successful television careers and even penned a book, Life as a Casketeer, which was released this month.
The humble sweethearts also faced challenging times last year when Kaiora developed post-natal depression following the birth of Francis Jr.
Unhappy with how her body felt post-partum, the young mum was also balancing five children, a husband and a business, as well as coping with media attention from the third series of The Casketeers and the show's launch on Netflix.

Kaiora also found herself dealing with some negative feedback on social media.
It was a perfect storm for the 36-year-old who says there was "a lot of crying" and bickering with her husband.
The change in his wife was confusing to Francis as it was completely out of character. Desperate for answers, he searched on Google. It led him to Healthline, which offers free advice and information, and after speaking to a qualified nurse, Francis realised he needed to take his beloved wife to see their GP.
Once they had a diagnosis, they were able to put in place a plan to help. Kaiora realised she needed to take time out for herself and for her that meant doing things like getting her nails and eyelashes done.
"And foot massages," Francis adds with a grin. "When she gets her feet massaged, the whole house is happy!"
The healing process also involved having counselling sessions together, which Francis says "was like a light bulb had turned on".
He adds, "There was this denial about depression, that this doesn't happen to us. But it does. We get the flu, kids get chickenpox and we get depression. It is what it is."
Francis was by his wife's side as she battled depression.
It is these kinds of experiences, says the couple, that help them in their careers as funeral directors.
"When you arrange a funeral, it's not just a dead body; there are all these other dynamics – relationships, people who are estranged, money issues, siblings' issues and we can say we have been there and done that," says Francis philosophically.
After 16 years together their love is stronger than ever. While they laugh at the idea of finding time alone, they do manage a lunch away from their work on the odd occasion.
"We say 'cheers' with our Fanta when we realise we've had a little date," laughs Kaiora. "Nothing has changed since I met him. I still love him. In fact, I think I love him more."
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, call Healthline on 0800 611 116, the Depression Helpline on 0800 111 757 to talk to a trained counsellor for free, or call Youthline on 0800 376 633.
  • undefined: Marilynn McLachlan

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