Family

The grieving Waikato couple who carry their newborn daughter's ashes everywhere they go

''A few have suggested we bury her, but at the moment what we see for the future is pretty much what we do now, taking her everywhere with us.''

By Lynley Ward
On a late spring morning in a brightly decorated room at a South Australian hospital, baby Angelina Adelaide Matekohi was being cradled by her doting mum and dad.
After many weeks of praying for a miracle for their six-month-old, who was born at just 23 weeks, first-time parents Reg and Mau Matekohi faced the hardest decision they'd ever made. They took their daughter off the ventilator machine that was keeping her alive.
Surrounded by whanau who had travelled to Adelaide to support the young Waikato couple, the last precious moments of their baby's life were spent holding her closely and telling her how much she meant to them.
First-time parents Reg and Mau cherished their time spent with Angelina.
Through tears, Reg, 23, recalls the final words he spoke to his daughter. "I said thank you because she did far more for us and her family than we could've ever done for her. She taught us a lot."
"It was a tough day for us," adds Mau. "I cherished cuddling Angelina for the last time. I was still staying very positive, but I told her, 'If you leave us, then God's will will be done and I know you definitely tried your best.'"
After taking her last breath, the six-month-old died in their arms on October 5. Her ongoing health struggles, including debilitating brain bleeds, finally took their toll on the little girl who barely weighed more than a block of butter when she was born.
Angelina weighed less than a block of butter when she was born prematurely.
Having watched her cling to life after her dramatic and unexpected arrival on April 20 last year, while the Hamilton newlyweds were holidaying in Australia, the couple decided even in death they'd make sure their daughter was part of their life back in Aotearoa.
In a departure from their Maori and Pasifika cultures, Tokoroa-born Reg and his 25-year-old Samoan-born wife decided that rather than burying Angelina in a family plot in Australia, they would cremate their daughter and keep her ashes with them.
"I came up with the idea and then asked my wife what she thought of cremation. She was a bit hesitant at first because it isn't something we typically practise in either of our cultures – traditional burial is all we've done and seen our whole lives – but after we both took the idea to our parents and had a really good talk with them, they supported that decision and the idea that we can take our daughter wherever we go."
Decorated with delicately etched pink spirals and a teddy bear, the palm-sized silver urn containing Angelina's ashes is now never far from either parent.
"We take her to university. She's with us when we go to classes and to the shops," says Reg who, with his wife, has resumed his first-year teaching course at Waikato University.
"She even sleeps in the bed with us. Sometimes she ends up in the middle of the bed in the middle of the night!"
"It means the world to me," shares Mau, clasping the urn in her hands. "To begin with, I was against taking that path, but now that we actually have her ashes with us, I love that we get to take her anywhere and everywhere we go."
Mau explains that keeping Angelina's ashes has been a source of healing through the difficult months of mourning.
Holding their daughter's ashes close is helping to ease Reg and Mau's grief.
"Being able to talk to her has helped me. Because we have her here with us, we talk to her as if she's still here, holding her in our arms."
The couple are also documenting their time with Angelina in a vlog, Hearts in the Ashes, recapping aspects of their daughter's short life in the hope it will help others who face similar situations. And because of their social media profile, it's not unusual for fellow students to approach them to meet their daughter.
"They come up and ask, 'Can we hold her?' It's really lovely to see them holding her urn – it sort of makes it feel like you're holding a real baby," Reg says.
Whether they're shopping or heading to class at university, the couple carry the tiny urn with them.
Mau is quick to reassure those who feel uncomfortable, saying, "There are times that people just stare at her. I'm the kind of person who says 'That's my daughter.'"
And while burial may be something the couple eventually choose in future years, for now they're happy with having Angelina close.
"If there was ever a decision we made for our daughter, I think that's the best one we've made," tells Reg. "A few have suggested we bury her, but at the moment what we see for the future is pretty much what we do now, taking her everywhere with us."

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