Every evening after the sun sets, Nuu Faailo Lameko sets off from her home in Apia and walks under darkening skies to a freshly concreted gravesite.
There she sits, on the edge of the child-sized slab adorned with colourful bouquets, and sings to her 11-month-old daughter Mina.
They're the same choruses Nuu tenderly comforted her critically ill baby with as the tot lay in a Samoan hospital intensive care unit, measles ravaging her defenseless body just a fortnight ago.
"I would sing my heart out to her," shares the 34-year-old mum. "I always sang at night in the hospital. I would sing Sunday School and gospel songs."
Tragically within days of coming down with a fever, Lemina Zipporah Bourne became the 24th victim in the Pacific Island nation's worsening disease outbreak that has seen 62 people die – 54 of them babies – since late October.
"As I watched her lying there helplessly, all I could think of were the memories that I had," Nuu says tearfully.
"She's the sort of baby that you wouldn't go anywhere without. My daughter enjoyed going everywhere with me, especially church and Sunday School, where she could see kids singing and dancing. Whenever she heard someone singing, she'd clap her hands and dance along to the rhythm. That's what I miss most about my daughter."
Shaking with emotion, Nuu recalls Mina's final moments as her little daughter, who was too young to be vaccinated, succumbed to one of the most contagious diseases on the planet.
"It was Sunday that she passed away," she tells. "I was lying beside her and looked at my clock. It was exactly 10am. I leaned over to her and whispered in Samoan, 'Mina, you have to get up. We're going to get ready for church. The bell has rung for church.'
"As I bent down to pick up my bottle of water, it was like someone was telling me to look at her monitor. I saw the line that tracked the heartbeat drop to zero. Suddenly everything stopped in my world. The doctors tried to resuscitate her but she wouldn't wake up. They asked to try again after two minutes, but I didn't want them to touch my baby any more.
"I sat on the chair and held my baby for the last time," she says forlornly.
"They thought I was going to cry my heart out and scream at the top of my lungs. But no, I didn't cry like every other mother I'd seen that week when their babies died.
"My daughter was really scared whenever she heard someone scream. As I was sitting there holding her, it just came into my mind that I should sing. I let my tears fall as I sang to my baby when she was taking her last breath."
Nuu says one of the last promises she had made to her girl when she was being sedated was that she would hold her and take her home.
Sadly the tot, who was due to celebrate her birthday on December 27 and on the verge of walking unaided, lies buried in a plot outside her family home, not far from where Nuu lives with her remaining four children.
"I never go and visit her grave in daylight," shares Nuu.
"I only go at night. I have to tuck my baby in bed. Whenever I said, 'Mina, alu e moe', she didn't understand if you said that in Samoan, but once you said, 'Mina, go to sleep, Mummy's tired,' she quickly crawled on the bed, lay down and went to sleep. So that's why I only go at night."
Nuu admits sometimes the only way she can cope with the immense sadness is to shut herself away and hide from the world.
"It's quite hard but I do find when I want to forget about her all I have to do is go in my room, lock the door and tell my other children to go and play. I don't know whether I should cry. I'm feeling so numb."
Heartbroken Nuu says losing her little girl has affected so many in her family and wider church community, including her brother who lives in New Zealand and works to support their family in Apia. "When Mina was admitted to hospital, he rang us, promising her a big birthday celebration," she tells.
Now November 24 becomes the sad new date to mark each year when little Mina lost her battle.
"Every time I close my eyes, I see her little face and start to cry," shares Nuu. "I miss her so much. I know I have to be strong for my older kids, but she remains in my heart."
The death toll from Samoa's measles epidemic had risen to 62 as Woman's Day went to press. All but eight of the dead were children aged under four. More than 4000 people have now been infected with the disease and a state of emergency has been declared.
To donate to the ongoing crisis, go to redcross.org.nz
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