When COVID-19 found Hohepa Tawhara’s whānau, he knew they were in for a difficult time ahead.
He lives in Maungaraki with his wife, their two daughters (12 and 21) and their oldest daughter’s partner, and over 13 days of isolation each of them became unwell with COVID.
“It’s difficult because you’ve still got to have your household running, but at the same time everyone is out of commission. It made for very long days in dark bedrooms,” Hohepa says.
Initially, the whānau hoped they could isolate the first two positive cases – their 21-year-old daughter and her partner – as they are lucky to live in a two-storey home. Unfortunately, on day three of isolation, Hohepa, his wife and their 12-year-old also tested positive.
“It felt like everything we’d done, clean the house, deliver meals outside the back door downstairs, it still made its way to us.”
There was initially some tension in their whare over how COVID reached their whānau.
“There was a real energy shift in the house given that our two oldest weren’t rule followers. They’re 21 and 22, they were out and about, mixing with lots of people… It probably wasn’t fair on them, but there was lots of robust discussion about them being nonchalant.”
Hohepa says despite the “anger and anxiety” they worked together as a whānau to work through the difficult feelings.
“We’re always trying to bring our kids up in a manaakitanga way. Caring for others how you wish to be cared for. Once the older two realised their actions can impact on other people, things got better."
“We had started with two hard days of ‘blame, blame, blame’, but once the older two recovered they took charge of looking after us. They were helping out around the house, getting the washing done and cooking dinner. They’d go into the little girl’s room and spend time with her, make sure she was okay.”
COVID affected everyone in the whānau differently.
“It struck me the worst out of all of us. I was off work for a total of eight days. It started off as a bad flu, fever, runny nose, sore throat, aching bones, and then about the fifth day I started getting pains in my chest and down the left side of my arm and body. When I sneezed or coughed it squeezed my heart. I said to my wife ‘if it’s still like this tomorrow I’m gonna take myself to the hospital.’”
Luckily, it didn’t come to that, but it was an incredibly tough time.
Hohepa says it was little things that helped get them through.
“We’re lucky that we get meals delivered each week, which is a real simple way to feed the whole family and not overspend on groceries.”
Help came from friends and loved ones, too. “We had neighbours drop off fruit and chocolates. There was lots of support from my colleagues, them saying ‘Just checking in’ ‘You need to rest and recover and make sure you’re 100%’ Having colleagues like that was really cool.”
When it came to looking after his mental health, Hohepa says it all came down to keeping a positive mindset. He is the principal advisor – Māori at the Mental Health and Addictions Directorate at the Ministry of Health, and he used this time to take on board what he’s learned at mahi and through his own lived experience of depression.
“I was just trying to be as positive as I can for myself and the others in my household.”
And, when keeping a positive mindset proved difficult, help came from an unexpected place.
“Our youngest, she was very caring for all of us. ‘Do you need a hot water bottle, a lemon drink, an iceblock?’ She took the lead and that was awesome to see. It meant a lot.”
For others isolating, Hohepa’s advice is simple: “When you can, and have the energy, be connected.” Hohepa found he had the time for a long over-due call with his mum. “I hadn’t spoken to her in a while but I reached out and let her know what was happening. It felt good to talk to someone who you know loves you.”
Hohepa says they initially didn’t tell anyone they had COVID, admitting they initially felt shame about being infected with the virus. . “I think it comes from a place of being whakamā.” But, Hohepa says it’s important to nip those feelings in the bud. “Know that people care about you. We had so many people reach out to us, asking if they can do anything for us. You don’t have to go through it by yourself.”
Hohepa has some final advice for others isolating with their whānau:
“Make sure you’re nice to each other. Having experienced depression, we lock ourselves away from the world, and then you’ve got COVID where you have to lock yourself away from the world. You sit there, isolated, in a place that’s full of people. The most important thing is not to close yourself off. It’s as simple as sitting down for a cup tea with each other, asking ‘are you all good?”