Grieving daughter pleads for 10 minutes out of managed isolation to farewell late mother

Just 10 minutes – that is all a grieving daughter is pleading for so she can say a final goodbye to her late mother.

Tapaita Lapao’o is the woman who was captured in a heartbreaking video crying behind the gates of a managed isolation facility while reaching out to a hearse carrying her late mother.

In between heart-wrenching sobs, a few disjointed words can be heard: “Mum. Please. I cannot reach out. Hold my hand. My mother.”

She is heard apologising to her late mum: “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry … I cannot come.”

Speaking to the Herald, the distraught daughter of 80-year-old Ilaisaane Saafi said it was one of the hardest moments of her life.

“I wanted to just go and kiss her. She won’t come back and I won’t see her again. I wanted to thank her for everything she’s done for me.”

Lapao’o is waiting to hear from officials as to whether or not she will be granted an exemption to come out of managed isolation for a short period of time so say a final goodbye to her mother.

“Maybe an hour is too long. But half an hour, 20 minutes or even 10 minutes just to kiss her and then out the door and come straight back here.

“Just 10 minutes, that’s enough for me to say goodbye to my beautiful mother.”

The funeral home caring for the pensioner – Tīpene Funerals, from the TV show The Casketeers – has already signalled that if Lapao’o is allowed to come out, they will organise a room at their establishment for that final farewell to happen.

Funeral director Francis Tīpene said a room would be set up accordingly and Lapao’o would have to wear full personal protective equipment during the visit, before the casket would be taken away for burial.

The room would then be fully sanitised afterwards and Lapao’o returned to the managed isolation facility to finish her quarantine period.

“I just hope she gets to give her mother one last kiss,” Tīpene said.

Under the current rules, exemptions for exceptional reasons are approved only in “rare circumstances,” the MIQ Government website says.

Exemptions that are approved are only done so for a temporary period and people involved must return to an MIQ facility to complete their compulsory 14-day managed isolation.

A daughter's desperate plea

“Any exemption from managed isolation requires a strict release plan which you must agree to before it is granted,” the site says.

“This includes a requirement to maintain a 2-metre distance from other people, including family and friends, and you will be closely monitored by Government or security personnel.”

Lapao’o has been in managed isolation in Auckland since arriving from Australia last Friday, March 19. Sadly, her mother died two days later.

Other than being a diabetic, Lapao’o said their mother was “very well and healthy”. So it was a shock to everyone when she suffered a stroke about two weeks ago.

When she was told her elderly mother was in a coma, Lapao’o searched for days on the MIQ website in a bid to find a spot in managed isolation, as she wanted to get home to mum.

“I didn’t think I would find anything. But one day, when I was looking, somehow that date came up on the calendar – Friday 19th of March. I clicked it straight away.”

Paying tribute to her mother, Lapao’o described her as a soft and caring woman who was known for her beautiful voice and love of singing in the church choir.

Hailing from the Vava’u and Ha’apai in Tonga, she came to New Zealand with her then young children before remarrying and settling down in Grey Lynn; working as a kitchen-hand and cleaner.

Her husband, Semisi Taunga Saafi, died last year.

Lapao’o said all her Covid tests had come back negative and she was hoping that a daughter’s desperate plea for compassion could be recognised.

“I’m deep in pain, but I’m healthy. This plea comes from the bottom of my heart – from a daughter wanting to see a mother who gave us everything.”

Exemption process needs improvement – funeral director

Tīpene said they had helped many families who had had to deal with losing family members during the time of Covid.

That included holding bodies for months or several weeks until a lockdown finished and thereby allowing families to hold a proper funeral.

It is also included helping those who were in managed isolation when a family or loved one died – and needed to apply for an exemption to come out early.

Tīpene acknowledged that the exemption process could be improved hugely, saying “it takes forever” to get an answer and most of the time, the answer was no.

“It is heartbreaking for many people, especially for Pacific and Māori cultures, where we need to embrace and touch.”

Speaking about the devastating moment shown in the video shared online, Tīpene said he too began to cry seeing how much pain Lapao’o was in.

“That’ll be a moment that will stick with me. We felt for her so much and didn’t want her to keep crying in case she collapsed.

“We just closed the door slowly and drove away. She was still outside as we left.”

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