Study seeks to learn more about death and dying

23 August 2010

kia ngawari group

Unveiling death: Waikato University researchers from left to right Dr Tess Moeke-Maxwell, Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku and Associate Professor Linda Waimarie Nikora.

A University of Waikato researcher says we don’t know enough about dying, death and bereavement among Māori today, and she’s seeking participants for a study to help fill the gaps in our knowledge.

Dr Tess Moeke-Maxwell is embarking on a three-year research project to gather information on Māori families’ experiences of death and dying, and the processes associated with end of life.

The aim of the Kia Ngawari study is to increase knowledge and understanding of Māori experiences of living with a life-threatening condition and contemporary Māori palliative needs, both within the healthcare system and among whānau.

“There’s been a lot of interest and inquiry about Kia Ngawari both from health professionals and from family members of individuals with a life-threatening illness,” says Dr Moeke-Maxwell.

Word-of-mouth referrals have put her in touch with several participants for her study of the end-of-life phase, which involves face-to-face interviews with individuals and their family members.

“One gentleman happily chatted for two hours during his the first interview, even though he’d told me he thought he’d only be able to talk for one hour,” she says.

“He said he’d really enjoyed the process – it was just like having a chat about what’s been going on and how he was feeling, and he said there was nothing to be afraid of.”

Dr Moeke-Maxwell hopes to identify and interview up to 30 end of life whānau living in Waikato and South Auckland, and complete up to eight full case studies.

She will be working with two noted Waikato academics. Associate Professor Linda Waimarie Nikora is the founding Director of the Māori & Psychological Research Unit, and Professor Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (CNZM) of the School of Māori and Pacific Development is an eminent cultural, arts and heritage researcher. Both are currently directing the Tangihanga research programme at Waikato University, of which Kia Ngawari is one study.

Professor Awekotuku says the study will make a valuable contribution to our knowledge about this area. “Although Maori are a very death conscious community, we hardly ever talk about it to outsiders and researchers,” she says. “Yet the need is there – for our people living overseas or away from home, for our own descendants.

“The phrase ‘kia ngawari’ means taking it easy, making oneself comfortable. We feel it is an appropriate expression of what this study hopes to achieve; an understanding of this experience which happens so often to our people, and is so rarely discussed.”

Dr Moeke-Maxwell says she is relying on whānau to approach her for this research.

“Families are hugely valuable in supporting this research – it can’t happen without them. Family members can be present during the interviews if the individual wants, and I normally meet with whānau to find out a little bit more about the individual’s background and state of health first.”

She says interviews can take place wherever suits the participants, in their own home, in a care facility or a hospice. “At the end of this study we will know a lot more about how whānau are doing during this part of the life cycle,” says Dr Moeke-Maxwell.

“The information we collect will be made available to participants and whānau, and will also help to develop services and environments that are welcoming, responsive to and supportive of Māori and their whānau.” Dr Moeke-Maxwell’s study is funded by a 2010 Health Research Council Career Development Award.

Anyone who is interested in participating in the study can call 0800 STORIES (0800 786 7437) or contact Dr Moeke-Maxwell at [email protected]. Information on the study is also available at hospices and some health venues in Waikato and South Auckland.

Latest stories