The sadness of burying their eldest child has been made more bearable for Denis and Taape O'Reilly by the knowledge that she got to spend an extra seven priceless years with her sons after being given up for dead.
Kaylene Tareha-O'Reilly, 43, died in Hutt Hospital on Sunday. It was the same hospital where, seven years ago, she was given the last rites.
She was gravely ill with brain stem encephalitis. Doctors told the family she would die and they were close to turning off life support when Taape decided to bring in John Tahuparae, a tohunga or Maori healer, who was also Parliament's first official kaumatua.
"The Catholic priest looked at me sideways," Denis O'Reilly said. "I said, 'Look, Father, you handle the AD, and this fella will handle the BC'. Tahu said a short karakia and then turned around and said she'd be OK."
The encephalitis virus had caused Kaylene's health to deteriorate rapidly in 2007, and swelling at the base of her brain "meant there was no hope for her", her father said.
At the time, Kaylene's two sons were 12 and 18 and the sons of her partner Richard Jujnovich were just 1 and 3.
Kaylene, the oldest of six siblings, recovered after Tahuparae's visit and, after six weeks in the intensive care unit, was able to go home.
"We had a celebration-of-life party and invited the nurses and doctors. I remember one doctor saying two unprecedented things had happened. One was being invited to a party to celebrate life, and the other was having no medical explanation for what had occurred," O'Reilly said.
He could not explain what had occurred, but was "absolutely convinced" his daughter would not have survived without Tahuparae's prayer. "I asked Tahu what was in the karakia. He said, 'I just asked the old people not to take her'."
Kaylene spent most of her adult life in Wellington. She was able to return to work and enjoy the last seven years with her boys.
A service for her was held in Wellington yesterday. Another will be held at Ruahapia Marae in Hastings today before she is buried at Waiohiki, Taradale.
Tahuparae died in 2008. His widow, Rose White-Tahuparae, who has been Parliament's kaumatua since 2009, recalled the visit to Kaylene.
"I recall the doctors saying there was absolutely no hope whatsoever. Tahu asked if they minded him doing his thing. They just said, 'God bless you, Tahu'.
"I remember he did his karakia and she [Kaylene] let out this huge sigh. He knew then that she would be all right, and that's what happened. Tahu just had this ability to make people believe in themselves.
"I know some people will say it's rubbish, and that's fine. I don't care. I know it worked."
- The Dominion Post
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