Tragedy brings us together. That statement in itself is tragic. When someone dear to us is taken so suddenly we wonder what we could have done different, grapple for the words that can describe our emotions – but how can we ever truly and adequately describe loss?

Why is it that when disaster strikes we ache for one last moment with our loved ones when all along we had ample opportunity to tell them all our thoughts and feelings when they sat just inches away from us?

When my mom passed on in 1993 it devastated our family. We all dealt with her loss differently. At the time I was engaged to be married to my wife and having her near me helped ease some of the pain of mom’s death. But nothing can ever replace the unwavering strength and stability of a mother. She died of cancer. I hated the disease then as much as I do now but I miss my mom even deeper than my insolence for cancer. But I had time to prepare. I had time to tell myself that even though I hate the fact that death is inevitable for all of us, even for my mother. I also had time to wrestle with my faith and found that faith confirmed through the profound truths that I had been taught by my mother, father and ecclesiastical leaders throughout my life. It does not make it easier, but it fortifies us and gives us strength.

Death is a cruel companion that lurks in the shadows and comes for us when we least expect it.

Sunday, November 27, 2011 brought an exceptionally beautiful morning full of life and potential. That joyous feeling that comes with the dawn’s anticipation was instantly deflated just moments after arriving at our church services to hear the heartbreaking news that one of our own, a bright, brilliant, loving and compassionate soul was whisked away from us in a terrible car accident.

There is that fleeting moment that occurs when you hear such news about someone whom you love and respect. That moment of indecision when you struggle with the truth and deny it repeatedly until you realize that you will never again see that infectious smile, feel that warm, comforting embrace or hear that uplifting laughter that warms your heart and gives you faith in humanity.

There are not enough adjectives or superlatives to express what Vena Finau meant to those who knew her. She was a lightning bolt of enthusiasm, a warm ray of optimism, a pillar of stamina and a rock of determination. She was a champion of causes however slight and insignificant and a cheerleader for the oppressed. When Vena spoke you found courage, wit, wisdom and cheer in her words. And if she couldn’t convince you through words that things were going to be okay she would feed you until that indecisive feeling you had in your gut was replaced with food and she could work on your heart and mind all over again with little resistance from your stomach.

She had that rare quality that God only blesses the best of His children with from birth and the rest of us have to learn in life – her compassion and love for people knew no boundaries, no limitations. She treated the stranger on the street with the same respect and love as the person with wealth. There was something about Vena that drew you to her because she exuded a positive energy that comes naturally to people who have an intrinsic ability to give unconditional love without the expectation of being loved in return. Whenever Vena was around you wanted her to hug you close and tell you that things were going to be okay.

She raised a beautiful family. They are her legacy. They are her testament to the world that life is meant to be lived with passion and a commitment to be and to do good for the human race. We will miss her tremendously and there is no doubt that she had so much more to give to the world. As a family, me, my wife and my sons consider ourselves lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from Vena. She was beyond a doubt, a true believer by living the principles that others preached and she did it the best way she knew how – by loving everyone in all of their imperfections in the moment, in the present. And she did it all with a smile.

‘Ofa lahi atu Vena! We will miss you dearly as we pray for the prompt recovery of your dear daughter Pianola and son Kinga.