I’ve thought a lot about how to write this and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get it right. I never thought that I would ever have to sit down and string these incredibly painful sentences together. But here we are.
Most of you may remember one of our most popular TSW Girl Bosses, Ema Piutau - (https://truthsshewrote.co.nz/blogs/news/meet-ema-piutau). The generous, intelligent, kind and beautiful, Ema sadly passed away on 5 April 2019. For everyone that had the pleasure of knowing her, our lives will never be the same.
Ema and I have been friends for almost ten years. I owe a lot of the opportunities that have come my way to her. When I was interviewing for my first legal job, Ema was the only person that I told. I’m usually very private when it comes to these things because the profession is oversaturated and applying for jobs as a lawyer is pretty much like the Hunger Games. I called Ema because she was working as a criminal lawyer at the Public Defence Service in Manukau at the time and I trusted her wholeheartedly. The job I was applying for was to work for Her Honour Judge Soana Moala (before she was appointed as a District Court Judge) and Chris Merrick.
Ema talked me through the potential questions that law firms might be interested in and encouraged me the entire way. I will always be grateful to Ema because it was extremely competitive and her encouragement truly pushed me across the line. This job created so many opportunities for me and I’ll never stop acknowledging the huge part that Ema played in kick starting my legal career. A large number of people spend so many years trying to get their foot in the door and I managed to get in at my first attempt all because of Ema.
This was just the type of person that Ema was, her support was unwavering. If you’re not careful, Law school (and the legal profession) can be an incredibly toxic and competitive environment. Ema was the complete opposite and did not fit the stereotypical mold. She was so much bigger than that. While everyone was concerned about ripping pages out of textbooks so that nobody else could get the best notes or when they worried about a particular Judge screaming at them in front of everyone, Ema laughed and smiled her way out of any situation. Her famous line after anything shocking or awful happened was, ‘WHOOOO CAREZZZ’, followed by that ridiculous and incredible laugh we all miss so much.
This is the type of role model that we were lucky to have. A selfless and confident powerhouse that not only understood her privilege as an educated Tongan woman but most importantly, recognised that she would always use her talents to spread love. Even when Ema was close to heaven’s door, she still made the effort to encourage others and be positive. When I went to visit her in hospital, we were given the news that she only had weeks left. Around this same time, I was also told that I had been accepted into Cambridge University. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I was leaving NZ to study. I felt incredibly guilty because it wasn’t fair that Ema had almost completed her Masters in Law, yet here she was, confined to a hospital bed, listening to my useless gossip from the lawyer world about which person was having an affair and which Judge made another young lawyer cry. It was all a meaningless and superficial distraction from the horrible reality. I couldn’t do it. I was gutless.
But of course Ema logged into social media with the little energy she had and I was extremely shocked to see that she had sent me a message, through all her pain, to encourage me and say that she was proud. Genuinely and lovingly. In our years of friendship, one of the most valuable things that Ema taught me very early on was that uplifting another person doesn’t lower your value, worth or efforts. Admiring the sun shining on another person’s face, only allows the light and warmth to reflect beautifully back on you. And the sun always shone brightest on Ema.
Even if you didn’t know her, I hope that reading about her helps you on whatever journey you’re on. Whether you’re struggling to meet a certain goal or you’re not coping with the stress of life, please remember my resilient, energetic and positive friend Ema. We hear all the time that life is so short but the words only become clear when the life they’re talking about is someone you love. Go and do that thing you’re afraid to do. Tell that person you love them. When things don’t go your way, laugh and say ‘WHOOO CAREZZZ’.
I’m heading back to the UK today to return to my studies and I’m afraid of the new normal. Even though weeks have passed, I’m still not sure about what the world looks like without her. The only thing that I'm certain of is, I’ll never be able to repay Ema for the love she showed me but I do promise to carry and share her love and positivity wherever I go. Forever and always.
Rest in peace my darling friend. True love never dies. xx
Thank you to the Piutau family and Breakthrough Church family for sharing this incredible woman with us. We are so lucky. Special shout out to our beautiful law school friends, The Love Club – Patricia Hala, Katriona Ikenasio, Jay Tausi, Alex Herman, Angela Vaai, Valerie Wichman, Kesa Tagi. Our guardian angel’s spirit lives on forever.