Keoni Falamani Tafuna
Today I learned some tragic news! My Tongan nephew, Deedee, passed away. He was only 17 years old. He was an exciting, energetic, and loving little boy and I will always be grateful that he was able to share some of his time on this earth with me!
In August of 2002, I was 18 years old and had just moved across the Pacific Ocean to the Island of Oahu in order to attend Brigham Young University Hawaii. I didn't know another soul there and for the first month felt incredibly alone. I would often sit in my dorm room and long to be back in California with familiar people and places. All of that changed when I met Nelson Fotu!
Nelson was Vice President of Social Activities for BYUSAH (The quasi-student government on campus) and had a position for an assistant available. Having had student government experience in High School, I applied and got the job. Little did I know at the time that I would get so much more than a job--I would get a family!
Soon after I started working with Nelson, we started hanging out outside of work. He took me over to his family's house where I was instantly surrounded by a swarm of Tongan kids ranging from about ages 14 to 5. If you don't already know it is a common practice in Hawaii and in Polynesian culture in general to address your elders as "Uncle" or "Auntie" and I soon found 9 little kids calling me "Uncle Greg"!
At a time when I was struggling to discover my own beliefs, and figure out who I wanted to be, I found 9 little kids full of light, energy, life, and love all around me--and a whole set of older brothers and sisters to guide me and support me! I found myself spending more and more time at Nelson's house. I went to family activities--graduations, birthdays, sporting events, funerals, and weddings. I even spent more nights sleeping at the Fotu house than in my own dorm room. I ate and slept and went to family home evening there for my whole freshman year of college!
What does it mean to be a family?
Do you have to share a common last name?
Must you be born of the same Mom and Dad?
Must your hair color and skin all be the same?
When my own family was thousands of miles away--I had a network of love that I could turn to, I had a Tongan family!
Now quite some time has passed. All of the kids are taller than me! Some of them are married, some have their own kids. Some are in college, and some are in high school. But to me they are still the same kids who stole my shoes and asked me to buy them Yu-gi-oh cards, and went snorkeling with me at Shark's cove! They are the same kids that I have prayed for and worried about and would do anything for--and they probably don't even know it! They are the same kids who taught me what it means to be an "Uncle" in Hawaii. Since 2002, I've picked up many "nieces and nephews"- and I love them all as if they really are- but I will always have a special place in my heart for these ones! They were the first!
Chubby, Siu, Lei girl, DeeDee, Figgy, Lola Junz, Malia, Mata, and Fifi...
Even though I'm not really you're uncle, I want each of you to know that I love you! If you ever need anything you can ask me! I want you to know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ know DeeDee better than anyone in the whole world! They know DeeDee even better than he knows himself!
DeeDee will be missed terribly by his family and friends left behind- but it is only temporary compared to eternity! No matter what the circumstances may be, don't ever let anyone discourage you or dishearten you because no one knows DeeDee like Heavenly Father knows DeeDee. And I know Heavenly Father loves him! In the end- that love is what will really matter!
I love you DeeDee...
"God be with you till we meet again
Keep loves banner floating o're you
Smite death's threatening wave before you
God be with you till we meet again"
Thank you for helping me become the person I am today!