When we moved back to New Zealand from New York in 2009 two fantails made their nest in the sycamore tree at the end of our driveway. We delighted in watching the playful birds construct their nest, and then guard the eggs diligently until four fluffy little birds poked their heads out of the nest...beaks asking for food on a clear bright spring day.
I knew that in Maoritanga the fantail or piwakawaka was thought to be a symbol of death, or a herald of a message from the spirit world. This seemed fitting as the sudden death of my uncle one of the reasons for our move back home.
Little did I know that within a couple of years of the nesting piwakawaka, Mark would lose his father suddenly and I would then lose my beloved mother to cancer only a few months later.
Looking back, the piwakawaka heralded the arrival of a five year period that taught our family more than we wanted to know about death and grief.
But it taught us about healing too.
When I was weighed down by the loss of my mother and the heaviness of my father, whose depression seemed immoveable, I made my way to the end of Karitane beach.
Just before the beach turns to cliff tops there is a cluster of large volcanic stones that early Maori called the Rainbow Rocks. Apparently each one of them has a particular name that I would love to know, but the ancient maps have disappeared and like most sacred knowledge the answers are hard won, and I have not yet been able to find the answer.
It is said that in the old days, tohunga (Maori healers) took people down from the Pa to the Rainbow Rocks for healing, and that there the ancestors would gather and bring the solutions to many problems.
I had no knowledge of this at the time that I made one of these rocks my best friend during the roughest period of my grieving journey.
My rock is known by locals as the wishing rock as it is pockmarked at the base with holes just big enough to fit a smooth round beach rock. Locals choose a stone and a prayer and place these wishes with their rock into the small holes.
The rock was not only great for wishes but also a comfortable place to rest. Unlike the other rocks which were steep and inhospitable to humans, this rock had a flat top which had collected soil over the years and had eventually grown a soft crop of grass and clover that made the it the perfect spot for contemplation.
I first visited the rock with my parents who had found it on long walks after us children had left home. They shared their discovery with me one day when I was a grown woman and about to be a mother myself. Mum and I visited the rock many times on our beach walks. We meditated up there together as often as we could, (which wasn't that often with a young family and a business to run).
I remember so clearly the last day we visited the rocks together. Mum was tired and in treatment and couldn't make it up to the top.
"Don't worry," I said, "We'll climb up next time."
But there was no next time as she declined more quickly than anyone could believe.
So when I was all alone I sought the company of the wishing rock again, and I felt the relief of silence, along with the magic and presence of my own ancestors, and of many Maori ancestors, the guardians of that sacred place, who wrapped me in their arms, and helped me find my way back to the land of the living.
For two years I counted my rock as my closest friend and confidant. I sat there and thought and cried and meditated and prayed through all fours seasons - twice. I listened to the silence and I listened to the words of comfort whispered by the wind, and the the waves and by those who had gone before, and I made space for the new person that was emerging inside me.
And so at this sacred time of Matariki (Maori New Year) I give thanks to the kaitiaki (Maori guardians of this land and sea), I give thanks to nature, and to the wisdom and richness which is given to us so unconditionally when we make time to sit in silence on the earth.
I know that there are changes brewing, that there are strange and miraculous times to come. I know that there is guidance and nurture for all of us, even in the worst of times. And I know that our ancestors, and the kaitiaki of Aotearoa are always present, and their wisdom is only a silent breath away.