The shadow falls in any season, even in spring when nature is singing its heart out and growth is surging everywhere.

There is no one season for making a crossing out of this life. As I walked along the waterfront near my city home, I contemplated the passing of a beloved elder of Te Henga.

I thought of her soul, sailing onwards after a long life of hard work and generous giving. We first met when I returned home from Paris with a broken heart to bring up my two-year-old son in the area that she also called home. She gave me loving support through those years of solo parenting.

What I didn’t know until my last visit to her, was that we shared roots in Taranaki, where she also grew up. Her father, the magistrate in New Plymouth, was friends with my grandfather, who was the policeman in Inglewood. They both held a vision of restorative justice, long before this term was coined. They wanted to rehabilitate the young, and not to punish them in a way that secured their future as criminals.

Her funeral was held, fittingly, beside the river and the sand hills that she loved so much, and alongside the home where she and her husband raised six children. Over many weeks they took my son into their home and gave him the experience of being part of a large and loving family while I travelled overseas. Such acts of kindness are never forgotten.
Hundreds came to the funeral, bearing their own tales of what they had received from this woman of gentle strength.
This was not a day for taking photos, and my attempt is out of focus.

At the funeral I learned about other, more deeply intertwined roots: of her family with the Maori tribe of this area: Te Kawerau a Maki. Their connection went back several generations, to when her ancestor ‘Pa’ Bethell first came to the west coast and began to farm. Members of the family were dandled on the knees of tohunga and taught to chant karakia (prayers) when they were little children.

Gusts of wind shook the marquees, songs were sung and a karakia was resoundingly chanted by Te Warena Taua, Chair of Te Kawerau Iwi Tribal Authority.
Te Warena generously supported me when I was writing ‘Celebrating the Southern Seasons’ in the early 1990s. He made the Auckland Museum archives available and helped me to find many old books that yielded their secrets of Maori seasonal observances. We greeted one another warmly, united in grief.

In ‘Celebrating the Southern Seasons’ I wrote of a vision of bicultural healing:

‘The roots of the oak touch the roots of the pohutukawa in sacred soil. We nourish our connection; we nourish our respect. And from here . . . we may begin the healing that makes productive and creative relationship possible.’

A rousing haka by a group of young Maori men broke out as the land rover slowly drove away with the coffin. Tears ran down my cheeks as I made my way back home. My heart was also full of hope: that out of deep roots of love and respect, flourishing through the generations, different peoples can live together in harmony.

R.I.P. Elizabeth Alice Wheeler (Ibby)