Angel Wings and Herb Tea

Life after loss; healing through creativity, writing and art

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June lovely June

June lovely June,
How beautiful the sound,
The song of the cuckoo
In the green woods resounds,

June is lovely.
But things start happening in June. The foxgloves come out for starters. Every time I see them for the first time I give a little start,’ Oh!you again…it’s that time again’. Because foxglove time means its nearly Time.

I start to notice little things I didn’t before.
The label in my neighbour’s shoe when I go to feed her sheep.’.Lilly’ A brand of shoes in the uk.
The weekly article chronicling a blind date in the magazine of the newspaper I read features a girl named Lily.
I read a random section in a book about childhood development and my eye is drawn by a description of the melancholic child..’the drooping Lily’
I suddenly find myself driving past the farmhouse on Dartmoor where Lily’s doves live, the ones she loved and the ones we released at her funeral. There they are preening themselves on the roof.
I get a hug from Lily’s teacher who I haven’t seen to talk to for months, when I pop into the staff room at school to find some milk.
I watch Tansy taking a tiny sip of yoghurt from the edge of her teaspoon, as she is sick and not eating with her usual hearty gusto. And it made me realise I’d forgotten how delicately Lily ate.
Leo and I find ourselves looking through some old photos…and Leo says he can’t wait to die because he will see Lily again.
My lovely friend hands me a card with a beautiful dove flying through an abstract rainbow….

I find myself walking through the school vegetable garden to source lettuces for the summer fair cafe I am helping to run, and see the sun pouring through the exquisite stained glass window which was created by Rowan Day as a memorial for Lily. I have never been able to look at it before.

I know these are not the only things that will happen as the Time fast approaches.
Last days to tick off. The visit to the dentist where the receptionist complimented me on my four beautiful children and Lily broke her pearl necklace on her way there.
The last walk together when Lily covered her fingers in foxglove blossoms, and we ate goats cheese and pesto on rice cakes and rolled down a grassy hill covered in buttercups in the sun.
The last morning when Lily couldn’t lace her shoes and everyone was cross and rushed and Freddie was the one to do it for her….



It’s complicated

Welcome to the August 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Sibling Revelry
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about siblings – their own, their hopes for their kids, and more. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

.How many siblings have my kids got? Let’s start with my eldest.  He has four from me and four from his dad’s subsequent relationship.. If you count Lily. And why wouldn’t you count her? Well if you’re fourteen and someone asks how many brothers and sisters you have, you might not want to bring up your dead sister right away, or maybe not even the ones that you don’t live with….I don’t know. But I can guess he doesn’t say eight very often. Eight. Hmm. Split families, bereaved families, families with multiple children, how did it all happen?

I’m one of one so this is all new territory to me, brothers and sisters; like an exotic fruit; tantalising, juicy and apparently delicious but just out of reach.Unskilled in fighting, sharing and manilpulating parental favour;

I was dropped into the tumult of sibling jealousy and love that are so exquisitely intermingled they hardly seemed to know which they were or when. 
‘I won’t throw Lily into the nettles down by the river, she’s too beautiful, ‘ for example. From a  three year old contemplating his newborn sister….
The ferocity of feelings between the kids can unsettle me and send me hurtling to the apex of the whirlwind, shouting, ‘No! no!’ like a banshee,  or, ‘Its fine, it’s fine, let’s go do some baking’, in high pitched, strung out, 
Lets- Placate-Everyone-Right-Now tones.
My partner meanwhile, eldest of five, hasn’t even looked up. ‘Just leave them, they’ll sort it out’, he might murmur.
‘But they’re killing each other!’
‘It’ll pass!’
When I was a child, everything was sedate, ordered, quiet…ok pretty dull if the truth be known!!! Predictable and unchanging; and I read alot of books.  Mainly about big, noisy rambunctious families charging around doing exotic, alien things like stealing each others toys and fighting over the last slice of cake. It sounded so exciting, so unreachable, so desirable.
So I decided to have my own big noisy rambunctious family. Four, always four. But complicated things like relationship break-ups happen, and before I knew it I had my four kids but by two dads, although the spacing between broods was close enough to make a cohesive family. 
Each permutation of child pairings had a different dynamics. And these dynamics flowed and changed with time. And just as I find the fighting almost unbearable to watch, so I find the moments of tenderness and true affection almost unbelievable too. ‘But they really love each other!!’
And then Lily died and everyone has an angel for a sister. No one quite knows how to do without her but they have no choice.
But it doesn’t mean their relationship with her has died. All her siblings still love her, even the ones who have never met her on earth. Since little Finch was born three weeks ago, we often say that Lily probably played a part in him deciding to join our family. And although it breaks my heart that  I will never see Finch and Lily together on earth, I know they had a great time together before he was born…..
A white feather always connects the kids to their big sister, floating to the ground in front of them, ‘Lily is preening her wings,’ they say. 
We talk about her, remember things she said, notice traits in the younger ones which remind us of Lily. And all the children have times when they just sigh and wish she was here again.
Truthfully, Tansy and Leo probably have no real memory of her, they were so young, but the presence of their lost sibling is so powerful and graceful that they can never forget her.
A sister is always a sister, wherever they are.
And five kids are five kids, wherever they are, I didn’t plan to have part of my family in heaven, but the relationship between them all will flow and change and grow as they change and grow.
This is their life, and death is part of it, as it is for everyone.
Freddie, Lily, Tansy, Leo and Finch.
Who love each other.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • The Damage of Comparing Siblings — Comparing siblings can lead to hurt feelings and poor relationships. What Jana Falls has learned and why she hopes for more for her son.
  • Connecting Through Sibling Rivalry — With four children who are spaced so that each child grows up in a pair, Destany at They are All of Me shares her method for minimizing the competition so her children can focus on bonding, rather than besting each other.
  • Sibling Revelry — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud shares the two-week transition that happens every summer as her kids transform from bickering to learning how to play.
  • Baby Brother born from an OceanAbby Jaramillo describes how her toddler connects in a possibly mystical way with her new baby brother and his birth at home, and Abby draws parallels with her own sister’s new baby.
  • Hard, But Worth It — Claire at The Adventures of Lactating Girl discusses how difficult having two children can be, but how it’s definitely worth it.
  • Raising Attached Siblings — At Living Peacefully with Children, Mandy and her husband are making conscious choices about how they raise their children to foster sibling connection and attachment.
  • It’s Complicated — Henrietta at Angel Wings and Herb Tea reflects on how life’s twists and turns have taken her from a childhood with no siblings to a constantly changing family life with five children, including one in spirit.
  • Supportsustainablemum reflects on how the differences between her relationship with her siblings and her husband’s have affected their family and at a time of need.
  • Peas in a Pod — Kellie at Our Mindful Life enjoys the special relationship her oldest two children share.
  • Lessening the competitive enviornment in the homeLisa at The Squishable Baby discusses how downplaying competition in the home has led to cooperation, not competition.
  • The complex and wonderful world of siblings — Lauren at Hobo Mamareflects on her choices to have not too many children, spaced far apart — and how that’s maybe limited how close their sibling relationship can be.
  • 5 Ways to Help Young Siblings Have a Loving Relationship — Charise I Thought I Knew Mama shares the strategies that help her three year old and 14 month old have a somewhat beautiful relationship and aid in keeping peace in their home.
  • 4 Steps to Encourage Sibling Revelry, even in Hot Moments of Rivalry — Sheila Pai of A Living Family share 4 Steps she uses to shift hot moments of sibling rivalry towards connected moments of sibling revelry and human compassion.
  • Twins Are Fun — Mercedes at Project Procrastinot witnesses the development of her twins’ sibling bond.
  • Growing Up Together- Sibling Revelry in Our House — Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work realizes that there is great utility in raising siblings that are close in age, and is grateful to have been blessed with healthy siblings that both love and challenge one another every day.
  • Top 5 Ways to Reduce Sibling Rivalry — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares ideas that helped her two children be best friends along with Montessori resources for peace education and conflict resolution.
  • Sibling Uncertainty — Alisha at Cinnamon and Sassafras wonders how her children’s relationship will change now that the baby is mobile.
  • Living with the Longing — Rachael at The Variegated Life sees that she can live with her longing for another — without changing her plans.
  • For My One and Only DaughterPlaying for Peace mommy reflects on her choice to not have more children in order to focus on other dreams.
  • Siblings: A Crash Course in Relationship Training — How have your siblings prepared you for later relationships? One of Dionna at Code Name: Mama’s top priorities as mama of siblings is to help them learn how to navigate relationships.
  • The Joys of Siblings: An Inside Joke — Ana at Panda & Ananaso shares the a glimpse into the joys of having siblings through sharing a perplexing yet hilarious inside joke betwixt her and her own.
  • Sibling Support, even in the potty! — Even though Laura at Pug in the Kitchen‘s children didn’t start out best friends, they are joined at the hip these days, including cheering each other on with potty successes!
  • Don’t Seek What Isn’t There – On Sibling Jealousy — Laura from Authentic Parenting analyzes the seeming desire people harbor for seeking out hints of sibling jealousy.
  • Sibling Love / Sibling Hate?Momma Jorje speculates whether her children will have a different sibling experience than her own. Did she make the right choices based on her own history?


Working things out

Yes I keep fiddling around, trying to get things right on this blog, I’m not quite there yet, so be prepared for more changes! It’s not my strong point, the techie side, but I’m trying!
When I started this blog I had a very clear vision of what this space was about.  There were three elements which were held here;

The Woodland folk…
For four years I lived with my family in the middle of a wood in Devon. The first three in a mobile home, the last in our self build cabin. This blog was about living in small spaces with minimal possessions and no electricity, it was about hand washing by candlelight and writing in notebooks by the fire, and stepping out into beautiful woodland by night to the ghostly owl shadows gliding down the valley.

Wild medicine
I also wrote about the oils, tinctures and balms I made for my family from wild harvested herbs, and the hedgerow food and medicine around our land. Connection and healing through plants and trees.

Finally, this blog has been space for my daughter Lily, who died four years ago; time and space for me to think about her, share how life is, and was, and could be without my daughter, and what she means for our family.

Some things have changed. And so the blog will change .
We now live in the wing of a mansion, as part of a community of people who sing, and garden together; share space, food and land.

We have an indoor bathroom, access to a washing machine and mains electricity, which to begin with felt odd and wrong after our deep connection with a simpler life on the land. When our cabin burnt down, we had to live somewhere, and after much searching and deliberation, this felt right. And it is. Somehow it is.
We are no longer the family in the woods, we no longer straddle two centuries, bathing in a tin bath, then dashing off to school in a car, but for me in particular, the departure from this way of life has been hard. Not just the loss of the beautiful cabin that we, (well Hugh) worked so hard to build, but it felt like a failure that we were creeping back to mainstream society with our tail between our legs. I missed the closeness to nature and cooking dinner on the campfire, stepping out of the door into wildness…..
‘When’s the rebuild?’ so many people asked in the early days after the fire, and truely neither Hugh or I really ever wanted to.

To return to the blackened scene of such devastation, to a piece of land which, if the truth be known, we had never chosen because it was the most beautiful woodland.

And then I was pregnant. We were exhausted, and our kids needed stability and safety, normality. We have lost so much, our home, our possessions, the chicks, the cat, the rats (Holly and Sophie since you ask) the goats (Goats?.Why yes…Lauren, Lauretta, Abby and Dolly…..they’re’s a whole blog post just waiting to happen, can’t believe they’ve escaped being featured!)

but we have also gained so much. Wisdom for a start, to have learnt from big mistakes and misguided ways of approaching projects. We have received so much love and unfailing support from friends an strangers, and  a realisation that community is more important than independance. I have learnt that  receiving is as beautiful (and a lot harder) than giving, and the web of connecion and interdependance between us is the magic and the fabric of our  lives and makes us human. (Yes its basic stuff, but I’m a slow learner, these big jolts in my life accelerate my schooling in the bits I’m falling behind in) We’ve also gained a new baby, little Finch.

And so things are different. We’ve been forced to reevaluate our lives, one day I was drawing up business plans for our smallholding, herb products; projecting milk yields and planning my first batch of goats milk soap (with investment of specialised oils, and equipment all at the ready), costing out yurts for our planned retreat centre for bereaved families and disadvantaged kids……the next….its all gone.

And so we move on, and change, and there are other things in our lives, and other paths which, who knows may wind in the same direction one day.

I still gather herbs and bottle nature’s medicines for the winter chills, Lily is still my daughter and a luminous presence in our family, I’m still homeschooling Tansy and Leo and writing and creating, but now things are moving.

Life is bigger than I have let myself believe. I’m exploring what this means. Bringing together the things that make me sing and smile and weaving them together to make a blanket of healing. Healing for me, healing for many. The colour and weave is yet unknown although patterns and hues swirl around me, notebooks are filling with lists, threads of projects, ideas….consolidating, envisioning.

I’m just working my way through Leonie Dawson’s  Incredible yearbook and planner 2013 , yes in July, should have done it in January, and it’s just what I need. Check it out….well at least in readiness for 2014, but July is better than not at all eh? Newborn baby and all!

Little Finch is already a healer in our lives in so many ways, he’s brought so much love with him……….and that newborn ageless wisdom, and a soft, silky head to nuzzle.

So this blog will change. Reflecting life’s twists and unexpected turns. I hope you’ll come too, it’s amazing to have you along.
I remember hitting ‘publish’ the very first time I wrote on here and it felt so strange….who on earth would want to read it anyway? But you have, and people have, and sharing is uplifting and healing and really joyful and fun…..Thankyou…..


Lily and the mobile phone guy

What do you do on the anniversary of your daughter’s death? It’s not the sort of question I imagined I’d have to deal with when I held my 4 newborns in my arms. But it is something I have to think about every year now.

June approaches with stealthy feet, all blossomy with foaming elder trees and blowsy roses, tangled hedgerows of campion and stitchwort and budding honeysuckle, and I get the same feeling of strange dread and an opening heart.

The weeks before have been tumultuous emotionally, flare ups and misunderstandings, journalling and outpourings, private tears and heart connections, jagged, raw poems that can never be seen…realisations and illuminations.

But today, the anniversary of the day 4 years ago that they did the brain stem test in Frenchay Hospital, Bristol, to see if they should turn the life support machine off, well it seemed strangely normal and so so hard to feel any connection with deeper emotions.

Its hard to feel and connect when I’m busy. Doing not being.

We were up early to rush back from a mini break in time for Hugh to go to work, so sweeping caravans and packing at seven instead of a quiet reflective time.
Shopping with the kids for groceries….trying to have a moment of thought over pancakes in a cafe …..jarring with children who were slightly hysterical and tired….
And then for God’s sake, meeting the mobile phone repair guy in the supermarket carpark at 4.30. My date with normality. Drawing me into its web with its dulled ravening claws….rushing away from a painting hour where we created angels and doves for Lily’s grave…to meet the mobile phone guy, and buy loo roll.

But maybe that’s ok. Maybe I don’t have to create a perfect hallowed day on June 11th and feel like I’ve let Lily down if I don’t. I did need my phone, we did need loo roll. We did connect over the painting and we did visit Lily’s grave…..and we do have spontaneous moments where we feel.

Curled up in a little grassy place we go to sometimes where the younger kids feel safe and relaxed, and say how they miss her.
A moment alone to pick flowers for her table where each blossom seem to glow with the essence of her love for it. Where the world swelled and condensed to a tiny distilled fragment holding Lily and me in its tender embrace.

A chance conversation sitting in the car in the rain with all of my children, remembering, crying, little forgotten details recalled, healing tears…..soothing our struggles alone.
Messages from friends, a kind word which helps grief to flow.

And that is the challenge. To create the space to let the grief move how it will, without dams or blockages or  avoidance tactics, or just the practical demands of daily life. To let Lily into everything. To allow the joy and grief to weave and flow around our lives, the tears sparkling among the breakfast dishes as the laughter ripples into a walk to the garden. No separation. No compartmentalisation.

It is a challenge.

When I meditate, or spend a moment seeking a connection with nature or myself, the tears and emotions are very close to the surface, waiting for a chance to escape the rigid confines of my busy hours where I rush without feeling. I know that the more I do this, the more emotion can flow naturally in my life and become more balanced and help me and my family to heal. I’ve made a commitment to do this more.

Spending time in nature, in this beauiful place that is our home now,  sitting with a flower, a tree, being quiet and receptive to the spirit that is in everything and in us, makes my heart much bigger and makes me feel that anything is possible. Spending time connecting with friends old and new, in deeper ways, more nurturing ways, makes me not feel alone. Makes me feel the beauty of life, the endless possibilities that are always there.

I guess Lily would just laugh about meeting the mobile phone guy, she just needs us to love her, remember her, connect wih her, just like always. It’s another day, like yesterday, like tomorrow.

A day for us all to connect with something more than our mind driven rushing, to open our hearts to a deeper level. Its a huge tapestry of glowing, luminous threads we’re part of, all interwoven with the practical homespun browns and greys, the vibrant reds and pinks of daily activity, the soft iridescent violets of our connection to the spirit which is in everything, the subtle greens of nature unfolding….we never stop weaving…

Do you manage to hold all the threads of the loom together… it easy for you?


Lilies and Roses

The scent of lilies is particularly intense this year. It might have something to do with the fact that there are three bunches of them dotted around our small cabin.
This time of year.
It’s the month of lilies and roses
The month of my Lily Rose.

The fragrance is strong and sweet and lingering. As if it doesn’t want to let us go, or let us forget. Maybe we don’t want to let go. I bury my nose in the open lily blossom and inhale and inhale. It’s the scent of the first few days without Lily when swathes of lilies descended on our home, when baskets of rose petals were collected by her friends to surround her coffin.
It’s the scent of loss and love and strange sweet mourning. It reminds me of the days when Lily was still recent. When I could still say, ‘Last Tuesday I took Lily to the dentist’ or, ‘Lily and I made beads last weekend’ even though I knew she never would again.
Pots of lilies, bunches of lilies, cards decorated with lilies, we were submerged in their scent, their cool sweet petals which withered and dropped one by one as the days went by.

And this morning was the sickening smell of rotting flesh in Tansy and Leo’s room. A dead mouse festering under the bed. I am generally the corpse remover, with a torch, a trowel and a long stick to manoeuvre the bloated body, fat and pulsating with maggots. The mouse tumbled into a makeshift and careless grave in the wood while I tried not to breathe.
It’s hard for a bereaved mother to have to dwell on these realities of ravaged and rotting flesh. I try not to, I try not to connect the two, but my mind is pulled back to it, the little black demon at the corner of my brain clawing at me with his piercing talons,
‘where’s your daughter now? what happened to her?
It’s easy to forget that everything will be like that, every lily petal, every mouse, every beech tree, every chicken, everyone you’ve met today. You. We are protected, shielded and disconnected from the physical reality of death and  its hard when you come face to face with the physicality of our corporal mortality. It’s just flesh I guess, there’s more to us than that..our bodies are the transitory container for our souls, it’s just hard to remember, when all we think about is material stuff.

After the mouse, I emptied all the flower vases. One was a cottage garden bouquet from my mother, long past its best except for a beautiful full blown pink rose with a delicate scent. Discarding the decaying flowers, I gently lifted the rose out, intending to put it in a little pot next to Lily’s photo on the table. But as I rescued it, its petals tumbled off softly, like falling snow. I was left with a dried stalk in my hand. It was such a stark image that I gasped, but even as the tears sprung to my eyes I spotted what I had missed before, a perfect unopened rose bud still hidden in the old bunch…a promise of new beauty just waiting to begin its fleeting life.

No loss is ever without its gift .


Chicken and egg, bread and cheese

Some words just seem to go together don’t they?  We say them so often they create a sort of flowing groove in the brain, the connection between the two words an easy harmony. Some couple’s names are like this, you know how its almost always easier to say one before the other? Ruth and Toby, Tom and Becky (sorry you guys,  if you’re reading, you were just the first I thought of!)

Sometimes its hard to undo these connections in your brain if for example the couple separates and then, worse, form new partnerships. How many of us have bitten our tongues and swallowed a Rachel and quickly replaced it with,…. err,  Claire. Or not!

So it was with Freddie and Lily. Best friends, worst enemies, always together. I have called them for dinner a thousand times..’Freddie and Li-ly’, shouted across a wood, a field or up a stairs. I have talked about them a thousand times, ‘oh that’s just like when Freddie and Lily….’
They weathered everything together, my break up with their dad, house moves, 6 new siblings (not all my doing!) They were a pair almost more than they were separate.

And I’ve had to bite my tongue so many times in the last two and a half years to stop the Lily coming out. Except she often does anyway. Which is fine among the family, but some people go a bit silent and wonder if I’m going to cry.

We have a new pair of course, Tansy and Leo, who are definitely more of a pair than separate. And I have a new cry, across the wood, across the street, up the stairs…’Tansy and Le-o’

On Easter Day we walked out towards Huntingdon Barrow or Heap of Sinners on Dartmoor, and the pairing changed. Leo’s short legs needed Mummy and Daddy’s company and encouragement.

Tansy’s slightly longer ones ran in little eager panting bursts to keep up with Fred’s. Freddie and Tansy. So strange to say, it felt like someone had handed me an grapefruit when I was expecting an avocado.

Freddie and Tansy. Brother and sister.



The trees are still bare, their thin black branches whipped in the wind rolling along the valley today, but appearences are deceiving.

Spring is surging and swelling and even with my eyes closed it’s a tangible force to be felt, smelt and heard.

A pair of pigeons hop coquettishly in the sycamore outside the window, fluttering  their spring dance in the tree tops. Down by the stream, tadpoles are hatching in thick black wriggles, burying into the soft mud at the bottom of the pond. Yesterday, Leo and I found a decapitated mother frog surrounded by her own eggs, abandoned on the path near the pond. The tragedy of death surrounded by the promise of new life.
When I lived in a house I never felt the arrival of spring. One day I would just notice that it had arrived, it always seemed to surprise me. Here in the woods I see every leaf unfurl, notice every minute of extra daylight in these candle free mornings.

And when I sit alone in the woods feeling crumpled and resentful about some injustice or sadness in my life, I sink down into the mossy ground and it seems as if the earth is alive, warm and full of movement. The energy is palpable, an upward thrusting of spring virility. The woodland floor is sprouting bluebell leaves as fast as it can and baby rabbits are already hopping among the brambles.

When dark winter recedes I wake up too, the spring energy is in me and everything seems more possible and more likely. It rouses memories and connections which have slumbered peacefully through the cold months muffled by winter. Lily always seems more present in Spring, this will be the third one since she left us. Spring rips the bandages off the wounds she left behind and leaves them raw and vulnerable again. It’s not a bad thing, to feel them. Winter numbs and subdues, sends it all underground, but with each new flower that blooms Lily comes closer and there is all that pain again, but also the chance to heal a little bit more, to share a little bit more, to search a little bit more  and to grow. There is always that.