Birthing and grieving

28 years ago I’d already been in labour for a day, then another before my tama ātaahua arrived. In the old days, we both would’ve died in the process. It was arduous to say the least. Yet this miraculous pēpē I was told I couldn’t have (because of cancer) still came to be with us.

I’ll never forget my first words to him, “Hello Reuben, you beautiful soul.”

For obvious reasons I’ll be offline for a while, walking the grief path that is now so intimately known within me, and (for the most part) remains invisible to others.

It amazes me that each day I can find joy, am able to trust, and continue to love in the ways that I do. That hasn’t stopped. I am glad, in the weirdest of ways, I’ve allowed myself to feel this grief so fully — despite it being uncomfortable for many others. I figure that’s for them to work through, not me.

Nowadays, I don’t define myself by societal labels, whakapapa, orientation, or career – because all of it seems irrelevant. There is only this, I am Iona, Mā to Reuben, and I am able to love fully. I believe aroha is the strongest vibration. And if we can speak and show our love, without censoring it, there will be no regrets.

Reuben and I had (and continue to have) a journey of unconditional aroha, and he will always be the love of my life.

Reuben Samuel Winter 20/05/1994 – 17/09/2020 ~ thank you for being such a beautiful soul xx

Te Reo Māori words: tama ātaahua (beautiful son), pēpē (baby), aroha (love), Mā (Mum), whakaapa (ancestry)

Art galleries as inspiration

Last month I was invited to attend a workshop and respond to the Paemanu: Tauraka Toi – A Landing Place, exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.

Visiting art galleries a fantastic way to gain inspiration, through looking at artworks I’ve not seen before, and because, more often than not, new words will usually come. It’s also great thing to do when I’ve been in a dry phase – something I must remember.

Here’s one of the toikupu (poems) Hoe (paddle) that I wrote in response to the exhibition, which was a gathering of artists Indigenous to the south, who explored relationships with Tohorā (southern right whale), ancestral connections, waterways and land.


I watch as your hoe twists 

like the spine of an ancient tuna, its whetū eyes alit

you                 now know more                    than I

were I to drag my coracle across your ribcage

I imagine respite might be found, in the hollow at the base of your throat

but the umbilical taoka taut and rippled tethers us 

indivisible, despite our abstracted waka

I watch as your hoe twists 

like the spine of an ancient tuna, its whetū eyes alit

you                 now know more                    than I

Photo credit: Justin Spiers

Liminal States

Reading and reviewing Kurangaituku ~ by Whiti Hereaka was a privilege. Review is up on Landfall Review Online, for anyone who’d like a read…and then take yourselves off to the bookshop and purchase this phenomenal book, or pick up a copy at your local library!

“Hereaka shows us that the essence of love will continue to propel us forward, even in the face of unfathomable pain.”

Rage and Earth Bones

I’ve been reflecting on my rage, its potency, and the things it contains. And I’ve realised that I’m exhausted from hiding invisible pain, in the forms of grief, disability, and discrimination. Exhausted from being ‘strong and resilient’. And exhausted from trying to figure out who I am, now that my boy is dead.

I ask myself, how much of this have I kept in, since long before Reuben decided to leave us? A lot. And the load has increased. I am tired. That’s my truth.

Jung said, ‘Making the darkness conscious, is disagreeable and therefore not popular.’

Apologies to anyone who has taken offence, it is never my intention to shame or blame. Shout outs to everyone who hasn’t turned away from me in the darkness, and supported me with shining my light. I love you x

Earth Bones is from Te Hau Kāika (2019) the mulitmedia exhibition with Reuben Winter and Grace Verweij.

Earth bones

It doesn’t matter how I                                        

define                  dilute                   rework

myself because all of us bleed red.

A familiar discomfort 

lies fetid in our veins,

and the energy required wanes 

just as often as it waxes. 

I’m so fucking tired of the expectation to               

justify                   quantify                nullify

my existence to you. 

I crave release: a circling back

to the woman who exists 

rooted and woven into my bones, 

while these feet of mine promise everything to the earth.


During my life I’ve trained in multiple forms of healing, but when Reuben died I stopped practicing. Lately the call has come for me to support others on their journeys, but only when they ask. I have no right to impose my beliefs on someone else – and besides, it mucks with the energy flow. Sadly, no form of medicine is strong enough when people choose to leave us — but that’s a kōrero for another day.

Last week I heard that NONE of our elected MP’s chose to turn up in support of #gumbootfriday – more pressing things to do it would seem. Yet it came as no surprise, after having spent decades working in mental health settings, and advocating for frontline services to continue receiving meagre governmental funding. BUT I ask, what could be more pressing than finding money to support the wellbeing (on all levels) of our young people, in fact any of our people?

I think of the funds that went into inoculating and dividing our population here in New Zealand, and imagine that the marketing bill would’ve been enormous. It was openly admitted, after promises to the contrary, that a two-tiered class system be enforced along with mandates and jabs, whilst smiling beatifically at the cameras. Obtaining exemptions proved nigh on impossible, and the general populous engaged in witch hunts. Cue further public smiles at cameras, in response to the alarming rate of suicide in our country. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure how that was for me, along with every other grieving parent in New Zealand.

Breaking news, one moment folks, oooh here comes a wee carrot for those of you on low incomes with disabilities…an extra $3.93 for your wallet. WTAF?

Wherever successive governments chose to spend their money, it is never about the wellness of the people.

Yes, my son took his life during this pandemic. Reuben’s anxiety after the first lockdown was through the roof. Hand on heart, I know I did everything I could possibly do to support him, yet I cannot say the same for New Zealand’s healthcare services. Reuben’s death is unaccounted for, and likely to be so for years, due to inequities and limitations within the coronial system. And I bear this alongside thousands of others.

The jabs our population received are what they are, yet an irreversible division has occurred and it concerns me. How was it that the narrative morphed like a shapeshifter, from one side being feared to the other, from preventing the god-awful illness to shortening hospital stays? And now it appears, from our very own Ministry of Health, that rates of infection and hospitalisation are largest for those who’ve had the jabs – not the other way around. We were promised a panacea, and it hasn’t worked — our beautiful country has been divided and with conscious bias.

Science, as we know, is filled with mistakes. It is an ever-evolving series of experiments and observations.

As adults, we’re dreadful at acknowledging when we’ve made mistakes, and often expect others more vulnerable than ourselves to apologise. We also think we’re experts at knowing what’s best for everybody else.

Is not the definition of madness doing the same thing, expecting a different result? I’m reminded of my toikupu ‘Learned it’, because once again it seems, we have not learned a thing from the past.

Rangimārie, in peace, Iona x

Learned it (Gaps in the Light, Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021)

we’re all the same                come from the one source             te pō   te pō   te pō

you can’t tell me you’ve never pushed someone in anger / fear / rage 

or wanted to do it so bad that your hands shook 

but some of these ‘woke’ individuals talk about violence like it’s a thing they don’t do 

or cancel others 

disowning this part of themselves 

but we are all capable of it / we are capable / we are

when people wank on about ancestors and how wonderful they were 

they’ve forgotten that plenty of them laid lands and families to waste 

through hands around throats / dicks in whare takata / heads on sticks around pā 

but most of us who know it don’t speak it 

or rate our scars to those of others like we’ve been taught 

denying what we know / denying how we feel / denying our place in or around it 

like displaced animals after fires 

how we talk of colonisers but refuse to acknowledge our own people did the same thing and it’s less ‘woke’ doing that shit to your own 

but it’s nothing new

we learned it from everyone before us 

just like you / I / we learned violence

just like you / I / we learned silence

just like you / I / we learned shame

you can’t tell me you’ve never pushed someone 

we count off relationships with arseholes yet keep returning for more 

and some of those people who’ve truly wanted to die 

now say they don’t understand when others actually do it 

how many of our wombs were filled with bad seeds 

and the depths of our pukus aborted them 

but people judge 

never facing their own shadows 

‘cos others are easier to notice 

so we pretend we’re better when really we’re not 

if you say what I write is too dark / too confronting / too unpalatable 

for your sugar coated tongues 

then your alignment with shiny new things 

discounts the rage of our mothers grandmothers mothers 

and how we’ve learned it 

but we’re all the same         come from the one source             te pō   te pō   te pō

the infinite darkness from which comes the light

Poetry Shelf video readings: Iona Winter — NZ Poetry Shelf

Last week I ventured back into the realm of video readings, because people have said that they’re helpful (for a variety of reasons). Kia rawa atu koe Paula Green, at NZ Poetry Shelf. Thank you so much for inviting me to read some recently published work, and for giving me the impetus to get back on the waka.

What makes it difficult, is knowing how many people refer to me as Reuben’s Mum (or Totems Mum). For the most part the knowledge of his death has been public, due to his prolific presence in the music world both in New Zealand and internationally. And I’ve struggled with my visibility, in amongst a grieving process that will be with me for the rest of my life ~ Reuben was unconditionally loved, that’s for sure.

My latest body of work is centred around the experience of being suicide bereaved. And while I’m immersed in vulnerability most days, with my only child dead, it feels important to share this creative expression. One of us needs to voice this wonky kind of grief, and unfortunately Reuben can’t from where he is now. The toikupu (poetry) shared here are from the aforementioned body of work, which has gone out into the cosmos of potential publishers.

Please click the link below, if you’d like to view the toikupu (poems) alongside the reading.

Poetry Shelf video readings: Iona Winter — NZ Poetry Shelf

And here is the link for Reuben’s Totems album Bardo Thodol (2013) which influenced the final poem in this reading, ‘Book of the dead’

Kia tau te rangimārie me te aroha, peace and love to you wherever you may be based in our world,

Iona x

A Recital of Poems – Diane Brown, Robert Beveridge, Pris Campbell, Iona Winter & Vaughan Rapatahana — Love in the Time of COVID

A Recital of Poems – Diane Brown, Robert Beveridge, Pris Campbell, Iona Winter & Vaughan Rapatahana — Love in the Time of COVID

Today, a new toikupu Book of the dead has been published with Love in the Time of COVID. The poem references Reuben’s Totems album Bardo Thodol (2013) and media interviews he did between 2012-2020. It’s bittersweet to have this published, and yet a relief too to have some more of my mahi infused with his music out in the world.

Nui te aroha, Iona x

Absence and reconnection

Absence is something we all walk with, as a part of life, and in numerous ways. Yet I’ve come to realise, that it absolutely does not ‘make the heart grow fonder’.

I love Reuben as unconditionally as I did before he died. Nothing will alter that. But this experience has both changed and reconnected me. 

For the most part, I’ve continued to be a loving individual and not hardened my heart – this is an intrinsic part of who I am now / and was before. And I say this in contrast to the pretending we are expected to do within society, when they’ve had enough of our grieving process. My friends will agree that I’m dreadful at pretending, and thankfully, I can choose not to navigate that particular minefield. 

I’ve been reading Denise Riley’s ‘Time Lived, Without Its Flow’. While it’s a difficult read, as a suicide bereaved parent, she has an astonishing way of speaking about absence, and how time shifts into something intangible and non-linear — and that this is what we must live within. There’s no way of going back to the life from before. It’s implausible to think we will get over this unimaginable grief, which has created something akin to an internal death.

Mothers have lived with this grief since time began; children who never returned from fighting other people’s wars, those who inexplicably died, and the sudden deaths. It’s a specific bereavement one cannot understand if they have not birthed a child who lived, and then suicided. And I say this in a non-defensive way, with much aroha for those who’ve not experienced motherhood, because I imagine that comes with its own distinct grief too. As Denise Riley puts it, ‘I’d like them to try to imagine what it is like.’

We humans are excellent (well, some of us are) at looking for similarities, so we can empathise, and yet it’s unfeasible and perhaps arrogant to think we can ever know another’s experience. In fact, why do we aspire to be so intrusive? How about we stop saying ‘I know how you feel’ when that’s an impossible thing to attest to? We cannot know another’s journey, not fully. We may see around the edges if we are lucky. We are alone with our internal worlds. The Johari Window model comes to mind. 

Early on, I realised the only people who came close were the mothers in my life whose children have also taken their lives. Plus, I think it’d be unfair to expect anyone to understand this lonely, estranged, and incomparable event. Perhaps that’s true for all kinds of grief and absence. 

My grief around Reuben’s death will always be raw, because of the non-linear nature of time. This timelessness I’ve stepped into, reflects the often-painful new place I inhabit within myself. 

… you will have learned 

To wean your eyes

From that gap in the air

And be able to enter the heart

In your soul where your loved one

Has awaited your return

All the time. 

(from For Grief, by John O’Donohue) 


2022 blessings to you and your whānau WordPress peeps. Wishing you peace, as we traverse this ever-changing landscape which has become our world.

2022 has seen me complete my latest manuscript, and it’s gone off for some expert eyes to take a fresh look. This collection, started after Reuben’s death, highlights my bereavement process (through memoir, photography and poetry). It’s not a light read, however I’m hopeful it’ll lend words for those who cannot find them whilst wading through the complexities of being suicide bereaved. But we need to find a publisher first!

Another toikupu (poem) from the collection was accepted for publication last week (watch this space), and the first to be accepted ‘Morass’ was recently published in the New Zealand Poetry Society’s ‘Kissing a Ghost’ 2021 Anthology (as below).

And here’s the link again, for two others from the collection, ‘Voice’ and ‘Amputated Limbs’ in both written and audio form (as previously posted)

The process of creating a new collection, more hybrid than before, has been exhausting, incredibly demanding, and taken me to places I didn’t want to visit in myself. That said, I’m glad (in the weirdest of ways) to have allowed myself to go there ~ to complete a body of work during the first year of not having my beautiful son alive has been a massive undertaking. It’s meant the people I love have witnessed my disappearance, online and in person, but to those who’ve stayed the course and continued to love me I am deeply grateful to you.

Nui te aroha, much love

Iona x