When Your World Turns Upside Down (reposted)

A few weeks ago I published this post but removed it shortly after, when I felt uncomfortable having shared what is contained in it.  I now feel more comfortable with sharing it, and so am re-posting it.  I apologise to those who read the original post and commented, before I deleted it.  I did appreciate your comments.

Today has been the second anniversary of the worst earthquake we lived through in Christchurch, NZ.  185 people weren’t so lucky and lost their lives.  Many more were injured.  And yet many more have suffered health problems (and for some death) following the quakes.  For me, my father died six weeks later, my mother is a completely different woman and my own fibromyalgia is attributed to my trauma from that experience. 

Our lives literally turned upside down.  While recovery, repair and rebuilding slowly take place, for about 450,000 residents life will never be the same.  This post is about what came to matter.

My world has literally turned upside down in more than one occasion. It has been frightening, life changing and heart stopping (both literally and figuratively when I look across my family who also experienced this). It happened, for me, by way of massive earthquakes, but for others it might have been tornadoes, hurricanes, bush fires, floods, tsunamis or a number of other events that we know as ‘natural disasters’.

It might be ‘natural’ but nothing seems ‘natural’ at the time. Everything is totally unknown and shocking.Out of nowhere, comes complete devastation. The question that repeatedly came into my mind as I was in a number of major earthquakes in Christchurch, NZ was “how can the earth do this?” It was simply beyond my wildest imagination that the world was capable of moving like this, yet now it was my reality.

If you have read back through my posts you may have read some of this before, but this is a different angle than that which I have shared previously.

In a few weeks it will be two years since Christchurch experienced its worst (although not biggest) and deadly earthquake. On 22 February 2011 a 6.3 earthquake, centred just 10 kilometres from the central city, hit on a busy, summer Tuesday. It wasn’t the first, or the last quake to devastate the city.

Nearly two years on, it seems that finally the after shocks might have died away. There are still occasional ones just to remind us of our terror, but mostly now it is about concentrating on rebuilding ourselves, our homes and our city. Or waiting. There is so much waiting. In early days for supplies of fresh water, now we wait for the Government and Insurance companies, and of course we wait at the thousands of roads-works holding up traffic as the repairs to roads, water pipes and sewers go on.

Five months earlier on 4 September 2010 at 4.35am I was woken by our first quake. It was a 7.1 quake centred just out of the city at Darfield (about 30 kilometres away). It was dark, and I woke to this incredible violent shaking. Initially I had no idea what was happening. In New Zealand we are used to minor quakes but this was far beyond anything I had experienced.

As children we had been taught that in an earthquake you make your way to a doorway or under a table. Instinct somehow kicked in. Moments before my cat had been asleep by my feet, but I couldn’t see or hear where she was. That instinct saw me grab my teddy bear and try to make it to the doorway. It was only two metres but it seemed like miles because the cupboard doors on one side, and the bed on the other, were being tossed and thrown around the room. I literally had to fight to get past.

I clung to the door frame, and as I did I realised that there was an old doll on my bedside table. I had grabbed the teddy bear but I hadn’t grabbed the doll, and now I wanted her. I wanted to go back. For a moment, she was everything in the world, but then I knew I wouldn’t make it back. Right then I wasn’t sure if this was the end of the world, or was it a very bad earthquake. I just hung on and hoped it would end. I hoped my doll would still be there when it stopped.

When these ‘natural’ disasters strike they tend to be life-changing in many ways that one would never have expected. What is important takes on new meaning and you find that things you thought were important, don’t hold the same value you thought they did.

On that dark September morning, all that mattered to me was my cat (who I didn’t see for another two days) and the teddy bear and doll. I thought my world was ending. It would have been useful to have my mobile phone from the bedside table, but I didn’t think of that until it rang a few minutes later (what became a regular ritual of checking on other family members).

There wasn’t much logic to what was important but in time I would repeat the same choices. Five months later, when the February quake struck it caused much more damage because it was closer to the city centre, it was very shallow and it was lunchtime on a busy work day. My parents lived in an apartment building in the city centre, and when they (and I) struggled down the damaged stairs some time after the quake, they were leaving the building forever. I was with them that day, and while I had time to grab my bag, they had no time to grab anything. Dad had his car keys. That was all.

Their experience made me question my priorities again. What really mattered? Actually a lot didn’t matter. Mum was understandably upset because she hadn’t put her wedding rings on that morning.

We were fortunate that my brother and I were able to go back into the building for a short while several months later. By then we had worked out what really mattered. There was mum’s rings, my grandfather’s World War Two medals, and family photos. Of a houseful of possessions we had narrowed it down to that.

It seemed a little crazy to walk past broken china on the floor. Items my parents had got as wedding gifts and had been part of our family for my whole life. They didn’t matter. They just weren’t important. I’d like to say that what mattered was that we were all alive, but by that time my Dad had died. The stress of everything had beaten his heart.

But we do have everyone else, and some families weren’t so lucky. We are fortunate. We found mum’s rings and Granddad’s medals (although they mysteriously disappeared later). We retrieved most of the family and ancestor photos that couldn’t have been replaced.

For me, I lost precious items in my home too, particularly gifts from friends. Smashed on the floor. But two years on those things don’t matter. The things that did matter, which were of my heart, were my cat, my teddy bear and the doll. Oh, and I never take my rings off now. I learnt that lesson from Mum.

“You can’t help respecting anybody who can spell TUESDAY, even if he doesn’t spell it right; but spelling isn’t everything. There are days when spelling Tuesday simply doesn’t count.”

― A.A. Milne

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12 thoughts on “When Your World Turns Upside Down (reposted)

  1. Oh sweetheart, the biggest of big hugs to you. I know how you feel, having lived through a similar disaster http://cauldronsandcupcakes.com/2012/01/14/musings-on-melancholy-my-own-little-lost-in-translation-moment/

    A beautiful post, and I’m so glad you found the strength to put this back up. It’s important to share the lessons you’ve learned. They’ll help people you’ll never know, in ways you can never understand.

    Wishing you peace in your heart. Bless xoxoxoxo

  2. I see today is the anniversary. I appreciate you sharing this with us and my thoughts are with you. Although I am not living there at the moment, Vancouver, Canada is likely to have a big earthquake at some undetermined point in the future. I have not experienced a quake like you did, but I often thought about the things that mattered should I need to evacuate. I although I do not want to detract from the tragedy and sad things you went through, I am thankful as always for the reminder. It is important to think about what really matters to us on a daily basis. Wishing you well.

    1. Thanks Amanda. What I have found really interesting, for both myself and my family, is that what we thought would be important before hand was actually quite different when faced with the reality. That said, it is a very good thing to have thought about. Maybe Vancouver never go through what we have. xox

  3. I can’t imagine going through what you did two years ago, much less what you’ve gone through since then, so all I can say is well done writing this. Your perspective is a valuable one for all to hear.

  4. I can’t even imagine what you have gone through these past two years Cate but fair play to you for having the courage and strength to repost this piece. In spite of everything you still manage to see the things that are of your heart and that matter to you. Your strength is an inspiration

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