Saturday, June 25, 2011


This post is the fifth in the series on "PARENTS LIVING UNDER DIFFICULTIES".

"The normal ebb and flow of day to day family life for Christchurch families has been challenged to some degree either directly or indirectly following the Canterbury earthquakes. Furthermore, living with ongoing predictions of future shakes to come only adds to the fragility of our anxiety and emotions.
Thankfully for us our house has remained relatively unscathed bar a few cracks in the interior roof (which have since been repaired) and a few wobbly floor piles. We are so grateful our family has remained safe, warm and dry, with only power and water supply cut for several days during repairs of unstable power lines down the road.
However, what does not remain unscathed is our emotional wellbeing. Like every other Cantabrian, we all feel a sense of vulnerability. We live day by day continually struggling to push to our sub conscience the threat of yet another statistically predicted 'big' earthquake. The daily aftershocks make a frequent unwelcome reminder, unsettling our minds, interrupting sleep, even invoking physiological responses to the stress and anxiety (for example, palpitations). People are being worn down. often with outbursts of tears and panic. It has been evident in my primary health care profession, the rise in depression and other anxiety related health problems. Each aftershock is like an emotional roller coaster between terror and relief. As I sit here and write this I have be jolted aggressively twice.
In my own home it has become evident my children are easily disturbed at night to any noise. They are overly "jumpy" to any little shaking and repeatedly express concern about our family's safety. We imagine earthquakes even when there are none!
During day-time activities environmental safety concerns are on the top of everyone's mind. We also avoid unnecessary entry to some buildings and avoid parking the car in a "fall zone" of a wall or building. Like most people, I consciously scan for signs of previous damage in any building I enter and note exits for a quick escape if needed. I also feel anxious when I work on the ambulance and are transporting patients to the city hospital because of the cities oppressive feeling and appearance of a demolition site. In contrast I sense a relief when I am back in the safety of the open country road. The fears may or may not be rational, but rational thinking has no place with the surprise and suddenness of earthquakes.
As a family we are also now more diligent about knowing the activities and whereabouts of each other during the day. This is hoped to potentially reduce unnecessary worry should communication networks fail again. I am aware of an increasing separation anxiety during the day when aftershocks occur. Everyone values the security of human company at all times. Many people are developing phobias about being alone, particularly the elderly. In a strange way I am thankful my husband's office is inaccessible (in the "Red Zone") which has forced him to work at home indefinitely. The family all feel he is much safer not venturing into the city.
The earthquakes impact on our daily life in many ways. Like many families we are generally more content to stay in our own geographical area rather than venture to the city centre for leisure activities or shopping. We choose to avoid busy built up areas and Christchurch city has lost its central hub and aesthetic attraction and therefore has little appeal. 
Thankfully our local town has street entry shops that are single level and easy to run out from. The one time we went to the local movie theatre, it was surprising how vulnerable I felt, making the experience less enjoyable. Sport activities have been interrupted due to damage to fields.Everyday in so many ways we are reminded by the flow on damage effects. 
I feel people have a renewed sense of appreciation for quality family time and simple activities at home. There is a resurgence of home hospitality as an expression of valued friendships and giving support. Times like this strengthen our sense of community and sharing.
Our children are living through a remarkable time in history. One they will share in stories for the remainder of their lives. They are alert and knowledgeable about the cause and effects of earthquakes both geographically and how it affects society. They also appreciate how imperative it is to have a safety plan and be prepared with a disaster kit. Like us they are careful to go to bed each night with clothing and footwear ready to grab in case we need to run outside in the cold frosty Canterbury air. We routinely check torches have charged batteries, gas bottles are full, water is stored in the freezer and canned food and matches are available. One thing we did discover was our dependence on power for the TV and internet broadcasts in emergencies. A battery radio may be a valuable asset to acquire.
On reflection the days immediately following the first and second earthquakes were special family bonding times. In some ways it was like a wake, with an air of sobriety filling the house. It was a time where we were inherently aware of our appreciation of one another. Sharing memories of the past.
It was a time to forget trivial day to day irritations and focus on being an integral member of the family team, pulling together to cook, bake and collect water for people in need that we then delivered to the "Earthquake Express Helicopter" to be delivered to the worst hit locations. 
We also had the privilege to serve others by accommodating out of town trades people (welders) who had the task of fixing the fuel pipeline from Littleton to the city over the Port Hills. Very little accommodation with water, power and septic services were available. The long drive between Littleton and Rangiore after each long day of hard labour on steep hills was welcomed by a warm bed, hot shower, hot meal, packed lunches and TV. A luxury many others did not have.
These earthquakes are a sobering experience for each Cantabrian. A time when our existence is threatened day by day by the earth we stand on as it shakes repeatedly. To some it is the loss of monetary assets they have spent years accumulating and cherishing as a form of security and personal self worth. Others have lost loved ones and have been forced into inexplicable grief. Everyone, even those not directly affected by tragedy and loss seem to be reflecting their spiritual beliefs or where they are situated on their spiritual journey and purpose in life.
I think there is a need to remain philosophical about life. It is futile to worry about aspects of our future we cannot control. We need to live each day with hope and prayerful anticipation that this period of earthquakes will settle soon and that the whole experience has challenged us to realign our priorities with values and principles that support our spiritual belief and social connectedness."

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