One year on. I thought I could fly through it. I knew the replays of scenes on television would be hard. I still find that stuff hard to watch. It’s too hard to see the trauma played again and again, as if it’s something that happened a million miles from here when it’s actually what happened right here, to me.
I knew two people who died as a result of the quakes on 22 February 2011. One is recorded as one of the 185 who died that day (although she actually died a couple of weeks later). The other is my Dad. He died on 8 April, some six weeks later. His name isn’t counted in the official count but there is no doubt in my mind that day killed my Dad.
Right now there is a lot of preparation going into how we remember the day. 12.51pm when the biggest and most devastating quake hit. The main memorial service in Hagley Park is of no interest to me. I don’t do crowds at the best of times, and also I don’t believe this event was what we the people of Christchurch actually wanted. We were polled, but seemingly not heard. There is the suggestion of placing a flower on a traffic cone on the day. I like this, and there are so many cones around still that I am sure there is at least one for each of us.
The idea I like most, and what I plan to participate in, is the community gatherings at the river, to throw a flower into the river. I’m going down to the bridge at the end of Retreat Rd in Avonside. It’s not far from where I live and I used to cross that bridge daily when I was running around the river. Actually I haven’t been down there since September 2010 when the first quake struck and damaged so much of Avonside. Out of respect for the people who live only a block away from me, I chose not to go there. The river has changed so much in the 16 months, it’s hard to see it as the beauty it once was. The water level has raised, the banks are in places crumbling, for many months raw sewage had to be pumped into it. Nowhere else for it to go.
On 22 February 2011 my world changed forever. It had much more impact on me that any of the other 10,000 quakes we have had. It was the scariest moment of my life, those 20 seconds when the world seemed to pick up the building I was in and throw it around. I was in the 6th floor apartment of my parents. I tried to run for a doorway but literally couldn’t because each time I tried I was thrown to the floor. I watched my elderly parents being picked up and thrown on the floor. They were helpless to go anywhere and I was seriously wondering how this building could keep standing inspite of the way it was being hurled around. When the shaking stopped, and I knew my parents were ok, I realised we had to get out but the exit out of the apartment was blocked. It took me 10 minutes to clear a path to the door. Personally I would have climbed over the mess but I knew Mum would never be able to do that, and I had to clear a path for her.
We were asked to leave the building immediately, and with good reason too. We were much luckier than many as our stairway was still intact. It was however badly cracked, and we had to move slowly as the residents of the building were all elderly and unable to run for their lives, like I felt like doing. I tried not to look at the damage to the building as I walked down the stairs following a woman who had only recently had a hip replacement operation. I carried her box of medication so that she could hold onto to the handrail.
It was several hours later that we got the all clear to leave where we were and try to head to my home. My parents never returned to their home. Three months later my brother and I were escorted up to their apartment and given three hours to salvage what we could of their belongings, and shortly after the building was demolished. My house was severely damaged that day. My cat left home for two days but thankfully returned but my house is still severely damaged and I have no idea when I can expect it to be repaired.
By this time my Dad had died. The stress of all of this caused his heart to fail and inspite of the CPR I administered for what seemed like forever, on the floor of my lounge (which was now their home too), he was gone. Dad had changed in that six weeks. The stress turned him into a person hard to deal with, let alone live with. He told us repeatedly that he wasn’t stressed. He said he was fine. Maybe he just didn’t want to admit that the quakes, losing his home, losing what looked at that time like it might be all his possessions, was crippling him. Mum and Dad walked away from their home with only the clothes on their backs. Nothing more.
I knew Dad had changed the minute he seemed uninterested in making sure other people were ok, out in the car park that day. It was so unlike him. And this picture is forever a reminder of his sudden disinterest in anyone else. I saw this in a street in St Albans some four hours after the biggest quake as we tried to make our way back to my home through flooded streets, closed streets and streets that had huge holes in them. I looked out the window from the back seat and saw this house had fallen on a car. You can just make out the car lights under the house. I wanted to stop to make sure there was no one trapped under there but Dad wouldn’t stop. My Dad used to be the most caring man, there to help anyone, but now he couldn’t see that perhaps someone was in a worse position that he was. It broke my heart.
From there it was a steady decline. We had no power for four days, no water for eight days and sewage? That’s still to come right one year one. We existed by travelling out to my brother’s farm each day just north of Rolleston. Thankfully they had all the amenities we hadn’t and while Chris and I tried to convince Mum and Dad to go and stay out there, they wouldn’t. Instead they put stress on everyone as we tried to get through each day. There were lots of arguments and even more denials of what damage the stress was doing.
Ten days before Dad died he collapsed on my bed while talking to me. One minute he was standing at the end of the bed talking and next he was face down in the bedding and there was a pool of wet bedding where he had wet himself. My immediate thought was that if he stayed like that he would suffocate in the bedding. I managed to shift him – sufficient it now seems to get his heart pumping again. In his effort to deny the stress he told his doctor later that he had fainted. When I told the doctor what really happened (after Dad had actually died) the doctor told me we were lucky not to lose him that day.
When Dad did die he and I were in the middle of an argument, about of all things, chemical toilets. The need to use a chemical toilet for weeks to come was certainly not a big enough deal to argue over had I known this would be the last words we shared. But we don’t have a control over such things and I have had to come to terms with it being our last conversation. I loved him so much and was trying to do everything I could to be there for him, but it wasn’t enough. I guess he died thinking I didn’t understand. The stress of the quakes had beaten him to death. Now I had to pick up the pieces and carry on.
In the last 10 months I have helped my mother settle into a new home with some of her possessions. Many are gone forever but we realise that much as possessions are nice, having people and having memories is much more important. My home is still severely damaged. It has been assessed by EQC but there is no idea of when it will be repaired. I know I will have to move out when that happens but I’m not even thinking about that because it could be years away.
The damage to my house is a constant reminder of what has happened and what is lost. Every time I walk through the door and see the cracks, the damaged bricks, the slope of the floor it is hard to move on. I know that when winter comes it’s going to be extra cold here again and the heating bills will be horrendous. When I see the cracks in the paths I hope my mother won’t trip on them when she visits. When people from out of Christchurch assume our homes are fixed and we’re back to normal, I am gobsmacked. Because these 10,000 plus earthquakes have affected our lives so much here in Christchurch, and for who knows how long. It is hard to realise that other people are just getting on with their lives. For other people it is in the past. For me, and for many others particularly those in eastern Christchurch like me, 22 February will last for a long, long time.