I was sitting on the couch at Jethro’s flat in Wellington, watching something on TV. It was a Saturday night. I think we’d just finished dinner. We were still in the phase of getting to know each other – we’d been ‘official’ for just under a month.
My phone rang. It was mum. I picked it up. She immediately asked if Jethro was there with me. Yes, I said. Why? I could hear something in her voice. I asked what’s wrong?
She replied, “Granddad’s dead.”
Those two little words shifted my world on its axis. I couldn’t keep myself composed and here I was sitting next to a guy I barely knew bawling my eyes out.
I barely recall what happened the rest of that night, or the following few days. I remember driving back to Hawke’s Bay on the Monday – a stop over in Palmerston North for an interview at the Manawatu Standard, which I barely remember, I didn’t get the job, no surprises there. I don’t remember what happened on the Monday night, or Tuesday morning.
What I do remember is leaning on the breakfast bar in my parent’s house talking to mum, getting ready to go out to do a few things around town in preparation for Granddad’s funeral and family arriving. It was just before 1pm and I was scrolling through Twitter.
I started to see tweets from people I followed in Wellington. “Oooh, that was a bit of a wobble.”
“I felt that one!”
I said to Mum – Wellington just had an earthquake. She replied nonchalantly with something like, “Really? How big?” Something we now followed.
Then I saw a tweet, with a picture, from someone I knew lived in Christchurch. It was a brick chimney on top of a car.
I stopped. I could barely breathe, let alone say something. My world shifted on its axis for the second time in a few days.
“Christchurch,” I choked out.
I don’t remember much else from that day except the feeling of panic and grief and anguish of seeing Christchurch fall, of having to wait several hours to hear from my sister, my best friend and other people I cared about.
I sat glued to the TV for the rest of the day, unable to function. Needless to say, we never did leave the house.
That week in February 2011 was one of the worst weeks of my family’s life. Granddad died, Mum had eye surgery, my sister got stuck in Christchurch and I was already barely functioning due to ongoing depression. Every time I think of it, I choke up, struggle to stay composed.
I’ve been thinking about the events of that week a lot lately with the fifth anniversary of both my Grandfather’s death and the February 22 earthquake (and five years of being with Jethro).
And I can’t help but think there were higher powers involved.
I met Jethro at the start of January, six weeks later he was my rock. He came up to Hawke’s Bay to be beside me throughout my grief for my Grandfather. He met my entire family after only dating for four weeks – and I mean entire family: aunts, uncles, cousins – a trial by fire, as my mother called it. I had someone to lean on when I hit rock bottom. And boy, did I hit rock bottom that week – my black dog took over.
If Granddad had not died three days before the February 22 quake, my sister wouldn’t have been at the airport – one of the safest buildings to be in at the time. She would have likely being in the lab at university, surrounded by a lot of glass.
Granddad loved Christchurch. He was stationed there during World War 2 and I don’t know how he would have reacted to seeing Christchurch broken. In a way it is a blessing he never saw the devastation.
He would tell us stories about Cokers Hotel on Manchester St, where he used to go to drink. He visited the old hotel and pub when he came down for my sister’s 21st. Cokers is no longer there. It was red stickered after the September quake.
I’ve struggled to write this post – choking up a little. After five years, you would think it would be easier. I guess it has gotten easier – I no longer burst into tears when thinking about Granddad or Christchurch. But five years later, I’m still grieving my grandfather and the city that was my first home-away-from-home. It has been hard to grieve a city when I haven’t been there to see what it has become. I still think of it as it was, not how it is.
And then I start to think – if this is how I feel when I wasn’t present for any of the major quakes in Christchurch, how do those that experienced them feel? I can only imagine, and feel for all of you.
I don’t really know what this post was supposed to become. I felt I needed to say something because of the anniversaries, because of still feeling grief, because of battling depression again and how it can make you think of things even though they are long past. And how depression has a way of taking you back to those exact moments when your life changed forever and remembering exactly how you felt at the time. And because I wanted to say that, even though I never experienced the quakes in Christchurch, I stand with you in solidarity.
And just to make sure there was a little rush of adrenaline today, Seddon has produced a 5.0 as I write this. Good oh.
The events of February 2011 will always be linked for me and I don’t think I will ever be able to not feel choked up when thinking back on the first time I saw what happened in Christchurch. Kia kaha.