Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Not Without Guilt

Last week I did what I thought I would never do & left town for a few days. As it turns out it was the best thing I could have done as it gave me time to think without being surrounded by constant scenes of damage, devastation & sadness.
Time to try & sort out the various emotions that seem part of this mess was something that was desperately needed although at the time of making the hasty arrangements to go, after an impromptu comment posted by my cousin to my facebook page, I wasn't consciously aware that I needed time to sort my feelings - all I knew was that I had to get myself & Gabriela away for a while.
As I drove out of the city & felt the utter relief at leaving I also realised that I felt a little guilty – as if I was deserting a sinking ship. That was the first time that the word 'guilt' had come to mind.
The next few days went by all too quickly. We spent time with my cousin & his family just relaxing & exploring the countryside surrounding Murchison. We enjoyed being around the dogs & horses while breathing in the fresh air & scents of the country. I spent time outside at nights star gazing in a place where there is very little light pollution & the many more stars that were visible shone brighter than they do when viewed from the city. In the mornings we'd awake to low mist clouding the surrounding mountains & watch as it lifted to reveal their splendour bathed in sunlight.
As I cleaned my teeth or grabbed a glass of water I thought how nice it was just to be able to run water straight from the tap without boiling it first. As I showered I realised that for the first time in over a week I didn't feel guilty for actually being able to have a shower...or for having the power available to heat the water in the first place. And therein lays the problem.
Ever since the February 22nd earthquake struck I'd known how blessed we were to be just outside the area that was hit so badly. I'd known how fortunate we were to get our power back on the same day & our water restored within 36 hours - & for the life of me I couldn't figure why, yet again, we were spared most of the damage. It didn't feel right that this little area I live in was relatively unaffected while there were varying degrees of damage so very close to it on every side. I felt bad that we had what we did, when others had lost their homes. It felt selfish to be so grateful that my family were all safe when others had lost their loved ones.
After the initial stunned disbelief at what had happened started to wear off & the new reality slowly settled in it still didn't feel right to worry about small issues. I thought about filling out insurance claims – & a little voice suggested how dare I be thinking of replacing 'things'!! The thought of my 13 year old now having to attend a different venue for school which involves her travelling home by bus from the other side of town in the dark (when daylight savings finishes soon) didn't exactly thrill me, but again it felt selfish to be worrying about that.
Feelings of guilt & selfishness are bad things when they start undermining what, at any other time, are quite normal emotions & reactions when presented with a problem or concern. They colour your every thought & move, they inhibit your ability to heal, to move forward or even be able to see a future that is better than the present.
Part of the problem is that we don't see those feelings as guilt until we can distance ourselves from the situation, take stock of what we have been going through & think about those feelings we have been experiencing. After I got back & started talking to others about what was happening in their lives I've realised that I wasn't alone in the way I was feeling. I've heard people say "I feel quite guilty at how lightly I have gotten off" many times now....amazingly enough in some cases by people that have suffered through hugely traumatic experiences in the city on the day of the quake & have only just managed to get away with their lives.
The trauma counsellors that are available for people to talk to suggest that one of the best things you can do is get together with the social groups that you are involved in, carry on doing the things you have always enjoyed & talk with others sharing your experiences. As it turned out that was extremely good advice. I'm pleased that a strong desire to do something normal over ruled the feelings of guilt that arose from going out & doing something as frivolous as dancing a week after such a destructive event!
Once again I find myself working through a whole heap of feelings & emotions. Knowing that some of them are normal doesn't help a whole heap at times.
What does help is knowing that a bit of time away can give insight & in turn heal....& believe me there is no place better to do it than in a small country town surrounded by magnificent scenery, open fields, lots of animals & great human company.
When it puts a smile on your child's face that is just a huge bonus!!

1 comment:

Patty said...

I'm very happy you got away, Deb. Good for your soul. I'm no expert, but I suspect that feelings of guilt are a normal part of the grieving process, and no doubt there is a lot of grief surrounding what happened to your town. You're still in our thoughts, a lot. ((Hugs))