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Christchurch Earthquake 2011 - Grief, Media and My Family

By Yvette Vignando - 28th February 2011

Last week was a quiet week for blogging and writing on happychild. I was distracted.

My brother, his wife and their two little boys live in Christchurch New Zealand. They are fortunate and we are relieved – they are safe and their house has only minor damage. Last year, 4 days after the September earthquake, my sister in law Michelle, wrote a blogpost about how it felt as a parent in the aftermath of the September earthquake in Christchurch: Christchurch Earthquake 2010 – I am a Mother of Two Boys. Something Michelle wrote about especially touched me. She said she found the lack of staunchness comforting. For Michelle, feeling and seeing that other people were all going through the same human emotions as her, was a reassurance – it helped her feel that although they were all traumatised, they were all still part of a community.

Since September, many people in Christchurch have continued to feel anxious and stressed and this has been compounded by the frequent aftershocks that jolt them out of temporary distraction, and remind them that they’re living with risk.

The night before the 22 February earthquake last week, I was talking to Michelle about the continuing emotional impact on all people in Christchurch after the September earthquake. It’s especially hard if you have children, because you are dealing with your own anxieties and worrying about your children’s concerns as well as their safety. Living with visible reminders of natural disaster and the constant physical jolts, is a huge challenge even for the most resilient of personalities.

The media reporting has been intense. Sometimes the scenes have been too much to watch so I have turned off the television. At other times it has been a relief to have a live connection to what is happening when I can’t be there myself to really understand what my brother and his family are going to face. I don’t know how people feel who are waiting for news of family; are they happy that there is such full media coverage – maybe they’re grateful to at least have some live connection to where their hearts are stretched to? Maybe the nature of the live coverage is adding to their stress?  

There’s been criticism of parts of the live unedited footage of rescues in Christchurch – there’s also been criticism of some media outlets that have sent over their anchor people to cover the scenes. I’ve thought a lot about this. I don’t like intrusive camera work or unnecessary intrusions into people’s raw grief. But I think in an unfolding scene of disaster where camera people, editors and journalists are also dealing with their own very personal reactions to scenes and their own fears, we need to cut them some slack. They have made some mistakes this time, but they are also under severe stress and pressure and suffering the fear of aftershocks along with everyone else. Unless the decision is made to not broadcast live from natural disasters, I feel we should extend some understanding and forgiveness of mistakes made by media who are doing their best to carry out what must be a very difficult role in those circumstances. The best piece I have read about this was written by the ABC’s Lyndal Curtis on The Drum. Disasters and the Media – a Necessary Voice

What can parents do to manage the news and media images about the Christchurch earthquake in an age-appropriate way for children? How should parents explain what is happening to young children? Does it depend on whether you are a parent in Christchurch or a parent in Australia? I’ll be posting some useful information about this in the next couple of days – here it is: "How to Care for Children after a Traumatic Event - Christchurch Earthquake."

I feel a deep sense of grief for what the people of Christchurch have lost. They have lost property, infrastructure, a feeling of safety, and most awful, they have lost people they love.

To donate to the Red Cross appeal to help the people of Christchurch, please click here – donate.

Image by Martin Luff Flickr

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