Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lessons learned

I don't mean to harp on about it, but I was talking to my mother again recently and naturally the topic of the Victorian bushfires came up. I thought I would share some insights she gave me about the process of coming back to normality.

She told me about an interview of a survivor of the fires she was watching, and how the woman was telling her story and appearing to laugh about it. It's very deceptive she said because on the outside it looks like she's coping. After cyclone Tracy, my mum shared how the survivors used to tell jokes about their predicament amongst each other too, because after you lost everything laughter is all you had left. Either that or crying, and some people weren't ready to do that yet.

Crying means finally accepting what you've lost, so you laugh about the horror instead. It's not such a bad way of coping but we shouldn't automatically assume that laughter means acceptance.

That insight from my mum really touched me, because even as I watch the survivors tell their stories now I think how well they were coping. In reality though, it probably hasn't even registered what they've lost.

I've learned so much from my mum as we were sharing - stuff she hasn't told me before. I asked if she could write her book about cyclone Tracy, that she's always been meaning to do. For her she said, it's a very difficult process to want to go back willingly and re-live those events. Even so I said, people forget about the reality of tragedies because all history records are the statistics and dates. We forget about the people and what happens to them, so when another tragedy happens we feel unprepared to cope again.

I'm sure like many people far removed from the tragedy, we hope that society doesn't become so complacent about such disasters again. But for a survivor I'm sure, it's something they would rather forget ever happened. At least that is how my own mum has coped. In her mid 50's she's still learning to cope too.

We reached a point in our conversation though, where she admitted how worried she was that upon watching the Victorian tragedy unfold, how detached she felt emotionally. The more they reported the more she detached. She began to feel like she'd lost all her capacity to care. Then it hit her, she said, having been through her own natural disaster that as the horror unfolds you learn to detach from your reality. How could you go through all that and remain sane, if at some point you didn't detach your emotions?

So she was in her own way, "feeling" for the victims of the bushfire, only from the perspective of a survivor who is still dealing with the ramifications of her natural disaster story.

I just thought I would share these insights so perhaps we can step back a little as a community, and let the survivors of this recent event, come to grips with their reality again. It's not for us to feel happy or sad for how well or poorly they're coping. We must remember they're still going through the process of acceptance.


  1. Thanks for popping by my blog, Chris.

    One thing I learned about myself during a particularly difficult time in our lives (we were essentially without our own home for a while, staying with family & friends) is that you don't know what you can cope with until you have to. Sure, it's not easy and some days you just wish it was all over. But you do get through it because you have to.

    And then one day, you realise you've found a new kind of 'normal' for your life and that actually, it's not so bad after all.

  2. Thanks for sharing your experiences Tracy. Losing our security can change a lot of things, and sometimes it can be for the good in the end.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog too.

  3. Thank you for sharing your Mum's insights. You have raised some really important issues.



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