Cantabrian Colleen McClure shares her story about her husbands’ passing just hours before the first earthquakes, the second round of quakes and how counselling has helped her.

At 12.30 on the morning of 4 September 2010, my husband Brian passed away at home due to illness. I went to bed at 3.30am and, an hour later, was woken by the earthquake. My immediate reaction was complete disbelief – I just wanted to stay asleep and not acknowledge the reality of Brian’s death.

A few hours later, with the continuing aftershocks, we were all in bed together laughing at how surreal it all was. Everything seemed so ridiculously dramatic. Brian’s exit was so powerful, we had to laugh. He was called Rocky and the world hasn’t stopped rocking since.

In February 2011, I was cutting a client’s hair in my salon on New Regent Street when the quake struck. I don’t recall seeing the destruction and tragedy, but instead remember people being kind and compassionate to each other. The event did change my life, though. I thought “I have to stop; I can’t just get on with it. I have to give myself time”.

Difficult to ask for help

I found asking for help one of the hardest things to do. When I stood in the queue for the Red Cross emergency grant and was asked what my needs were, it was then that I burst into tears.

I was so tired and rundown. Life takes a lot of energy and my reserves had slowly depleted. This was been difficult for me to accept, as I have always kept on going and said yes to everything.

I accessed the earthquake funded counselling sessions. The first thing that became clear was I needed to let go of trying to solve the big unknowns.

The main lesson was that I’ve been grieving on so many levels. It was imperative that I feel and allow myself the space to process this grief, before I could move forward.

Saying no and being kind to myself

As part of this, I also learned to listen to myself and to say no when my energy reserves are too depleted.

I use homoeopathic treatment and am conscious to look after my physical health, as this is a huge part of my mental health.

I talk and I think and I do. I’ve got quieter. I’ve given myself permission to take time and be kind to myself.

I started the gratitude wall on my birthday in May 2011. It was a space for friends and family to give thanks for the things we did have. People just loved expressing thanks and there seemed to be a real sparkle in the process of doing it.

Content and image copyright: Guy Frederick from his NZ Mental Health Media Grant project, The Space Between Words