– Hagley Park, Christchurch, New Zealand

22 February 2012
1 Year On
The Memorial Service . . .

There are more road cones in Christchurch per km of road than any other city in the world, I think. And today those road cones were all filled with flowers. A small reminder of where we were a year ago.

Today is 22 February. 1 year ago today our world as Cantabrians was shaken to the core, and 185 people lost their lives.

The whole week I, as many people around me, have felt anxious – like there might be another big quake; sad – there has been such tremendous loss over the last year; and maybe even a bit angry – why did this happen to us?!

This whole week I have been feeling tremendous loss, almost like how you feel when someone dies. And today was the “funeral”. The memorial service was held in North Hagley Park. Rain had been forecast, but the weather was “perfect” for an outdoor memorial service. The sun was behind clouds, it was warm, and there was a gentle breeze. The children and I were amongst some estimated 40,000 people to attend the funeral.

The service started with the National Anthem. I can’t hear the National Anthem without crying, so I was a blubbering mess by the start of the service, but sang proudly in my tear broken voice. Then the address from the Mayor, Bob Parker. He is an amazing orator and spoke so extremely well. The first biblical reading was read by a young man, Sam Johnson, who started the “Student Army”, who after 22 Feb 2011 came and dug liquifaction, and helped people in need for weeks and weeks after the quake. Then we sang “How Great Thou Art” in Maori and English, and then the Prime Minister read a passage from the bible.

Some lovely music was played by an orchestra, and the names of the 185 people who lost their lives were read out. Everyone in the crowd stood in respect at this time, and it was tragic to hear how many of the people who died were foreigners. Aussies, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Israeli’s, Russian, Philipino’s, British, Serbian, and I think 1 or two other countries. The most of these people were in the CTV building which collapsed. The CTV building housed a foreign language school, and thus the tremendous loss of lives of foreigners. I felt very sad for the Japanese people who only 3 weeks later had to deal with their own earthquake and tsunami, and had lost several young people in our earthquake. We had a Japanese search and rescue team here in Chch for about 2 weeks after the quake, only to return to Japan to start all over again.

The service went on with 2 minutes of silence at 12.51pm, the time of the quake. My son commented afterwards how quickly the 2 minutes seemed to disappear, as we were all so lost in our individual thoughts. All I could hear at the time was the sound of church bells in the distance, and the sound of the breeze in the trees, and I was reminded as awful as this year has been, I was not alone. All of these people around me had “shared” this experience.

The Governor General then read a letter from Prince Charles to the people of Canterbury, and made a wonderful address himself, finished by a poem that was written about Christchurch in 1900. I am going to endeavour to get a copy of this poem, as it was beautiful. But he reminded us, “The Christchurch of today is not the Christchurch that the poem was written about. Things will never be the same again for Christchurch”.

There is great hope for a new Christchurch, a better Christchurch, but the fact is nothing will ever be the same again here.

Then there was a broadcast from Hillary Clinton which was heartfelt, and unexpected.

The service ended with the releasing of 185 Monarch Butterflies while a choir sang “You Raise Me Up”.

It was a beautiful service – this “funeral” – a time to say goodbye to the past 12 months. The last of many firsts someone described it. We’ve had a birthday, or a Christmas, or an Easter, post quake, and this was the last of the firsts.

Just as we were about to leave, I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned around and there was an elderly lady in a blue dress and a white hat on. She said to me: “I don’t know why but I wanted to come to you and say to you if you are going through a difficult time, or have been through a difficult time, just know I care. I just wanted you to know that.” I put my arms around her and gave her a big hug and just said thank you. (Hey dad up in heaven, was that you sending me that message?) This has been Canterbury for the past 12 months. Strangers reaching out and touching each others lives in ways we would never have even considered before.

I looked across the park and reminded myself, when I shook, you shook. When I was woken in the middle of the night, you were too. When I was afraid, I was not alone. “We are all in this together”!

The first anniversary of the Christchurch Earthquake is now over, and hopefully our time to move on.

Kia Kaha Christchurch – Be Strong!
God Bless, and Be Safe everyone.

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