Pike River Mine

I don't want to write about the Pike River Mine. I find I have absolutely nothing to say. Some things are just too sad – too awful to bear thinking. I have no idea of what happened down there and sometimes the question 'Why?' that undoubtedly will ricochet round the court rooms and commission groups for the next few years has too many answers to be of any consolation to the people those 29 men left behind. So I won't. Instead I will write about what I do know something about – and that is grief.

I did an early apprenticeship in it when I lost my partner of 7 years when I was 26. It is difficult to explain the raw, hungry and often erratic emotional maelstrom that is grief. It comes in many forms. The grief at losing a parent at the end of their natural life is a very different beast to having a husband or child taken far too soon. What many, indeed what I didn't know, was that grief could be so physical. A blinding ruthless pain that can leave you breathless and disorientated months after the funeral is over. It was during that time of intense grief that I understood the term 'rude health'. It seems inconceivable that there is often no physical trace of what those in the early stages of grief are going through. Impossible that a body can feel and look so physically sound when actually those in grief often feel like they're haemorrhaging on the inside. While they are coping with the necessary decisions that must be made it is a good thing to bear in mind that if we could actually see what is going on psychologically for these people they'd be rushed to emotional intensive care – if such a thing existed. Because the truth is that now, when disease and war no longer take the tithes on our population they once did we have lost the lore around death and knowing how to care for the grieving.

In Argentina most of the very old opera houses had 'widow's boxes' constructed almost under the floor where widows could enter and leave the opera and enjoy a few hours of entertainment without being looked at or talked about or even required to adhere to any of the rules of etiquette. Their clothing and their veil would also have given notice to the world that these are people whom we must treat very gently for the next wee while so that more damage than the loss that they have already suffered is not done. They must be listened to and respected regardless.

In grief you hold onto wild hope long past where that is still rationally justified and those grieving must be allowed that. Grief has nothing to do with reality or rationality and everything to do with a sense that our dead may be still with us and watching and the ones closest to them will always be the last ones to emotionally pack up and go home – anything else would carry with it a sense of betrayal. When confronted with the full horror of a lifetime's absence of a person whom you loved more than life itself the mind will stall acceptance so that the full knowledge of that can be assimilated slowly enough for the person to bear. We should respect that process rather than try to reason with it. Those left behind will need love and their windows cleaned. They will need a patient ear and the vacuuming done. They might need to be reminded to eat or a guilt-free night out of dedicated forgetting with some close friends. They will need a good crew that will travel alongside for awhile until they work out how to paddle their waka without the person they loved on board. In the wake of such a sense of helplessness over the inability to mount a rescue effort for the 29 miners it is important to remember that we can still launch an emotional rescue of the many people they loved and had to leave behind.

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