Tuesday, February 23, 2010


After the earthquake, when the internet connection came back up, I wrote to a friend who is a psychologist and asked him, essentially, how to talk to my kids about it. He sent me two PDF files which you can download at the very bottom of this post. One is labeled "Children Coping with Earthquakes" and the other is "NASP Responding to Natural Disasters."

One of the things I remember reading right away in one of those articles was that an earthquake was different from other natural disasters because of the aftershocks. You couldn't just say, "Now this is over and we can get over it and start rebuilding." You had to keep reliving it again and again because the earth would keep shaking.

When I read that I thought of our first night sleeping on the soccer field at school. The earth never seemed to stop moving that night, and later we found out there were more than thirty aftershocks. I may have slept thirty minutes. I also thought of the following nights, when again and again the noise and the motion would return. Sometimes I felt it when it wasn't happening. The people in the yard said they could tell when it was real because the dogs would bark and the gate would rattle. Another friend told about setting up a pencil, and if it fell, the shock was real; if it didn't, he was imagining it.

I never thought all those weeks ago that the aftershocks would still be continuing, but they are. Information I read from the USGS (www.usgs.gov) said that they can continue for a year. A year!

Yesterday morning my Haiti friends were posting on Facebook about a large aftershock, and this morning, the same thing. My husband said that people he had just recently convinced to go inside are sleeping in our yard again. He slept through the one Monday morning (perhaps because he had taken Nyquil) but the one this morning woke him up.

My husband is always a lot calmer than I am. Since the earthquake I have seen that even more. For me there was no question of sleeping through aftershocks. Every time, the adrenaline hit me again, and I jumped to my feet, and rushed out the door, trying to escape the collapse of the house that I just knew would come next. It was hard to relax enough to sleep. That's why many people whose houses are fine are still sleeping outside in Haiti. Of course, now it's raining at night, so there are some uncomfortable choices to be made. And then for hundreds of thousands, there is no choice: they have nowhere to sleep except outdoors.

The metaphorical aftershocks are also enormous, of course, for everyone. I don't think they will ever go away for any of us, or for Haiti. Not when some estimate that up to 2% of the population will be amputees. Not when this earthquake has been called "the worst disaster in modern history." Not when up to 300,000 people may have lost their lives. And not when I walk down a quiet street of small-town America and imagine it all shaking, shaking.


Tricia said...

For quite some, I wondered what the difference was between an earthquake and an aftershock (since many aftershocks are pretty high up the richter scale i gather). I finally found an explanation that makes sense.
I'm sure the emotional aftershocks must be unsettling and unnerving. {{{hugs}}}

Kristen {RAGE against the MINIVAN} said...

I agree. Every time I hear about another aftershock, my stomach hurts. I want them to stop so badly, so that people aren't living under that fear.

Janet said...

"Cruel" is the word that comes to mind when I think of the aftershocks. One catastrophic wrench was enough and more than enough. I didn't realize they were STILL happening.

It sounds like you got some good advice for talking to your kids.