Thursday, February 04, 2010

How to Talk to an Earthquake Refugee

I've been talking to a lot of my friends who are in the same position I am. Sent to the United States while their husbands remain behind in Haiti. Not much of an opportunity to say goodbye. Carrying only a small bag. Very little chance so far to process anything with their husbands about this whole experience.

Obviously the only person I can really speak for is myself, but I'm going to use "we" in this post anyway, because I'm finding more and more that we have many of the same feelings. There may be people who feel totally differently, and to them I say, get your own blog. :-)

One thing we are feeling is guilt. Survivors' guilt because we are alive when so many are not. For some of us, guilt that our losses were so much less than those of our friends and neighbors: our children are uninjured, our houses still standing. (Others spent time in the rubble of collapsed buildings and are recovering from injuries.) We feel guilt that we left Haiti, even though at some level we think we did the right thing for our children. Guilt that we even had the option to leave, and that we are now taking hot showers, eating plenty of food, sleeping indoors.

We want to explain ourselves, to justify the decisions we've made. Someone in Haiti said, for example, that I left because I was afraid. I was afraid but I don't think that was the main reason I left - and yet my voice trails off, because what is the point of making myself feel better when so many are in desperate straits?

We are having trouble focusing and dealing with the details of everyday life. Many of us can't read much, even though we have the time to do that now. We are struggling with the loss of our jobs, which we have poured our energies into over, in some cases, many years.

We are feeling so far away from our homes, our husbands, our friends, our lives. We love Haiti and we feel we abandoned our posts. We want to know all the details, but we fear distracting our husbands from the important work they are doing. And we feel guilty for worrying about our own needs when so many others have needs far beyond ours.

Some of us have been evacuated before, from Haiti or other countries, and some of us have stayed behind when others have been evacuated. All of us deal with the consequences of previous evacuations even if we didn't live through them, because they have affected our community, making people more cautious about friendships, in some cases causing mistrust and bitterness.

We are dealing with our children's reactions to what they have been through, and wondering what is normal kid stuff and what is related to trauma. We are trying to answer their questions honestly but without too much detail. We wonder how this will affect them in the long term.

We are grieving, filled with pain for our friends and neighbors. Some of us don't even know yet what has happened to everyone we care about.

Yes, we're glad we are safe and alive, but we are terribly torn; we wonder what we are doing here. This isn't what we had planned.

In spite of my title, I don't really have any good advice about how to talk to an earthquake refugee. There's nothing you can say that will make it all better. But what has touched and comforted me has been the way people have reached out to me. Many of them say, "I don't know what to say," and yet the fact that they say something is wonderful. You may not have been through a devastating earthquake in a third world country, but you have been through stuff. Tell me how God met you then. Tell me that you care, that you're praying.

So many people have done this for me. I will always be grateful for the love and care I have been shown in this most terrible time. Already I am feeling more hopeful, believing there will be a future, even though I do not know anything about how it will look.


marauder said...


I'm praying, and I care. I know you know that already, but I wanted to say it again.

Bondye bene ou.

Ruth said...

I know you are, and do. Thank you so much.

Tricia said...