Can it ever be safe enough?


The re-entry to Pike River won’t go ahead today as planned:

Andrew Little announced on Thursday there has been a set back with the Pike River Mine re-entry due to elevated oxygen levels at the far end of the drift.

The minister described the elevated levels as “unpredicted and unexplained,” and because of this, the mine will not be entered, although there will still be an event for families.

“If you can’t explain it, you stop what you’re doing until you can,” he said.

The shift in oxygen levels means the atmosphere in the drift has changed and the air is no longer breathable. . . .

Calling off the re-entry is the right decision.

But it raises questions: can there be any guarantee that there wouldn’t be “unpredicted and unexplained” elevation in oxygen levels while people were in the drift and what would happen if there was?

That leads to another question: can it ever be safe enough?

Risking living to find dead


The decision to attempt to re-enter the Pike River mine drift has been widely praised.

The families deserve justice, the families deserve closure, and the families want their men back are among the reasons for the praise.

I can’t argue with the need for justice.

Twenty nine men lost their lives at work and that’s unjust but I doubt that any evidence that could result in justice for them could be found in the drift.

The families deserve closure.

There is no closure with grief, you just learn to live with it. Had Labour and NZ First not played politics by disagreeing with the previous government’s decision that the risks of re-entry were too great, the families would have been learning to live with it for years instead of stuck in limbo, pinning their hopes on re-entry.

They have been strung along by politicians and some media. If there’s no evidence and little if anything to be found of anyone whose life was lost, they will be further still from learning to live with their grief and there will be more agitation to go beyond the drift.

The families want their men back.

Some do, but not all. Marion Curtin, the mother of one victims says the attempt to re-enter is disgraceful.

Her son, Richard Holling, never came home after the November 2010 tragedy, but she wanted it to stay that way.

Some people might assume that all 29 affected families considered yesterday’s news as a “victory,” she said, but she was one of the silent many who disagreed.

Almost all reports since the disaster make it appear as if all the families support the re-entry. The ‘silent many’ are rarely mentioned.

She said the plan was an “appalling” waste of $36 million.

“I’m just so disappointed. I couldn’t believe that cabinet would sign this off,” she said.

Ms Curtin was deeply grateful for the money already spent at the site, but at the same time wondered how others can’t see “all the other important things in the country that the money could be spent on”.

Especially given the lack of certainty, she said, with nobody able to tell her exactly what the mine recovery experts would be looking for.

“I see it as sacrilege, really. To go in fossicking around for remains… to go in just to see what they find – I think it’s just disgraceful,” she said.

Ms Curtin loathed the fact it had become so political. She said the months leading up to last year’s election were especially challenging. “Some people liked that… the politicians climbing on board. I certainly didn’t. That was my son’s death they were playing with.” she said. . . 

It’s also playing with the lives of the people who will re-enter the mine.

Stacey Kirk writes of the high risks for re-entry:

But the biggest concern might be that the word “safety” appears to be becoming more subjective by the day.

“Safety is paramount” Little repeated ad nauseum. 

It’s hard to understand that if that were the case, why more people would be sent down there.

A mine filled with explosive gases, no matter how much are pumped out, surrounded by rock of variable stability and the simple fact it’s a coal mine – which in the best of situations are hazardous sites – there is no way it’s objectively safe.

The previous Government decided the danger threshold was more than it could stomach, on the back of technical advice. This Government has decided it’s comfortable with whatever risk is still there, on the basis of a different set of technical advice.

Without a very specific type of engineering degree, the differences between the two sets of advice are unlikely to be translatable to the wider public. Still, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the venture is far from risk-free. It’s debatable, but perhaps at least partially irrelevant, whether $30m dedicated to 29 families is a worthwhile cost.

But it’s without question that the risk of one more life, definitely isn’t.  

No employer should ask anyone to undertake the work and no politician should ask it of anyone either.

Health and Safety laws were changed as a result of the Pike River disaster and any Person in Charge of a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) is now liable if a life is lost or someone injured.

Nothing can be done to make no risk at all for anyone going into the drift and it makes it worse that one of the motivations for putting lives at risk is to bring back bodies, or what remains of them.

The living should never be asked to put their lives at risk to rescue the dead.

Still don’t risk lives to get dead


Families of the men who died in the Pike River mine explosion are understandably upset that video footage from the mine shows intact bodies when they’d previously been told fire would have consumed everything.

It is fair to question why all footage wasn’t shown earlier.

But whatever video shows, Solid Energy chief executive Tony King is right when he says it doesn’t make it safe for people to enter the mine:

“As we have previously said, there is nothing in any of the video footage that has been released that contradicts the ultimate decision that manned re-entry of the mine is unsafe”, said Mr King.

“The lack of damage evident in the video footage of Borehole 44 is consistent with what would be expected in the circumstances. We all saw the images of flames coming out of the shaft. These hot gases established an air current that drew air up the drift, into the fire and then up the shaft. The tendency in an underground fire is for it to burn back towards the source of oxygen i.e. the drift. The roof-fall at the end of the drift is probably due to heat damage, and extensive damage from there through to the shaft and in adjacent roadways would be expected. The inner parts of the mine would be oxygen deficient and there would have been no air current to draw the fire into those areas.” 

The directors of Solid Energy wrote an open letter last year explaining why it is unsafe to enter the mine.

Full information on the technical aspects of re-entry is on their website.

It would be helpful to counter conspiracy theorists if all video footage was released.

But that won’t change the fact that the mine is unsafe and no lives should be risked to rescue the dead.


Reparation but no revenge


It’s easy to understand why the families of the men who perished in the Pike River mine are angry.

Anger is part of grief and it must be particularly difficult to deal with when they know the deaths should have been avoidable.

Their anger has been refuelled by the announcement that 12 health and safety charges laid against Pike River mine boss Peter Whittall were have been dropped.

The two survivors and families of those who died will share $3.4 million in reparation.

They were asking for that from the government but now they’re angry that it’s coming from an insurance company.

They’re also angry that they’re not getting justice.

It’s understandable they can’t see through their grief to the logic of not pursuing a case which had little chance of success.

Crown lawyer Mark Zarifeh told Christchurch District Court on Thursday that much of the evidence gathered by the department would have been inadmissible, due to many witnesses being overseas and not making themselves available to be cross-examined. Because they are overseas, it would not have been possible to require them to attend the trial.

Mr Zarifeh said a trial lasting 16 to 20 weeks in Wellington would also be very expensive and not the best use of limited resources.

Mr Whittall and other directors and officers of Pike River Coal have offered to make a voluntary compensation payment of $3.4 million to the families of the victims and two men who survived the blast, about $110,000 each. It is money from the directors’ own insurance that would have been spent on a defence.

The lawyer representing Pike River families told Radio New Zealand’s Checkpoint programme the chances of getting the decision not to prosecute Mr Whittall reversed are next to zero. Nick Davidson says he finds it appalling that no-one has been found responsible and the case has disintegrated over the passage of time. . . .

Its’ understandable that the families feel this is unjust and unfair.

They wanted someone to be held responsible and feel that the findings of the Royal Commission, which laid blame at several doors, was not enough.

But wasting millions of dollars and several months on court action that was likely to fail wouldn’t result in justice or fairness either.

There’s talk of further litigation which would simply waste more time and money.

The families have got the reparation they sought. They haven’t got revenge but there’s no guarantee a court would deliver that anyway.

They haven’t got what they wanted but they have got some money.

It won’t bring their men back nor compensate for their loss.

But it will make their lives a little easier and if they can get over their anger, they will come to understand that they’ll only compound the tragedy of their men’s deaths if they don’t make the most of the lives and opportunities, denied to those who died, but there ahead of those who remain.

This might be a little less difficult if unions and politicians would stop pouring petrol on the fire for their own, political ends.

Opposition MPs have condemned the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s decision to drop charges against former Pike River boss Peter Whittall.

They say a decision in the case should have been decided in court not be left up to some “back-room deal between lawyers” to decide whether someone was guilty or not. . .

Whittall’s lawyer Stacey Shortall said said any suggestion the payment offer from the Pike directors was in return for the charges being dropped was “absolutely wrong”.

In court, Judge Jane Farish stressed to media there had been no back-room deal.

But Opposition MPs and the Council of Trade Unions (CTU) argue otherwise . . .

The families’ anger is the normal and natural reaction to their loss.

The unions’ and politicians’ anger is merely fuelling the flames for their own ends.

Govt funding Pike river re-entry plan


Families of the men who died in the Pyke River mine have been given some hope that the bodies will be recovered.

The Government has approved conditional funding of a staged plan to re-enter and explore the main tunnel leading up to the rock fall at the Pike River Coal Mine, Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges has announced.

The decision follows approval in principle of the re-entry plan risk assessment by the Solid Energy Board.

Mr Bridges said the Government will fund the estimated cost of the plan, at $7.2 million.

“Our criteria are that any re-entry into the tunnel up to the rock fall is safe, technically feasible and financially credible. Safety is paramount, and the High Hazards Unit of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has reviewed the plan and is comfortable with it,” said Mr Bridges.

“This is a highly complex and technical operation and it will be carefully managed in stages, with a risk assessment undertaken at each stage. Ensuring the safety of workers is an absolute bottom line for the Government and Solid Energy.”

Mr Bridges said the scope of the operation did not include entry into the main mine workings which is blocked by the rock fall. 

“The Government cannot comment or speculate about re-entering the main mine until the tunnel re-entry has been successfully achieved,” Mr Bridges said. 

Some of the families might have accepted that body recovery is unlikely, others haven’t and that will be an obstacle in the grieving process.

This is a first step which will give families hope but it gives no certainty.

Awful as the waiting and wondering must be for the relatives and friends of the men who died, the safety and lives of rescuers must take precedence over the recovery of bodies.

Good news for the Coast


Conservation Minister Nick Smith’s decision to allow access to Bathurst Resources for its Escarpment Mining Project on the Denniston Plateau, near Westport is very good news for the West Coast.

“This approval is for an open-cast mine on 106 hectares of the 2026 hectares that comprise the Denniston Plateau. This area is not National Park, nor Conservation Park nor does it have any particular reserve status. It is general stewardship land, which is the lowest legal status of protection of land managed by the Department of Conservation. The area does have conservation values although there has been some disturbance from previous mining including roads, bulldozer tracks and an artificial reservoir. The area also has some infestation from weeds like gorse and broom,” Dr Smith said.

It’s not a big area and it’s not pristine land.

“The loss of conservation values is compensated by a $22 million package by Bathurst Resources. This will fund pest and predator control over 25,000 hectares of the Heaphy River catchment in the Kahurangi National Park, 4,500 hectares on and around the Denniston Plateau, as well as for historic projects on the Plateau itself. This is the largest ever compensation package negotiated by DOC for a mine or other commercial venture.

“I am also satisfied that the comprehensive conditions associated with this access agreement covering rehabilitation of the land, enhancement of water quality, health and safety, debris, rubbish and fire hazards, will minimise the adverse effects of the mine. The agreement also contains detailed provisions for monitoring environmental effects, bonds and insurance.

“I wish to signal, that in giving this approval, I do not consider it is acceptable to open-cast mine all of the Denniston Plateau. The plateau does have unique biodiversity and landscape values from its raised elevation, high rainfall and unusual land form. I wish to see some of the high value areas reserved and put into permanent protection.

“I am encouraged by the constructive discussions that have been taking place between mining companies, environmental, historic and recreational groups over recent months. A better way forward than having long protracted legal proceedings would be for the parties to come to a common agreement on the remaining areas of the plateau that should be set aside permanently for conservation and for mining.

“The Government will be working with all parties to try and find a ‘bluegreen’ long term plan for the whole Denniston Plateau that balances conservation protection with the need for jobs and development,” said Dr Smith.

While the usual suspects are unhappy with the decision, Economic Development and Energy Ministers Steven Joyce and Simon Bridges point out the benefits.

The decision today by Conservation Minister Nick Smith to approve the access agreement for Bathurst Resources’ Escarpment Mine near Westport is good news for jobs and economic growth on the West Coast, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce and Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges say.

The announcement follows an interim decision by the Environment Court in March that it was likely to grant resource consent to the open-cast mine subject to appropriate conditions being agreed.

“The decision by the Minister under the Crown Minerals Act is a significant step forward for this project and will be welcomed by many West Coasters as balanced and pragmatic,” Mr Joyce says.

“Once open the Escarpment Mine is expected to create 225 direct jobs and approximately $100 million each year will go to employees, suppliers, contractors and transport providers.

“This will be a significant injection into the economies of Buller, the West Coast and New Zealand.”

Mr Bridges says the mine will produce high-quality coking coal that can be exported overseas for the production of steel.

“The project aims to inject almost $1 billion into the New Zealand economy over six years and provide $45 million each year in royalties and taxes that the Government can invest back into key infrastructure such as schools and hospitals,” Mr Bridges says.

“Unlike what opponents might say, this is exactly the type of business investment New Zealand needs to grow jobs and incomes for New Zealanders.”

The Coast has had a series of economic blows.

The ending of sustainable logging more than a decade ago led to a loss of employment. More recently there’s been the tragedy and subsequent closure of the Pike river mine, job cuts by Solid Energy and the downstream job losses which resulted from all of this.

This decision will bring economic and social benefits with the environmental cost mitigated by the compensation package and strict requirements on how the company operates.


Pike River report


The Royal Commission into the Pike River mine tragedy lays most of the blame on management.

But it also found faults in the regulatory environment.

Prime Minister John Key said:

“I speak on behalf of the Government when I say I regret deeply what has happened, in terms of the lives lost and suffering caused.

“The Royal Commission made it very clear that much of the fault for the tragedy lies with Pike River Coal Ltd. Because it did not follow good management and best practice principles, its health and safety systems were inadequate.

“However, the Royal Commission also says the regulatory environment was not effective over a long period of time.

“On behalf of the Government, I apologise to the families, friends and loved ones of the deceased men for the role this lack of regulatory effectiveness played in the tragedy.

“Following the findings of the Royal Commission, Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson has tendered her resignation from that portfolio.

“Ms Wilkinson’s decision to resign is a personal decision in response to the magnitude of the tragedy. It is the honourable thing to do.

I considered it proper for me to accept her resignation from the Labour portfolio.

Chris Finlayson has taken over the Labour portfolio.

The Government broadly accepts all 16 of the Royal Commission’s recommendations that cover administrative reform, stronger regulation, changes to mining legislation, improving workplace health and safety, and emergency management.

“I believe it is our duty to the 29 miners who died and their families to oversee the implementation of the Royal Commission’s recommendations,” Mr Finlayson says.

The Royal Commission’s report is here.

Someone had to say it


Someone had to say the chances of finidng the remains of the men who were killed in the Pike River mine  are almost impossible and someone has:

The ferocity of the fire in the Pike River mine could make it almost impossible to find any human remains should recovery teams ever make it underground, a forensics expert says.

Phil Glover, a forensic fire investigator with nearly 40 years’ experience in New Zealand and Australia, said the harsh reality was that the intensity of the fire in the confined spaces of the West Coast mine made it unlikely there were any bodies left to recover.

“There wouldn’t be much left of them – you might find small fragments of bone and ash but that’s probably about it,” said Glover. “As hard as it is . . . I would not be putting people in there under any circumstances.”

Glover said if a retrieval team did make it underground, the dark, cramped and volatile conditions they would have to work under would make the task of finding human remains virtually impossible.

“I don’t know how I would feel if it was one of my family down there, but the practical side of me would be saying that this is their last resting place.”

If there is are grounds for criticism of how the recovery has been handled it could be that families might have been given false hope that if a recovery crew could get to where the men were there would be anything left to bring out.

Shortly after the second explosion there was talk about the need to use DNA for identification but the implications of that might not have been clear to everyone.

It’s human to hope even when it seems hopeless. While some of the families accepted the sad reality that they’d not see the men they’d lost again others kept hoping that first rescue and then recovery was possible.

Their anger at the end of the recovery efforts is understandable but for their own sakes they need to take a lead from those who have faced the facts and start looking forward.

Time to say good bye


The families of the men who died in the Pike River mine have held on to hope for nearly two months. Now that hope has been dashed by the news the mine will be sealed it’s understandable that they’re lashing out.

Anger is one of the normal and natural stages of the grieving process and they can’t be blamed for feeling this way.

But those further away from the emotion, like the unions who say the decision has been made because of the cost, are making political capital out of vulnerable people’s misery.

Given the millions of dollars that have already gone into attempting rescue and then recovery, it wouldn’t be unreasonable if cost was a consideration. But it’s the danger in the mine and safety of recovery teams which led to the decision to stop.

Families and others who talk about recovery keep saying they want to bring the bodies back, but bodies aren’t designed to survive explosions and fire. Even if it was safe to go in to the mine, it is very unlikely there would be anything left to bring back.

This isn’t a time for political game playing. It’s a time for local  leadership to help people start looking ahead and Greymouth mayor  Tony Kokshoorn is showing it.

“At the end of the day we have to accept we can’t get these bodies out and our men are lying up there for the foreseeable future,” he says.

 Recovery efforts must now centre on the living not the dead.

It is time to say good bye and to concentrate on helping the bereaved and their community.

Pike River mine too unsafe for recovery


When people die farewelling them properly is an important part of the grieving process and that is almost always less difficult if those who love them are able to see the bodies.

The announcement this evening that  police have decided it is too unsafe to enter the Pike River mine and the recovery effort will be abandoned means their families won’t have that comfort.

Given that determined recovery efforts have been going on for nearly two months with little progress the announcement isn’t surprising. But it will still be devastating for the families and friends of the men who died and all those who’ve worked so hard to recover the bodies.

If there is anything good in this announcement it is that a decision has been made, even if it’s not the one everyone was hoping for.

Now, in Mary Lee Hall’s words, it’s time to Turn Again To Life

If I should die and
Leave you here awhile
Be not like others sore undone,
Who keep long vigils
By the silent dust and weep.
For my sake turn again
To life and smile
Nerving thy heart
And trembling hand to do
Something to comfort
Other hearts than thine.
Complete these dear
Unfinished Tasks of mine,
And I, perchance
May therein comfort you.

We can’t carry another’s grief


Our flag hung at half mast yesterday and I stopped for the long two minutes of silence at the start of the service of remembrance for the miners and contractors who died in the Pike River mine.

I caught the first few minutes of the service on television then listened to the rest on the radio as we drove to Christchurch. I was moved by the simplicity and sincerity of the service and the messages given, not least of all that of Prime Minister John Key who said :

. . .  I want to thank all those people who rallied round to support the families of the miners. I know your work is not done and will continue for many months and years to come.

I want to thank those who worked so hard on the attempted rescue and especially those who were on standby to go into the mine. I know you wanted to bring your fellow miners home alive, but that was not to be.

I want to thank all those who offered support from throughout the country and indeed from around the world.

And I’d like to say something personal to the families of the lost miners, and in particular to those mothers of children who have so cruelly lost their fathers.

Amongst all your other emotions and pain there may be fear for your children growing up without the father who loved them.

Because I was such a child, I know that the absence of a parent is a heaviness you learn to carry in your own way.

It is a terrible thing to happen. But it doesn’t mean your children will not go on to live happy, worthwhile and fulfilling lives and, in time, experience joyfulness and love in new families, yet to be created.

And even if those children’s memories of their fathers fade, his legacy will live on in each one of them. . .

Whoever, thought of the 29 tables, one for each of the men who died,  was inspired. This, more than anything else brought home that while the country has been caught up in this tragedy because of the number who died, each was an individual.

Those of us who have looked and listened from a distance have been moved and saddened by those deaths, but we can’t carry the grief of the families and friends who have lost their husbands, sons, fathers, mates and neighbours. That grief is theirs.

We can give money and write messages from afar. Those who are  part of the community can give more practical support. All of that can help, but grief is personal and individual for each of those who have lost the one they loved and we can’t carry that for them.

Now the service is over there is talk of life getting back to normal, but normal isn’t normal anymore for the families and community.  The people left behind will need love and support from others as they adjust to the new norma; and  they will also need their own strength to carry their grief.

It will take time but the burden will get lighter and Joyce Grenfell’s words may help:

 Weep if you must
Parting is hell
But life goes on
So …. sing as well

Saying goodbye properly


The morning our son died one of the doctors who’d looked after him said to us, “We all make a fuss about saying hello, it’s at least as important to say goodbye properly.”

Since then we have taken that advice when arranging funerals for both our sons, my mother in-law and my parents.  The services celebrated the lives of the people we were honouring  and comforted us. Knowing we farewelled them properly helped with the grieving process.

The families and friends of the men who died in the Pike River mine can’t say goodbye yet. That won’t happen until the outcome of the recovery operation is known.

But the memorial service today will help. It will honour the people they loved and they will gain comfort and strength from the knowledge that thousands of others, in Greymouth and much further afield, will be paying tribute to them too.

The service, which starts at 2pm, will be broadcast on RadioNZ National and TV1 and will also be available on TVNZ on demand.

How can armchair experts know more than people at the coalface?


The mother of one of the miners trapped in the Pike River mine said she accepted he was dead as soon as she heard of the explosion.

Other miners knew this too.

West Coast miners knew their 29 mates at Pike River were a lost cause before the official announcement on Wednesday, a union convener in Solid Energy’s nearby Spring Creek pit says.

Pessimism was based on gas readings showing alarming levels of toxicity and the likelihood of further explosions, as the mine remained on fire, said Trevor Balderson, a night-shift development worker who heads a crew of six at Spring Creek, 40km from Pike River.

“The initial explosion wiped out all the infrastructure,” said Mr Balderson, who moved to the West Coast in 2008, after a Yorkshire colliery closed in 2002.

“If you talk to any coal mine workers anywhere in the world, the reality is that you do not survive an explosion if you are in the firing line,” he told the Yorkshire Evening Post newspaper.

This doesn’t stop armchair experts criticising the people in charge of rescue attempts and asking why a resuce wasn’t attempted sooner.

As I said in my first post on this tragedy, the first rule after an accident is to make sure the situation doesn’t get worse.

I posted on Wednesday morning about carrying hope in your heart even when your head knows that’s impossible.

The rescuers didn’t have the luxury of emotion, they couldn’t act from their hearts. They had to act from their heads in the knowledge they couldn’t endnager more lives when it was almost certain there was no-one left to save.

Some of the armchair experts are still calling for speed now it’s a recovery mission rather than a resuce.  But there is no case for risking more lives in the mine when, after three explosions and a fire, there are no longer any there to be saved.

Kathryn Ryan interviewed some real experts on this topic  yesterday morning.

And (hat tip: Keeping Stock)  Guy Body shows the destructive gas starting to disperse.

Degrees of separation


One of the men who died in the Pike River mine is the cousin of one of our staff.

That won’t be unusual in New Zealand where our small population results in very few degrees of separation and that is why today it’s not an exaggeration to say the country mourns.

If we don’t know someone, we’ll know someone who knows someone who died, who is grieving, and/or who is helping.

Kiwiblog has delivered some well deserved bouquets to some of those involved.

I second that and make particular mention of the politicians.

We usually see what divides them but from the start of this tragedy we’ve seen the common humanity which unites them. West Coast Tasman MP  Chris Auchinvole and list MP Damien O’Connor have been there as MPs and Coasters doing what they can to support the people they serve.

As Prime Minister John Key said:

 New Zealand stands shoulder to shoulder with you. Though we cannot possibly feel this pain as you do, we have you in our hearts and our thoughts. Like you, we had all longed for that miracle to occur-that your men would be returned home to you. Tonight, on behalf of the people of New Zealand, we send our sympathy to the children who have lost their fathers, to the parents who have lost sons, to the wives who have lost their husbands, to the girlfriends who have lost their partners, to the siblings who have lost their brothers.”

What can you do to help?


While the country is focusing on the deaths of the 29 men who died in the Pike River coal mine, life and death – which is a part of it – are going on for other people in other places.

Today friends are holding a memorial service for their daughter who died after a riding accident overseas. They will be just one of many families facing up to the death of someone they love.

Every day someone dies as the result of illness, accident or crime. Almost all leave behind people who loved them and they have wider friends and family who want to help but don’t always know what to do.

The following suggestions are adapted from a piece I wrote on the death of a child for North and South in 1991.

Please don’t ask “how are you?” unless you really want to know the answer.

How are you?” has become a meaningless greeting to which the expected answer is “fine”. But I am not fine. At best I’m a bit fragile and a lot of the time I’m far worse – I feel upset, hurt, bewildered, angry, guilty. These and other normal feelings which follow the death of someone you love are not the things of casual conversation. If you are not prepared to hear about them, please choose another way to greet me.

Don’t expect too much of me too soon.

If I’d broken my leg it would be in a cast and you wouldn’t expect me to get back to normal for months. You can’t bandage a broken heart and you can’t see the scars. But they need time to heal and I need time to come to terms with the realisation that “normal” from now on is life without the one I loved.

Don’t ignore the death or the one who died.

You wouldn’t have any trouble talking about good news. If I’d just won Lotto it would be the first thing you would mention. Bad news is different – you probably don’t know what to say or how to say it. But the death is the biggest thing in my life and it helps if you acknowledge that.

Be honest, and try to avoid platitudes.

“This is awful, I don’t know what to say” is more real and more honest than clichéd phrases that may not be true anyway. Time alone doesn’t heal, the fact we have each other is irrelevant because drowning people can’t save each other and there is no comfort in the suggestion that any god would will a tragedy.

Don’t think that having, or being able to have, other children or other relationships will be of any comfort now.

People can’t be replaced. I loved the one I lost for who he was as an individual, not as an interchangeable piece in a set and mourning for him, at least at first will strain rather than strengthen bonds with others in my circle.

If you want to help, make a specific offer or just do something.

Saying “if there’s anything I can do” might make you feel better, but I’m unlikely to take you up because I probably don’t know what I need and I’m unsure what your “anything” means. However if you turn up with food, an offer to babysit,  or just a listening ear, your kindness will be gratefully accepted.

Practice, don’t preach.

However weak or strong my faith, and whatever your beliefs and mine, this is no time for sermons.

Be sensitive.

I find it hard to believe life in the outside world is still going on when my private world has collapsed. I hope this death won’t leave me bitter. But when I’m struggling with the weight of my own feelings I may not be able to appreciate your joys or sorrows.

Don’t expect me to follow a prescribed pattern of grieving.

Denial, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance are all stages in the grief process but no two people will go through them in the same way. I’ll have good days and bad days, sometimes I’ll cope with a lot, at other times I’ll be undone by little things. It may seem illogical, but feelings often are.

Don’t confuse control with coping.

A stiff upper lip probably means I’ve got a tight rein on my feelings, not that I have come to terms with them. You may not be comfortable with crying or screaming but they are far healthier than numbness, which can be a sign of denial.

Keep in touch.

I’ll always be grateful for the practical and moral support you gave immediately after the death and I know you have to get on with your life. But grief doesn’t end with the funeral and occasional phone call, note or visit will let me know you haven’t forgotten.

This death has left me emotionally shattered. It will take time to put the pieces together, to start looking outwards again. But when things get really bad, knowing there is a friend who cares enough to give practical support will help heal the grief wound.

Second explosion dashes hope


A second explosion in the Pike River mine has dashed hopes that any of the trapped men might still be alive.

The waiting is over but this is the worst possible outcome.

Rob left a comment on my first post this morning saying  it was a time to hope.

Now is a time to grieve and I hope the media give the people who have lost husbands, sons, fathers and friends, the space they will need to do that.

How long do you hope?


When we were told our then-16 week old son had a degenerative brain disorder and was likely to die soon I understood what we were being told, but I couldn’t, wouldn’t quite believe it.

Medical science isn’t infallible, there’s always the possibility of miracles . . .  in spite of the fact I knew neither of those were possible this time, I still clung to a tiny bit of hope.

Four weeks later when the doctor told me he had died, my first response was to say “pardon?”

It wasn’t that I didn’t hear him or understand, Tom was in my arms and I could see he wasn’t breathing.  I knew in my head that he’d gone, but my heart wouldn’t quite accept it.

That’s hope in the face of hopelessness and it’s not unusual.

Perhaps that’s how the families and friends of the men trapped in the Pike River mine feel. As every day goes past with nothing heard from deep inside the mine the outlook gets bleaker, but still they hope. 

The video of the blast  showed the severity of the explosion, but still, no-one wants to give up and say it’s a matter of recovery rather than rescue.

Yesterday the tone at the media conferences was more subdued, but still the mine management and rescue teams are trying to do everything possible, just in case.

And still, no matter how grim the outlook, unless there is evidence that it’s absolutely hopeless, people will continue to hope.

How long do you hope?

As long as you can.

Waiting and hoping and praying


Waiting and hoping and praying is all anyone can do until air tests show it is safe to begin rescuing the 29 miners trapped in the Pike River mine.

What will it be like for the rescuers once they get the go-ahead to enter the mine?

Oswald Bastable describes a much simpler cave rescue and that must have been hard enough:

A time to hold back


The imperative to get the news and get it first sometimes has to be put on hold.

The interviewer on TV3 did his best to get some of the names of the miners trapped in the Pike River mine from those he was interviewing this morning. All have held firm because their families want privacy.

That should be respected.

There aren’t many degrees of separation in New Zealand so many will know people, or know people who know people, who may be among those trapped.

But our understandable interest in the names must come second to the needs and wishes of the families and rescuers.

The media have a right to keep us up to date with what’s happening but they should respect the decision not to identify the miners and families.

West Coast MP Chris Auchinvole told the interviewer that he and  the Ministers, Gerry Brownlee and Kate Wilkinson who had come to the Coast, were there to help but keeping out of the way until needed.

They recognise there is a time to hold back and the media should too.

First don’t make it worse


The news that rescue efforts to free up to 27 West Coast miners trapped after an explosion could take days must be frustrating for the family and friends.

But the 69 days it took to free the Chilean miners are an indication of how difficult rescuing miners can be.

One of the reasons for that is the guiding principle of any rescue attempt must be – first don’t make it worse.

Rescuers have to move slowly to ensure they don’t endanger any more lives or inadvertently make matters worse for the trapped miners.

We are still marvelling that no-one was killed by the Canterbury earthquake. Is it too much to hope that there will be a similar miracle in the Pike River mine?

%d bloggers like this: