I Wanted Him To Stay With Me Pamela ‘Judy’ Ross
And Kindness Lay All About
Stories from the Christchurch Earthquakes
Pamela ‘Judy’ Ross
I took it out on him. He wasn’t even here to take it out on, but I’d go
out to the cemetery and I’d curse and swear at him and say why aren’t you here for me, to cuddle me, to help me get through this. I’m by all by myself. I used to get so angry.
I was nineteen when I moved here to Christchurch. That’s when
I met him and knew I’d be here for good. We had three children. Our first was a son, a boy who passed away when he was only three months old. That was so hard, so terribly hard. Then we had our two daughters and we bought our home and everything was good for a time until the arthritis came. Rheumatoid arthritis, I got it
real cruel and it’s been with me now for more than thirty years. Not
being able to get down on the floor and play with them, change their nappies… you wanted to be involved like any mother but that was the beginning and it only got worse.
First it was my knees, they didn’t want to replace them because
they said I was too young but, yeah, in end they had to. Then it was
the hips and then it was the shoulders. In the past ten years I’ve
had nine replacements. At the moment I’m waiting to have my toe
amputated. You wouldn’t believe how much metal I’ve got in me. When I go through a detector at the airport they’re groping me straight away. Hell, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist, you’ve
only got to look at me. I’ve even got a letter about it all but nothing stops them.
I look back now and I see all those years he helped me through, he
looked after me until one day he started to slow down and we found
out he was ill too. Very ill. He needed a heart transplant but he didn’t get it. And so now he’s gone. He passed away. Losing him, trying to
look after your partner when you’re half crippled yourself, and he’s dying, and it’s totally out of your control—I wanted him so much— wanted him to stay with me, but he was gone.
I tried hard afterwards to stay in our family home, full of memories.
Our daughters had grown up there, everything had happened there, but in the end I felt I had to sell it. I had to move on. The place I found
was just down there by the river, where he used to do his whitebaiting, and so I had that memory close by. Also it was warm and low
maintenance—it ticked the boxes I suppose—but somehow it didn’t
seem to be me. Something about it was too different, too…new. Then just a week or two before it all happened I realised that I had got used to it, that something had changed and I had actually come to love it.
The noise when it came was quite a shock. I was in bed and only
had a moment to wonder what it was. Then it started, the whole house shaking and shaking. There wasn’t much I could do about it by then
except stay where I was. I just pulled the blankets over my head and told myself it’s got to stop sooner or later. Trouble was it seemed to go
on forever. Finally it did stop, but inside myself I kept going like mad. I could feel my heart racing. Of course there was no power, no torch, nothing. After a bit I managed to get myself out of bed and into the
front room, sat on my chair there. Every time there was an aftershock I got myself over to the doorframe and stood under it.
My neighbours from next door came around shortly after and it
was good to see them. I felt so relieved when they came through the
door. At first I’d felt like I was just on my own and that’s really hard. Yeah, that’s not a good feeling. Like I was saying before, hard not to be
angry, even when it’s nobody’s fault. That’s just being human I guess, the things we feel. Anyway, we got into the wardrobe then and found
my old phone which actually worked, not like those useless new digital ones. So that gave me something. Then some previous neighbours of mine arrived and took me back to their place for a few hours.
The rest of that day was a bit unreal. You wouldn’t believe it but I
had a wedding to go to that day. I actually thought the wedding would
have been cancelled but no, they carried on. Everyone tried really hard
to focus on the bride and groom and not to talk about the earthquake. As it turned out it was a lovely wedding. They couldn’t use the hall they’d booked but everyone went back to the bride’s parents place and
we had a feast. It was great but eventually we all wandered off home. I mean everybody was just so tired. I came back to reality then. No
power still and the cracks in the road, that was… I found that all a bit
difficult and eventually I took off. Yeah, I went down to Invercargill to spent a little time away from it all.
I was a bit scared coming back to Christchurch. After being with
my family and friends, you feel the loneliness of it more and yes, to be
honest, I was also a little afraid. Anyway, there wasn’t much choice, I
had to be here for my rheumatologist and this is where my partner is.
I mean he’s in the cemetery so it’s not going to worry him, but for me it’s another story. I’d never want to leave him.
The second earthquake when it happened was really awful. I couldn’t
get up. I was in a bank and had been thrown from one side of the room to the other. The whole side of my body was bruised and I’m lying there
a bit dazed and it’s all so random until suddenly it hits me, where’s my girl? Where’s Marley? Where is she?
It was lovely, she had come from Australia to be here on her birthday
and she was due to fly out on the twenty third of February. That day, the twenty second, I had just dropped her off in town to do a few things. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said, ‘I’ll either walk home or get the bus.’ So
off I went, headed back home until I remembered I had some things to do at the bank. I’d been putting this job off and I thought, stop
procrastinating, just go and do it. So I there was, at the Eastgate Mall, when it happened.
I knew my other daughter, Jade, would be all right. She works in
early childhood and I knew where she’d be. That she’d have to focus on
the kids, put all her energy into that, and so I felt she would be all right.
But I didn’t have a clue where Marley was. People were screaming, people were being carried across the road to the Medical Centre there. I tried to get her on my phone but they had all crashed. Then, as I got
to my feet, I watched the whole side of The Warehouse building fall down. Everything was so much dust and rubble.
I wasn’t allowed to go back to my car. I had to leave it there. In the
end I managed to get a ride with a lady from the bank. She used to live
around the corner from me. She got me as far as the Dallington bridge,
then it was walk. Well, I couldn’t do it. I had jandals and tights on and
I got halfway up Retreat Road and there was another big aftershock. I grabbed this fence and I was screaming and screaming and this lovely
lady came out and yells to me, ‘Just hang on, just hang on.’ And when it stopped she said, ‘Where are you going?’
I said, ‘I’ve got to get home. I’ve got to get to Cowlishaw Street. I
don’t know where my daughter is.’
‘Okay, okay,’ she said, ‘I’ll go and put my gumboots on and I’ll
If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have… well, I wouldn’t have made
it. She was marvellous. And when I got home my daughter was there. She’d already got home and couldn’t find me. I was so pleased to see
her. She’d been in Cashel Mall where all those people died. That shook
me. That really shook me. Someone must have been watching over her. Again there was no power and the place was trashed. Absolutely
trashed. Some kind people from the neighbourhood had come around
on pushbikes looking for me. That was nice. The truth was I was feeling pretty confused. I just sat on the chair out there and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I wasn’t thinking straight at all. So when
an old friend that lives out by Oxford rang up and said ‘I’m on my way, I’m coming to get you,’ I was more than happy to go. We went out
there and stayed for three days until finally I flew back to Invercargill once more.
When I got back we were still on generated power. Hell, they’ve only
just taken those portaloo’s away and they weren’t much fun. It wasn’t
just the toilet situation; it was the weather as well. We had snow and
every other thing you can think of. Well because of my arthritis I can’t
fit into shoes and snow and Jandals are not the greatest combination. I ended up having to use a bucket.
I had some counselling after that. That wasn’t an easy time, total
devastation really. Total grief. Like I was saying before, when my partner passed away it took forever to get my head around it, the loss
of him. Then it took ages to get around losing my family home. It took forever to get used to this place and I know there’s people a lot worse
off than me. People lost their lives. Others have lost their homes and their businesses. I know all that, but I did need that counselling and it helped me. Helped me a lot.
Then June happened. Two in one day and that threw me back again.
The first one wasn’t so bad. I managed to stay calm. The doctor had said
to me, ‘If you’re sitting down and there’s a shake, stay there, don’t try and get out because you could fall over. We don’t want that.’
Well, after, I did go outside and I thought, I coped, you know, I
coped with that one. Later I was talking to a lady walking past with her dog. ‘That’s the big one for the day,’ she said. I was standing by
the front garden there and just as she left my sister sent me a text asking how I was. I was trying to text her back when the next one
came and knocked me over. I got caught up in the rose bush there and because my skin’s really thin it was just ripping off like tissue paper. A young guy down the road came running over and rescued me. Got me untangled but I was a bit of a mess.
I came back inside to another shambles. Outside too, bricks had
fallen off the wall. If I’d been around that side of the house, I don’t
know what would have happened. It made me feel sick to think about
it. It just seems to go on and on and I don’t know when it will all stop. Two years I’ve been in this new place now. I’ve managed to settle
into it, to think of it as my place, where I’m going to be. But will it be now? The hardest thing is not knowing anything at all. What will
happen to me? Will I be zoned green and have my home be fixed up. That is what I’m praying for. Not that I believe in praying too much but that’s what I would really love to happen.
Anyway, nothing is going to happen overnight. It’s going to take
years and years and years. I don’t know that I’ll still be alive when it’s
finally all sorted but I’m alive now and so I’ll go along and make the best I can of it.
Mental well being, that’s what we need and yeah, these earthquakes
have given it a bit of a kicking. I’m getting a lot better now but, in the
beginning, no, it wasn’t good. At night, when it was time to pull the drapes, I didn’t like that. I wouldn’t get into my pyjamas. I wouldn’t even go to bed. I’d sit in that chair all night fully dressed. I’d have my
emergency bag and my medications and I’d never lock the door. I was
too scared to lock the door. I’d be awake looking at the clock, 4am, that’s okay. Then it would be 5am. Oh well, if we have a shake now
there will be people up and around. 6 o’clock was even better. Then it would be 7 o’clock and I’d got through another night.
When I finally got the counselling it helped to knock that sort of
thing on the head. I get to bed now and have a night’s sleep. I still miss
having someone to wake up to. To know that whatever comes I’d have
someone to help deal with it, that would be good. But I’m trying not
to let those things pull me down. I’ve already been down a road to hell
and back. Now I want to get over this thing and get back to where I was. If I wake up with a shitty feeling I open the window and say out
loud, ‘You can just bugger off, get out of here.’ Yeah, sometimes life can
seem cruel, or at least a bit unfair, but look, while I may be having my toe off, I’ve still got two legs. I’m not in a wheelchair. I can still drive my car. I’ve still got a voice. Just to be able to have my wee house. To
keep my independence and have my own wee home here… that’s all I’d ask for. I hope I can have that.