So much has been written already about these bush fires – tales of hope and heroism, the wonderful blog of an RFS volunteer in NSW, the raw first-hand accounts on social media. I felt that I had very little to add as others have said it all.
Yesterday I caught up with a friend. Her brother lives in Far East Gippsland. His house burned to the ground on December 29. He watched this happen from his shed. He watched in the company of his dog. He watched until the windows of the shed began to pop with heat and then he made a dash for the dam. He’d taken all the precautions he could. He had wanted to stay and defend.
Somehow he managed to keep a steady hand (with the other one around his dog) and film as his house disappeared into the flames.
And because there was nothing else he could do once the fire passed, he walked to the main road. His car had been destroyed, along with all the stuff that he’d packed up to take with him; the art that he had made over the years, the precious documents, the letters – all now piles of ash.
He found his way to his mother’s house ( who has been evacuated to Melbourne) and now is spending his days shoring up her place, dampening the walls, preparing for the worst. He wants to save this one.
My friend is worried. She says that he sounds flat and tired and has lost all hope. She showed me the photos he sent her. His breathing mask full of soot, his burnt-out car, the framework of his beloved house. She says he’s exhausted and although he has received help and support he’s floundering. The stress and uncertainty are wearing him down and he’s not sure if he wants to rebuild. But in the meantime, with the continued fire threat, he has to stay put and dig deep and keep going.
There’s lots of talk about resilience and fortitude which are admirable qualities. But for those affected like my pal’s brother, they’ll need continued help for years, not just financial but spiritual support. He won’t be the same again she says ….how can he be?
So while we can all donate our money, our time and support we must also think also about the aftermath. We may never meet anyone who has been through a fire, but reading this link gives a good guide on what to say or not say.
We must think of those who have lost their homes, their memories, and their livelihoods. We think of those who fought( and are still fighting) the fires, of all emergency service personnel volunteer and otherwise. We will think of those caught in the firestorms- both human and animals. We think of our Government who must now surely consider the effects of climate change on the environment of this hot, dry continent.
My friend says that the aftermath is a similar grieving process to the death of a family member or beloved pet. At the beginning of the process, there are crowds of people around to make the casseroles, the cups of tea and to lend support. And over time people drop away back to their normal lives. It’s at this point when the bereaved person needs them the most but hesitates to reach out as they don’t want to be a bother.
So let’s remember when the fires are out, and the skies are no longer choked with smoke that’s when we, the supporters, are most needed.
For those who need support here is information regarding support services.
And remember the man in the East Gippsland who is still living with dread, and will be for some time to come. It’s not over for him yet.