Hands shake. Shoulders heave. Deep breaths. For some, Christchurch's devastating earthquake was three years ago. For others, it still feels like yesterday.
Cantabrians, other New Zealanders and people from all corners of the world marked the third anniversary of the February 22, 2011, earthquake yesterday.
In Christchurch, they gathered at the Archery Lawn in the city's Botanic Gardens for a civic memorial service.
"We have been through a lot as a city and there is still much healing to be done," said mayor Lianne Dalziel. "I wanted this commemoration to be away from the scenes of devastation that haunt our city," she said. "I wanted us to be surrounded by beauty."
Across town, tourists photographed the quake-damaged ChristChurch Cathedral. At the Canterbury Television (CTV) site, where 115 people were killed, family members laid flowers. A total of 185 people died across the city when the 6.3 magnitude quake struck at 12.51pm.
For Jason Moore, whose 18-year-old daughter, Kelsey Sinitta Moore, and her five-week-old daughter, Taneysha, died in Manchester St, yesterday's memorial was surreal, a time vortex.
"People say it gets easier, but I don't reckon it has. It still feels like yesterday. It's still hard," he said.
Moore has a tattoo on his left shoulder, close to his heart. A picture of Kelsey with the words "Forever Young" and "Forever Tuesday": the young mother was born on a Tuesday and died on a Tuesday.
On his left forearm, Moore has Taneysha's name accompanied by two small footprints and an angel's halo.
Moore said the memorial service was bittersweet. "You realise it's not just you that's going through it," he said. "I will definitely keep coming back. I have told the boss I am never going to work on February 22 again."
People hid in the shade as the sun beat down on the Archery Lawn and cicadas roared in the trees.
Elspeth Williams, of Christchurch, said it was a "perfect" setting. "The tone was one of remembrance [and] hope for the future," she said. "I was very moved."
Matthew "Matti" McEachen's mother, Jeanette McEachen, held a laminated photograph of her son while sitting in the front row.
The park setting - as opposed to the central city - was "lovely", she said. Her husband Bruce's arm remained around her shoulder throughout the service. The couple's son, a 25-year-old tattoo artist, was killed as he fled from Southern Ink Tattoo in Colombo St.
Lynda Patterson, the Dean of ChristChurch Cathedral, said everyone was gathered to support "those whose grief will never fade . . . to share their pain in the hope that somehow it will be lessened".
Shani Annand-Baron said the memorial recognised that "life is never going to be the same". The 22-year-old, who was in Madras St when the quake struck, said: "It's not so much grief for me anymore. There's hope now."
CONE TRADITION A REMINDER OF TOLL ON SURVIVORS
It takes a long time to read 185 names. Long enough for three red buses to come and go; for the people in the café across the road to finish a coffee; for memorial flowers to falter in Auckland's stinking humidity.
At 12.51pm yesterday, a small group gathered outside the city's Pitt St Methodist Church to place flowers in traffic cones, joining a now international movement that remembers Christchurch's earthquake dead on the anniversary of the quake.
"Cones for Christchurch" was inspired by a cartoon, circulated by Christchurch design tutor and artist Henry Sunderland, on the first anniversary of the February 22 event.
Since then, cones - symbolising the destruction that took place and the struggle to adapt to life post-quake - have been decorated as far afield as Malta, the UK, the US and Antarctica's Scott Base.
There are an estimated 150,000 traffic cones currently in use in Christchurch. The Auckland event was organised by Te Awhina Arahanga, a Christchurch writer and social historian, currently undertaking a residency at the Michael King Writers' Centre in Devonport.
"Christchurch pretends it's a city but really it's just a big provincial town," she said. "There is no six degrees of separation, there's only one. Nearly everyone in Christchurch knew someone or knew of someone [who died] and that's what made it so poignant, that's what really cut."
She said yesterday's service was about the living: "They're still struggling, they're still hurting - they're still sneaking out at midnight and putting flowers in cones."
Rachel and Simon Rush were among those who attended. The Christchurch couple's home near the Lyttelton tunnel was destroyed in the quake and after months of couch surfing, they moved north and bought a house in West Auckland.
"In the initial days after the quakes, I have really strong memories of sitting in traffic for ages, trying to get past traffic cones," said Rachel.
Yesterday's event was, she said, "about a sense of community - it's a way of people saying they care … reminding people that there's still hardship in Christchurch is good."
- Sunday Star Times