After the tragedy, rebuilding a life

19:51, Feb 22 2013
Marg Stocker
CARRYING ON: Marg Stocker says her late husband would not have wanted her to remain grief-stricken.

Marg Stocker is busy cleaning out 30 years of life with her late husband.

She has sold their Timaru house and will move out at the end of next month to focus on voluntary work in poverty-stricken countries.

"You think you're doing OK, then you get a wave of emotion hitting you like a tsunami. It's 30 years, so lots and lots of memories," the 57-year-old nurse says as she packs.

Marg Stocker
ROLLING UP HER SLEEVES: Marg Stocker helps a Sherpa mother and child in Damar, Nepal in 2011.

Neil Stocker, 58, and two others were killed while trying to recover a pipe organ from the red-stickered Durham St Methodist Church in Christchurch on February 22, 2011.

It had been badly damaged in the September 2010 earthquake and deemed unsafe to occupy.

Also killed were Scott Lucy, 38, of Timaru, and Paul Dunlop, 67, of Christchurch.


For Marg Stocker, payouts over her husband's death, including 60 per cent of his wages for five years from ACC, means she can afford to commit to voluntary work in Nepal and Bolivia.

"It allows me to continue with what I would like to do and also what Neil was passionate about, what we would have loved to do together. That will always be bittersweet, but I can't change what has happened," she says.

"You have two choices really - either you move forward and allow yourself to grieve or you go down the tubes big time. I know what Neil would have wanted. He wouldn't have wanted me to be grief-stricken."

Helping others was a joint passion.

In April 2010, the couple went with a group from the Geraldine Tramping Club to install solar lighting in Damar, an eastern Nepali village of Sherpas.

They loved their experience and had planned to go back together, but the quake intervened.

In late 2011, Stocker returned to the village with a tramping club colleague, a teacher, for seven weeks to offer education and health services. It was cathartic.

"It was like I was meant to be there. I felt Neil very close to me and almost the driving force."

While there, the villagers built a chorten, or stone monument, above the village as a memorial to her husband.

"It was very humbling. I hadn't expected anything like that at all."

Last October 1 she headed back to Damar on what would have been her husband's 60th birthday, for another six weeks. She took a ceramic plaque containing a photo of him holding a pipe organ, which was added to the chorten, along with some of his personal items, during a blessing ceremony.

Next year, she hopes to return with the tramping club to offer further help to villages in that area.

The group continues to raise funds for Nepal, giving frequent presentations to interested groups, and plans to set up a trust to ensure its work continues.

A year after the quake, Stocker resigned as a phlebotomist taking blood for Medlab South, wanting space to heal.

But while at work, she read about New Zealand doctor Derek Allen, who offers voluntary health services to poor people around the world.

She had contacted Allen and in June she will go to Bolivia for three months.

Yesterday, , Stocker attended Christchurch's public memorial service for the quake's anniversary, as she did last year.

The day is also her 58th birthday. "I think it's another thing that will be bittersweet . . . the day my dear man was killed - it's my birthday."

Her husband worked for the South Island Organ Company for 42 years and was its workshop foreman, training 12 apprentices.

"Forty-two years service to the company and this has been his great love and ironically [he was] killed retrieving an organ from a church, of all places."

His colleague, Scott Lucy, was also killed in the church as was optometrist and organist Paul Dunlop, a volunteer.

Three other workers survived.

The worst injured, Neil's last apprentice, Josh Anderson, then 18, was standing beside her husband on scaffolding when the quake hit.

She admits it has been hard to accept they were in a red- stickered building.

"I went through a stage of feeling very angry about why any of those guys were in that building. It's very difficult to try to rationalise something like that. You can't. It's a matter of trying to move forward step by step each day.

"But no-one in their wildest dreams would have thought an earthquake would have such an effect."

Stocker has started the Neil Stocker Memorial Fund, which gives money to support young organ builders or apprentices. The New Zealand Organ Preservation Trust administers it.

"That is what Neil would have wanted. He had such artisan skills. Neil had to give 120 per cent because that was the way he was, sometimes to the point it used to be a bit irksome," she says, laughing.

A keen tramper, she has done several stints volunteering as a hut warden for the Department of Conservation at Welcome Flat Hut on the West Coast.

Stocker believes living outside Christchurch has made it easier to cope with the tragedy.

"I still have a house. I've lost the man who was so dear to my heart but I was removed from everything else that was happening up there. For a long time, I never watched the news. I didn't need to be reminded. I'm going to live with it for the rest of my life."

She says the royal commission on the earthquake was helpful and she is keen to see all buildings strengthened to meet modern building standards.

"Otherwise, I'd say pull them down, pretty much and rebuild.

"You can't replace a life but you can rebuild a building."

Despite her personal loss, she still feels positive about life.

"I remember thinking way back if an earthquake like that had happened in Nepal, particularly Kathmandu, where 4 million people live, the death toll would have been enormous and they wouldn't have got the help we would get.

"We can count our blessings we live in this country."

In fact, there was an earthquake when she was in Kathmandu last October.

"I was just thinking 'my goodness, with the area I was in, this could be catastrophic'.

"You can beat yourself up about the whys but it won't change anything. Life moves on despite things happening.

"If I can make a difference in people's lives who are less fortunate, then that is great."

Neil Stocker Memorial Fund:

The South Island Organ Company is sponsoring an Earthquake Memorial Concert with French organist Chris Hainsworth at the Sacred Heart Basilica, Craigie Ave, Timaru, on Sunday, February 24, at 2.30pm. Entry is free, but donations to the Neil Stocker Memorial Fund are welcome.

The Press