Editorial: Each to own in their grief

It has been three years since the Canterbury earthquake.

Three years since the earth shook with such ferocity that Christchurch would never be the same again, three years since 185 people died, buildings tumbled, and liquefaction poured from the ground.

For some, three years will feel like a long time. For others, not so long. The memories, and the grief, will still be raw.

The location for Saturday's memorial service in Christchurch - the beautiful Botanic Gardens, rather than the CBD - signalled a moving on of sorts; looking to the future as well as honouring the past.

And for some, that is the right thing. Their lives are back on track, they are back in their homes, they have their family, they have work, the roads they drive on are slowly being repaired.

But many others are still struggling with the after-effects of that terrible day, the difficult days that followed, and the huge disruption to their lives in the years since.

Families of those 115 people who died in the CTV building are still searching for accountability, for some good to come from their loss, some assurance that such a terrible thing - that catastrophic building collapse - will never happen again.

For those who lost loved ones, February 22 is not so much a national anniversary, but a personal one. Those who were permanently injured have to live with the effects of the quake every day.

People will be in different places, at different stages, and those differences need to be respected. It is OK to want to move on and not take part in any organised commemorations. And it is equally OK to want to gather with others and take comfort from a day of remembrance. And neither is better or worse than the other.

There is no arbitrary time limit for grief, for moving on, for being able to put the past behind us.

February 22 is a date that will linger long in the nation's psyche. People throughout New Zealand will remember for many years what they were doing when they felt the quake, or first learned how badly Christchurch had been hit.

That there was a memorial service in Auckland, that road cones in Timaru sprouted flowers just like those in Christchurch, that Te Papa was criticised for not recognising the anniversary at all, illustrates that.

So, for how long should we keep marking February 22? For as long as there are people who want to gather, to share a quiet moment, to remember those who were lost, and injured, and whose lives were turned so desperately upside down.

The Timaru Herald