Time does not heal loss trauma
Death is a violent shockwave. Trauma is the ripple. Sometimes it never subsides. In today’s Hawke’s Bay Today, former policeman Charles Champion has shared the nightmare that is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
The catalyst for Charles’ distress was a night in 1956, when as a rookie cop he climbed into the back of a crashed V8-powered Ford to find five young people, three of them dead.
Sixty-two years later, he can still see their faces, as if the crash had just happened.
As Charles says, back then you didn’t talk about it. About how it made you feel.
1956 was just over a decade since World War II had ended.
There would have been veterans still struggling to cope with the aftermath of their wartime experience.
And not talking about it, coping at the RSA, numb from the cut-price beer and spirits they earned for their valiant service.
Fast forward to the early 1970s. A family in regional New Zealand answers the phone. It’s too early for the phone to be ringing, even for a sharemilker used to rising at dawn.
The news is nauseatingly bad, a teenage sister is dead, killed in a car that hit a bridge less than 20km from home.
The first reaction is anger, an “eye for an eye”.
The family Holden rumbles down the gravel driveway, a grieving brother on his way to town to kill the driver of the car his sister died in.
It was a gut-wrenching blow for a family still getting over a young life lost in a tractor accident on a farm.
No one talked about it though.
Not even at the graveside of the deceased, on the anniversary of her death, while her brother wept in silence, his tearful wife and confused children in the car wondering what the hell was going on.
Later that night, there would be solace from the neck of a cold quart bottle of beer. And no talking about “it”. Or how you feel.
Mathew Kyte’s family have this week spoken about his death in a crash last year. Mathew died after drinking and driving. His wife says drinking and driving has ripped their family apart.
A coroner released a report into Mathew’s death this week.
His brother didn’t need to read it — he knew what killed his sibling, getting behind the wheel of a car with five times the “new” legal limit of 250mcg per litre of breath, more than three times the old 400mcg limit. Many people tried to stop Mathew drink-driving, but he was a hard man to stop. Until his life ended in Lamason St, Greenmeadows.
And the ripple of trauma continues. Coroners reports. Media coverage.
But at least Mathew’s family are talking about it.
This week, a boy from a family that still feels the aftermath of a car crash turned 16. He wants his licence, his independence.
Like many parents watching their children grow up, his father is terrified.
He has felt the ripples of grief, watched his own father weep at a sibling’s graveside.
It’s something they are going to talk about.