I have recently finished reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. The final chapter contains excerpts from witnesses in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. One concept which stood out for me was the sounds of silence which they all experienced.
The silence is what I remember most in the minutes after the tsunami passed. I do not remember the sound of the tsunami, which I have been told would have been loud like a train hurtling towards me. In my mind, I can’t hear my husband yell ‘corred’ which I know he yelled. My visions of those minutes are all in silence.
It was deathly silent once the water had subsided. No birds. Even though there were animals in the water, they made no sound. We believed that all the other people on the beach had died, as we heard no sounds from the beach. The sounds of silence. The silence of nature after a catastrophic event.
It is not only the silence of the tsunami. There is also the silence of the morgue. The silence of the house on our return; the cold, silent house. The silence of Clea’s grave at the cemetery. The silence of Clea’s room when I enter each morning to wish her good morning and to open the blinds on her windows. The silence of her photographs all through the house. The silence of Clea; no voice, no laugh, no giggle. The silence of the dead.
It is also the silence of others who are unable to contact me. And my own silence when I do not want to contact people. The silence of people when I tell them that I have a daughter who drowned in a tsunami in Samoa; the silence of not asking questions, moving on to the next subject. The deliberate silence – if you don’t ask, you don’t have to deal with anyone else’s pain. As the years go by, that deliberate silence becomes more a question of if you don’t ask, then they will get over the death of their child. That’s the silence theory anyway.
It is so much easier, for all of us, to discuss the good things that happen rather than the bad. To discuss the bad things implies giving meaning and thought to what most people keep within their nightmares. The consequences are that you will have to confront your own deep feelings of pain and your own inability to control the pain of the other person. But, if you maintain your silence, you can walk away and feel good about yourself because you haven’t had to face the reality that is the other person’s life.
For us, it is sitting alone at home listening to the silence. The silence of a mother and a father grieving for their daughter. The silence of two brothers saying goodnight to their sister and hearing nothing in response.
It is the silence between us. The silence of pain. The silence of not uttering the unspeakable pain in our hearts. The silence of one who has been missing from our family for the past 205 weeks.