To see people returning to the charred remains of their home, their memories, and all they possessed, gone forever, tore at my heart. Nothing could stop the fury of the fire, which someone described as having cyclonic force, engulfing everything in its path, and nothing could prepare people for the force of emotions that would overcome them, as they stood staring at the ashes of what was once their life.
And in Queensland, lives turned upside down by the ravages of flood. Farmers, who have somehow survived seven years of drought, now facing the loss of what little they had left, swept away by the sheer force of water. Twenty-eight inches of rain in seven days, and most of that fell in four. The cattle couldn’t get to feed and trying to wade through the mud, driving rain and icy winds, left them completely exhausted. They huddled together trying to keep warm and there they perished.
This week I allowed the reality of that to sink in as I saw Jacqueline Curley’s photos of that loss. Jacqueline and her family have a cattle station in Cloncurry in the midst of it all. She captured the raw, agonising emotion in images that brought me to tears. I wept as I imagined discovering most of your beautiful cattle wiped out by flood and those that did survive, but were too weak to recover, had to be shot. For Jacqueline and her family and many others like her, what seemed like welcome rain which might break the drought, turned into a disaster of epidemic proportions.
At times like this there are no words.
What do you say when someone faces that level of grief? Words seem inadequate, empty, even trite.
She described something of the numbness that hit her in that moment. She couldn’t think or feel, she couldn’t cry, she sat staring into space and then walked around in ever widening circles, incapable of doing anything. Her husband swung into action booking flights to take them to be with her family and attend the funeral. He rang friends to let them know what had happened.
The flight would leave in less than 24 hours and yet she was incapable of packing, feeding the family or organising anything. Then there was a knock on the door. She opened it to find her friend’s husband standing there with a small box.
“I’ve come to clean the shoes”, he said. She looked at him blankly, “What shoes?” He knew there was packing to do and shoes would be needed for the trip, especially for the funeral, so he came to get them ready.
Somehow she rummaged through the house, under the kids beds, from all corners of the house, and returned with her arms full of muddy, scuffed and much-in-need-of-cleaning shoes, enough for all five of them.
He was a quiet and gently man, not given to conversation, and for the next two hours he cleaned and polished until every shoe shone, then silently let himself out. When she came to pack the shoes that evening she realised he had even scrubbed the soles so they wouldn’t soil anything in the case.
She said his kindness and gentle demeanour somehow allowed a remnant of normality to return, enough to let her thrown some clothes in a bag and begin to prepare for the agonising trip ahead.
So often when we don’t know what to say to people who are experiencing deep grief we resort to “Let me know if there is anything I can do”. This dear man didn’t ask; he cleaned the shoes.
Please pray for all those who are having to pick up the pieces right now, trying to find the strength and determination to rebuild out of the ashes and erosion of their lives.
All Jacquie's photos and commentary by Kate Hunter: