Self-confident and pride

Hashiguchi Miwako, 29, housewife, Kobe-shi, Nagata-ku

It has been more than six months after that major earthquake. Most people, exhausted during the quake, have returned to their normal lives by now. Till now, however, I am still very worried for those who need psychological care, although they themselves may not be aware of it.

My husband, a member of the mobile task force, came home temporarily on the 4th day of his duty before the quake. He worked very hard, trying to get as many victims out as possible while they were still alive. He did not say much, but I could easily tell that he felt powerless and sorry. Although police support from many other prefectures came promptly, the tasks at hand remained extremely tough.

I was drawn in to deliver water and take care of the family, and I was relieved when my job was done for the time being. The rescue work repeated every day but my husband had never for once shown that he was happy with the result. This state of affairs continued day after day.

For example, he would reproach and blame himself, ‘Shouldn’t we have done it this way instead?’ ‘If only we had acted quicker...’ ‘How I wish we had done that too.’ How could he blame himself despite working so hard? My words of comfort would only make him feel worse. As a member of a family here and a citizen of this city, I wanted to take my hat off to the mobile task force and all the policemen. They who worked at the scene were not just fighting against the catastrophe, but also their individual limits. With that realization, I made an effort to boast my husband’s self-confidence.

When there was no hope of finding more survivors, we fought against the smell of dead bodies. I helped at the sites of fires to retrieve the remains of the victims. I would repeatedly touch the soles of my shoes, which had melted, before setting off to work. Meals were prepared to give us physical strength but I could not bring myself to eat the meat. There was a gap between our will to give our best and our physical limit.

Bodies were found in a crumbled building. When I was told that my husband and his ranger teammates would try to retrieve the bodies with ropes, I prayed for their safety. As the victims had died a few weeks ago, the bodies were probably highly decomposed. There were times when I would happily see my husband off to work, knowing that the bodies of the deceased, who had no relatives in this world, would finally be retrieved from the collapsed buildings.

Although it is natural that the victims of the earthquake have suffered indescribable emotional scars, it must not be forgotten that those involved in the rescue efforts, recovery operation and volunteer work immediately after the disaster have also suffered emotional wounds. I heard that these people are unaware of their mental trauma, which can be a very sticky situation.

In fact, many of them are themselves victims. The more one takes things seriously, the more one becomes obsessed with the situation and feels guilty even for taking a break. Some say this may lead to a suicidal tendency at worst. The situation is even more serious for those in a responsible position. Fortunately, my husband got himself together at the early stage and can now treasure the valuable experience gained.

Can we contribute to their emotional care? Do you know how many policemen were saved during their nocturnal patrols on the street when greeted with “thank you!” or “Keep up the good job”?

“I have never once wished to be showered with gratitude, but when they thank me, I feel energized,” a volunteer at the evacuation center told me. On the street, my 3-year-old son would stop and wave at the garbage truck that came from another prefecture to support us. The driver would smile and wave back – he must have felt our gratitude.

I hope mental care specialist teams can be set up to take care of the direct victims and the helpers, should a disaster happen in the future. Even at this stage, I believe the prefecture and municipal employees are still going through a very rough period. I want you to be confident and proud of what you have done so far. Our city still needs your help, and all of us must chip in to make our city work again.

The Hanshin earthquake has not ended. No until the mind of every one is put at ease.