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Aged 'not well served in quakes'

The elderly frail of Christchurch could have been served better in the earthquakes, says Bishop Victoria Matthews.

Stephen Olsen   |  03 Apr 2012

The elderly frail of Christchurch could have been served better in the earthquakes, says Bishop Victoria Matthews.

She expressed this concern at the 2012 Services for Older People conference in Wellington from 29-30 March.

Referring to the unprecedented need to move elderly people away from the city, “a number of whom have since died”, Bishop Victoria queried whether alternative emergency responses would have been less traumatic.

“The question now is how can we serve their memory well as we move into the future?”

As Christchurch begins to “move and morph in unexpected directions”, Bishop Victoria suggested one way to better serve the elderly is to create cities that give priority to the experience of being an older citizen.

Rather than resisting change, she suggested that the current uncertainty in Christchurch is an invitation to release as much vision and imagination as possible.

“What a difference it would make to have a city with more thought to pedestrians over cars, for instance – a city with more sidewalk benches, longer pedestrian crossing signals, more legible signage”.

Coincidentally, this would also be a friendlier city for people with disabilities and for children as well.

Bishop Victoria also expressed concern that the realities of many changes in Christchurch and Canterbury had yet to sink in – including the loss of supports resulting from depopulation and dislocations of family and friends.

For churches and social services facing their own pressures and limitations, she said a big question was “How will we respond to the new subdivisions opening up and the new realities such changes present, given the fact that our old systems simply won’t be able to serve those changes (in the future)?”

The theme of the Services for Older People conference, run every second year by the NZ Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS), was “Moving Forward Together: Nuku Tahi – Hikoi Tahi – Maranga Tahi”.

Bishop Victoria talked about the importance of holding on to hope through hardship and adversity and what it will take for the people of Christchurch to flourish again.

But she cautioned against giving people false hope, and described a loss of sense of control as the “number one stressor” in Christchurch.

“(The reality is) everything will not be healed overnight. The recovery of the city will be much more subtle than a gold rush mentality of money or resources, and the rebuilding of Christchurch is simply not going to happen quickly”.

Reflecting on spiritual aspects to the recovery Bishop Victoria suggested that a role of the church community is to see those subtle changes taking place when others might not. “There are weaknesses to work through, surviving is difficult but thriving is possible … God is with us in the messiness of it all.

“As humans we’re always searching for meaning, and we do that better together than alone. We flourish together, we wither in isolation”.

Even through all the trials and tribulations, the Bishop stated that an attitude of “immense thankfulness is helpful because it is life giving to say what we’ve received”. 

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