We’re Home After the Earthquake: How Do We Feel?

If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.

We’ve just passed the one month anniversary of the original Nepal Earthquake. We’ve been home for about 3 weeks now. One of the questions that people keep asking us is how we feel. It has taken us a bit of time to come up with an answer to that question. We feel a lot of things and some of them are a bit hard to explain. But, we’ll try to describe them the best we can.

The order that we write them does not really signify the extent to which we feel them because as time has gone on, the emotions change. They grow and shrink, but they’re still there. The order is mostly a reflection of the order in which things occurred…

For our own ease of writing, we’ve each written in the first person. Della writes in italics while Eric writes in normal type.

We feel…

Disappointment

I’m a bit disappointed in my own abilities to cope with a disaster. I remember being more confused than anything when the earthquake first happened. I don’t think I had logical thought quickly enough to save my life. If I hadn’t been in a place where I was somewhat safe, then I’m not sure I would have survived. For example, a few minutes before the earthquake happened, I had decided I needed to go to the bathroom. I remember seeing a sign that was near where the donkey was in this picture.

The view from our table at the teahouse

For some reason, I told Eric that I needed to go but I was going to wait until our tea arrived. If I had followed my usual pattern and gone right away, I don’t think I would have thought fast enough to get out of the area when the ground started shaking. I would have been under the rocks in this picture.

Another look at the destroyed teahouses after some of the dust has settled

As camp life continued, I don’t feel like I was drain on the group, but I wasn’t a leader either. Of course, not everyone can be leaders, but I’m still disappointed in myself. I’m not sure if I would have been as effective in surviving without the help of the rest of the trekkers who were there. The best way I can think of to explain it: If it had been a film… I wouldn’t have been the hero. Far from it, I would have been the equivalent of an extra, maybe “Trekker #28,” and might have been cut from the movie during editing. 

I think I’m generally OK with how I acted during the earthquake. I am disappointed in my lack of contributions in the survival situation afterwards. Watching TV shows like “Survivor,” I always imagined that I would be one of the ones that would step up and help organize the activities around camp. But as it turned out, I was too reluctant to suggest much of anything and relied on others to lead the way. I’m very glad that they had the knowledge and foresight to do things like string up a tarp, because I don’t know if I would have had that idea. I’m not sure that any of my contributions around camp were essential.

Lucky

Somehow, despite the bad luck of being in Nepal during the time of the quake, we had the best luck we could have had. We were seated outdoors, as close to the middle of the canyon as we could be. Even among the terraces, ours was the best because very few rocks flew that way which prevented injury. We came out of the earthquake and the landslides literally unscathed. We were in the low part of the valley which meant that survival was relatively easy – we weren’t cold or worried about altitude sickness. We experienced the earthquake while in a village which meant we could stay there and use resources from the village to meet our basic needs (food, water, shelter). There was an amazing group of people who, by accident, were stranded with us and through their support and camaraderie we survived. 

I keep thinking about how many different little things led up to the luck of us being where we were when the earthquake hit. As Della said, we were very lucky that we ended up where we were. What if we hadn’t made the last-minute decision to stop at Bamboo for tea? What if we hadn’t spent an extra day in Kathmandu before setting out on the trek? What if we had gone straight to Nepal from Vietnam instead of going to Hong Kong first? We were very lucky to end up in the situation that we did.

Guilt

I know that survivor’s guilt is a thing. It’s hard to explain exactly because there is nothing that I did or didn’t do that allowed me to survive while so many others didn’t. But, I feel a huge weight of guilt all the same and maybe that is exactly why I do feel it. I think we as people look for explanations or reasons for things. It’s in our nature to understand why something happened. But, that’s just it. There is no reason why. I was lucky, but I feel such guilt. There were a lot of wonderful people, people who probably deserve to be alive a lot more than me who aren’t. I know a lot of people didn’t even have a chance… Those who were in Langtang village had no time to do anything. Moments after the initial quake, essentially a glacier coming at huge speeds just bowled over them. But, why was I lucky enough to be where I was? What twist of fate allowed that to be? What have I done to be more deserving? I know the answers of course. Nothing. The tension under the earth became too much and the great plates that have been forming the Himalayas for generations moved. The earthquake happened and some places were hit worse than others. It is a random occurrence and I was one of the lucky ones. But, that doesn’t really stop how I feel. 

I also have a hard time coming to terms with our survival when so many others didn’t make it. I also feel guilty about the resources that were expended to rescue us when so many other people in Nepal were in situations which were just as bad as ours or maybe even worse. We had plenty of food and a decent shelter, and we could have definitely stayed out there longer if need be. Or, we could have tried to walk out, like some others did (although I think it would have been a gamble given that there was at least one landslide on the trail every day). Should I feel bad that my status as a tourist meant that maybe our rescue was given higher priority than sending supplies to a local village? A few people have asked a version of that question since we’ve returned and we don’t really know how to answer it.

In addition, I wonder if there is something more that I could be doing to help. I got to come home which is safe and comfortable and far away from the tremors of the earth. But, should I have stayed in Nepal to try to help? (More likely I would have just been in the way.) Should I be doing more here to raise money? (Not sure what else I should be doing…) Should I be giving more of my own money? (Already given probably more than I can afford easily…) Overall, I think we made the right choices, but it doesn’t stop the uncertainty and guilt. 

I also feel guilty that we maybe we haven’t done as much as we could to help. We made the conscious decision to come home for what we believe were the right reasons, but other people who stayed seem to be doing great things. The same can be said about our decision to go back to our old jobs as opposed to dedicating our lives to help. We will try to keep raising awareness, but is that doing enough?

Frustration

I have been looking forward to my visit to Nepal for soooo long. My parents have these fantastic memories and pictures from their Langtang trek 35 years ago. I so wanted to have my own memories. The top of that valley just looked like the most glorious place. I am so frustrated that we didn’t get to finish our trek and continue what we had planned for Nepal. I’m also frustrated that our fantastic RTW journey had to end on such a sour note. Now all of the wonderful memories are overshadowed by how the trip ended. On top of that, we ended our trip early, cutting out a month of this journey of a lifetime. Again, I think we made the right choice to come home, but it is still so frustrating to have it all end like this.

I didn’t have the same personal connection to Langtang as Della did, but I still was quite frustrated to not be able to complete our trek. I had expected it to be an activity like our self-drive safari, a huge adventure that would test us in ways that we didn’t expect but would be something we would look back on as one of the highlights of the whole year. We kind of got that, but not in the way that we wanted or expected. And losing a month of our year-long trip hurts. Once the trip of a lifetime is over, what do you do with the rest of your life?

Sadness

A beautiful trek is damaged – perhaps beyond repair. More than 8000 people are dead. A country that was struggling with poverty before is now wrecked with terror and destruction. So many people, beautiful people, have lost their homes and all their possessions. They will struggle to just survive in the years ahead. Hundreds of children from the Langtang Valley are now orphans, their parents buried under rock-slides. They will have to grow up without so many of their family members and removed from their homes. I tear up randomly throughout the days just thinking about it. Terror and heartbreak are now familiar to the people of Nepal. 

And then, while fearing and mourning for all the people in Nepal who lost their livelihoods due to an act of nature, I hear news stories of people in other areas of the world who are facing some of the same pain… And even more terribly, it is due to war; People creating the terror and pain and inflicting it upon others. And that, in a lot of ways, is even worse. There is so much darkness, cruelty, and pain in the world, and it is hard to see beyond it at times.

It hit me at some point while we were in Bamboo that we had just watched the life’s work of many people be destroyed right in front of us. And after we were back in Kathmandu, the stories that the cab drivers and business owners would tell would just break my heart. Every day now I hear about aftershocks that just have to be terrorizing the people living there.

Helplessness

I mentioned above about the pain and loss of the Nepali people (and so many others around the world); it’s hard to know how to help. I live in a beautiful place that is solid, orderly, and mostly safe. I want to help, but sometimes it seems hopeless. 

Anxiety

While sheltering at Bamboo, our senses were always on alert, feeling for aftershocks, listening for landslide, and looking to spot helicopters coming towards us. Even after we got back to the US, I’ve found it hard to turn that sense of awareness off. I have to remind myself that a thunderclap is not an earthquake. And every time I hear a helicopter I reflexively look up to the sky to see where it’s heading.

Hope

Even with all of the negative emotions discussed here, I do have some positive feelings associated with the event. The spirit of the group that stayed at Bamboo inspires me and reminds me of all of the good people in the world. Seeing all of the messages on social media that helped to get us rescued shows me just how great of a network of people there is out there that care for us. Finally, looking at all of the great work that is being done for relief in Nepal gives me a hope that the country will be able to persevere and rebuild.

6 thoughts on “We’re Home After the Earthquake: How Do We Feel?

  1. Namaste Della and Eric,
    I have truly loved reading your blog. I share exactly the same sentiments as those expressed in this last blog. You have so beautifully put into words my feelings and what it means to have been through this experience. I hope we will stay in touch and I wish you both healing and peace, today and always.
    Your friend and fellow American,
    Kathleen
    Kennebunk, ME

  2. All of the emotions are totally understandable, except one. I honor your feelings, but the following statement is so NOT TRUE. “There were a lot of wonderful people, people who probably deserve to be alive a lot more than me who aren’t.”

    As for disappointment — Della, perhaps you didn’t think logically enough during the quake, but your example really was just another instance of LUCK. Had you been where that rock pile ended up, not sure any decision you made would have mattered.

    As for not being a leader — we all have contributions to make. If everyone had tried to be the leader, the group would have worked much less effectively. The first commandment is do no evil and I am sure that neither of you ever did anything that would have been detrimental to anyone in the group. Rather, I suspect you both offered supportive shoulders that added cohesion to a diverse group and willing hands that made tasks be accomplished more easily.

    I can’t say much about guilt, frustration, sadness, and anxiety. But you are not helpless and you will never look on any crisis in the world in quite the same way again. One of the beauties of travel is that you can relate so much more personally to events when they occur. The world is a rotten place, people do awful things. And that’s rotten. But it is also a wonderful place, where people come together to do good things. We simply have to spend more of our energy aligning with the latter, while trying to understand the former and dissuade them from their actions.

    Love you both.

  3. Eric and Della, we are all do glad you are safe ; I can tell from your posts that your experiences have made a life long impact! There were lots of prayers headed your way and for all in Nepal. I believe God speaks to modern believers through circumstances. I also believe there is no such thing as random, God has used you beautifully! Amen!

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