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Quake bereaved parents struggling with psychological trauma
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Yang Xiuhua still grieves for her six-year-old daughter, one of the many thousands of child victims killed in the Sichuan earthquake. Yang found her daughter's body in the kindergarten crushed in a landslide in Beichuan County. From then on, she has been writing words on the back of her daughter's photos in a bid to release her sadness.

"If you want to be my daughter again, please let me know. I would endure the pain again. I promise you a healthy body. We are waiting for your coming," the 38-year-old mother wrote.

The mother felt she owed something to her daughter as the peasant family was poor already before the quake. "If you returned this time, I would treasure you and let you enjoy a better living standard this time than the previous one."

Her home in Beichuan was leveled and she stayed at a temporary disaster shelter in Jiuzhou Stadium in Mianyang, waiting for further resettlement. The 8-magnitude earthquake hit Sichuan on May 12. Official figures show it claimed almost 70,000 lives and left nearly 20,000 missing.

Yang repeated her story to anyone prepared to listen to her. They comforted each other. The victims lived in "beds" made of quilt on cement ground. She sat at a neighbor's "bed" to watch their 10-month baby. When the baby smiled, she smiled back slowly, rare emotion on her face.

Like Yang, many families lost their children in the quake.

"Two groups who need psychological help most are our key targets, the student survivors and the bereaved parents, but we have difficulties in helping the bereaved parents as we cannot get their contact information and some parents avoid psychological help," says Chen Yunsi, a professor of psychology with the North China Coal Medical University in Tangshan, Hebei Province. He works as a member with Tangshan Psychological Help Volunteer Team stationed in Sichuan.

"They just could not accept the fact and don't want to mention it," Chen says. "It takes time."

A psychology professor at Beijing Normal University, Zhang Huiping, tried to console bereaved parents who petitioned with their children's photos asking for an investigation on collapsed school buildings.

"Do you think you can console me with words?" many parents asked her in return. She felt frustrated and could only listen to the outpouring of their sufferings.

"They just wanted their children back," she says, "They would not listen to anything."

You Xia, a hairstylist in Beichuan, lost her 16-year-old son who studied in Beichuan No. 1 High School. She wept all day long and frequently returned to the ruins of the school building and joined with other bereaved parents.

They turned their anger on the quality of the collapsed school buildings. "They are bean-curd projects. Those who are responsible for the projects' quality should be punished," she says.

Bean curd construction is a Chinese colloquialism meaning that the building materials are no stronger than tofu.

Different departments in China are investigating collapsed school buildings. "If there are quality problems, those who are responsible will be punished severely," says Han Jin, an official with the Ministry of Education. But the process may take time because of the complicated actual situation on the issue. Some parents accused the school buildings were substandard due to corruption of some builders and officials, but little authoritative research results have been publicized to support the claim so far.

The key is to find a "positive channel" to let out the parents' anger and frustration, says Zhang, director of the Institute of Psychology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the local governments should follow the petition and speed up investigation to give the parents explanations. It's an effective way to let out their negative emotions, he says.

Some parents are unsure about their future as they lost their only child. It's a tradition in China for children to take care of their parents especially in rural areas where the pension system is not fully comprehensive. Many families follow the one-child policy to control population.

55-year-old Wang Qingyou lost their only son who worked as a truck driver. "I wept every day," says Wang, "We spent our savings on a truck to provide him a job, but now we lost both the son and the truck."

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