Sunday, January 14, 2007

SURVIVING “SURVIVAL GUILT”


I believe that all people at one time or another suffer from the guilt of survival. “That could have been me” we say, when we lose a friend to a strange accident. Or, “Why am I alive and well?” as we watch a loved one suffer and die at a young age.

“Survival Guilt” is the type of remorse felt by people who manage to survive while their friends or loved ones do not. The events that take their lives do not have to be traumatic. They can be the result of a long illness or even old age. The common denominator, however, is that the survivor feels a tremendous guilt at being able to get on with their life. It can be summed up by: “why am I the lucky one?”

When my husband died at the young age of 59 it was the result of a lifelong illness. He was a brittle Type 1 diabetic &, although the death certificate read “congestive heart failure” it was the side effects of the diabetes that killed him. When this happened I felt shock, disbelief, anger and sorrow, but overriding it all was an ominous feeling of guilt. I kept thinking how unfair it was that I would be here to enjoy all the milestones of the family that we had created...but Dick would not.

I was going through my own adjustments before he died. I had joined Alcoholics Anonymous 15 months earlier and I no longer had the crutch of alcohol to help me forget. This proved to be a blessing in disguise. “Forgetting” would have been the worst thing I could have done.

With the help of my sponsor and the kind people in AA I was able to face the loss and to experience all the emotions but not have them overwhelm me. I learned to work through the pain & adapt to the loss. It took time but slowly the confusion & turmoil faded and I was able to put aside the guilt that had been plaguing me.

I still felt that I’d let Dick down and one night, while sitting at the table in my kitchen, I closed my eyes and “talked” to him. I told him that I loved him and that I hoped he was in a place of peace and finally free of pain and disease. I was going to ask him to forgive me for the things I hadn’t done for him but I was stopped in mid-sentence.

I felt a breeze on the back of my neck and then something brushed by my left shoulder. My eyes flew open and I blurted out, “Dick, is that you?” Of course no one was there but I felt a sense of comfort that I had never felt before and I knew that I had been absolved and that all was right in my world.

This is a true story, exactly as it happened to me. I am not a religious person but I do believe there is a type of higher power out there. It’s way beyond my comprehension but there is no doubt in my mind that it was with me that night in my kitchen.

13 Comments:

Blogger BetterCell said...

I am sorry for your Loss......I understand.
Diabetes has been my companion (it is always with you) since I was 6. What you experienced in your Kitchen that evening was a Gift of Love sent to you by your Husband.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Chancy said...

Ginnie

I am proud of you and the way you came through your battle with alcohol and also the loss of your husband.

You have been given the strength to survive for a purpose. Perhaps it is to inspire others.

7:15 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

You just gave me goosebumps. No kidding.

I think that talking to the departed is a valid and fine thing to do. Before we left our former city, I went to the cemetery and had a little talk with my parents. Oh heck, I'll look it up in case you're interested. Here it is although it isn't mostly about chatting with them -- only a little bit.

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Claude said...

Thanks for sharing this, Ginnie

11:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You gave me a little shiver here, Ginnie. You found that place of acceptance and peace with good people to help. And a whisper from the one person who counted the most.

6:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I shed a tear over this entry and yes, I got goosebumps as well. I believe our loved ones come to us when we are ready. My mom came to me in a dream quite some time after she died and it was a great comfort to me. Thanks for sharing this beautiful story.

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ginnie, this made me cry -- which is always a good thing, I think.

My daughter died akmost 13 years ago. Since then I have lost both my parents. I have an absolute belief that the people who go before us are not far away at all; sometimes the curtain parts and they are very close indeed. From the time shortly after my daughter died, she left us what I consider to be love letters. It started when a neighbor brought us some daffodils from her yard to plant in her memory, and found among the roots a little red confetti heart. Since then I've gotten many such messages.My parents drop by in my dreams sometime, just to say hello. It's always incredibly sweet.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Cazzie!!! said...

Spine tingling and so truthful Ginnie, I believe in what you say.
I believe here is a higher power, yet I also believe in the power of ourSELF too, this I believe , is what made me survive my ill health in hospital, when the doctors had my husband making arrangements for me.
I believe that you were sent a lovely sign of comfort from your husband, that is because he would know how you were feeling.
Bless you Ginnie, you have done so much and just love yourSELF, love then comes to you :)

7:04 PM  
Anonymous colleen said...

This one gave me goosebumps. I remember how strange it was to feel happy after my brothers died, to realize that I have to live on and enjoy life again. How can I laugh when they can't, I wondered. I guess that is part of the survior's guilt syndrome.

And sometimes I am amazed that we live as long as we do. It seems so easy to die and we are all so vulnerable.

6:23 AM  
Anonymous Terri said...

Excellent post, Ginnie.
I'm also not a religious person, however, I am extremely spiritual. SO I have no doubt that Dick's spirit was right there with you....letting you know it was okay, but you had to keep going forward. Which you've done, in a wonderful way.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Kila said...

I think you are right--he was there. He often is, you just can't see him, which isn't fair!

My grandpa also died too young due to Type I. But I know he's still keeping an eye on me.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anvil Cloud's blog led me here - led me to this beautiful account of acceptance of life as it is - of love offered and received with an open heart. I had one experience similar to this and it shook my youthful certitude that there was nothing beyond our day to day experiences. Sometimes we need a little nudge.

4:03 AM  
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10:41 PM  

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