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.