survivor guilt

February 3, 2013 at 3:37 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

a couple of days ago we were sitting at our favorite local eatery, and after some sleepless nights, when exactly what i had been feeling became clear.  this vague feeling that i had done something wrong when i knew i had not was not an unusual feeling to me.  it was in fact a mixture of sadness and guilt for no readily apparent event.

the first time it occurred i was so young it was a mere thread of thoughts.  at around the age of 9 my grandmother and i were visiting the queen mother, my dad and my sister (not the youngest) who was only 2 yrs old at the time.  for several yrs the mother had often lost control of her temper and i was the easiest target.  i had been protected up to the age of 3 or 4 and after that she had married my dad.  he somehow kept her from me.  my grandmother did all she could, yet she knew she could not risk having me removed from her permanently.  m was only 2 yrs old when she became another target.

the first time i was so relieved and surprised.  later i felt as though i had done something so wrong there was no way to right it.  for the most part over the years i would step in whenever i was around. there were times i took the beatings without hesitation and others i could have taken and didn’t.  m is the opposite of me in most ways and nothing like our youngest sister.  m not only angered the mother she angered her dad.  i had never seen him get as angry as when he was with the mother, they fought constantly, and with m.  m would yell, fight back and do what you would expect a child to do to avoid a beating.  when the mother was pregnant with my youngest sister she wasn’t able to be as strenuous with her “discipline” so her “tools” changed.  the point is i felt guilty any time i could have taken the anger and didn’t.

in the military there is a level of guilt when you know a fellow soldier has fallen. as  nurse it is when a patient dies before all can be done.  come home after hanging out a bit too long and find your husband dead? it matters not that none of this was under your control.  even now sitting in a restaurant and i feel the guilt. why should i survive when so many others are truly more worthy?  a daughter with 2 young sons passes and here i sit eating breakfast.  more personally why should i be happy, have a good life when my middle sister has never had a break from birth? she experienced a high fever at a young age and there was no money for a dr.  she received what we so kindly call learning disabilities.  every morning for the 2 almost 3 yrs i lived with them before leaving to start my life, i watched her cry.  there was never a moment of mercy for her.  neither of her parents seemed to want her.


History of survivor guilt:

Survivor guilt was first identified during the 1960s. Several therapists recognized similar if not identical conditions among Holocaust survivors. Similar signs and symptoms have been recognized in survivors of traumatic situations including combat, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and wide-ranging job layoffs. A variant form has been found among rescue and emergency services personnel who blame themselves for doing too little to help those in danger, and among therapists, who may feel a form of guilt in the face of their patients’ suffering.

Sufferers may with time divert their guilt into helping others deal with traumatic situations. They may describe or regard their own survival as insignificant. Survivors who feel guilty sometimes suffer self-blame and clinical depression.

i can only hope that i have turned my guilt into something worthy.





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the waiting can be exhausting

June 5, 2012 at 2:26 am (dying, end stage, end stage congestive heart failure, family, feelings and thoughts, gratitude, how does it feel to die, life is random, survivor guilt, waiting) (, , , , , , , , )

getting texts from middle sister with updates on the mother.  much like Pavlov’s dog the muted ding on my phone elicits the intake of breath.  it is not from calif so release the breath.  it is from calif so just look at the first few words, okay so far, so finish the text.  a call from nephew and a stillness, his voice lets me know that it is not the news we are all expecting any day now.  some texts ask if this or that is normal under the circumstances.  middle sister and nephew are not in the medical field.  they are not like younger sister and myself.  their lives are much different from ours.  they are the least prepared for this task and yet they are the ones called on now.  the only thing to do, reasonably, is be a support for them.

as much as my mind dismisses this and seeks to maintain focus on her it is at times a challenge. it is a challenge not to feel my own death coming and wondering if it will be similar.  would i make the same choices? the toll on those around her lead me down the path my own family will take in the not too distant future.  one question that snaps at my heels, like the crazy border collie nora, why not me?  she was diagnosed long after my own heart failure, she was able to have heart surgery to repair what can never be repaired in my own.  the man who had the same condition and device leaves his family months ago and yet here i am.  survivors guilt is a term anyone in the mental health field is familiar with.  to know what it is did indeed help me through some tough times.  after much searching it is hard to call this survivors guilt.  though it is a question likely to never be answered it is not guilt that i feel so much as how does this happen? does it go back to life just being random?  is there a flow to this not seen from so close?  is more required of me before i am released?  so many are deserving and at times though grateful for the sentiment, it is too cliché to say i am needed or i have a great attitude.  so many others are more needed than one like me, others want  to live as much while some have proven their value to the world.

it is humbling and awe-inspiring to wake each morning and think here is another day given.  another kiss from my love, another smile to share, another day  to wait and bear witness to the passing of another human being.

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