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Let’s talk about survivor’s guilt

Jenny Filush-Glaze
Grief Relief

After a traumatic event occurs, the people who are left behind tend to engage in a pattern of thinking in which they struggle to understand why they are still here when others are not, a real and valid feeling that is more common than you think.  In the recent aftermath of the tornadoes that occurred here in our community, I have been inundated with questions posed fromthe survivors as they struggle to wrap their minds around their perceived “fortune”, incredibly thankful and happy to be alive one moment, quickly followed by extreme guilt and sadness the next, simply because they “survived.”

For those of us who love and support them, one of the worst things we can do is to discount or dismiss their feelings.  What is important to note is that this is a common reaction to a traumatic event and countless amounts of people experience this, so with that said, sometimes it does help people feel a little better because their feelings have been validated as being normal.  However, waking up every morning and witnessing the loss that others are going through can fire up that guilt and cause unhappiness and in some extreme cases, even turn into depression.

Some of you may be thinking, “How can people become depressed from surviving? Can’t they see that they have been blessed, and where is their gratitude?” Sure, there is definitely some rejoicing going on that individual lives have been spared, but that does not mean that it isn’t also instantly sobering to know that you are alive and well when so many others just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thoughts of “Why wasn’t it me? Or “It could have been me” resonate through our minds and it becomes difficult to move forward and accept that it is alright to be thankful and it is definitely ok to experience all of the emotions- the onslaught of the good and the bad- because that is part of grieving.

Part of what makes grief so hard to understand is that it looks different for each individual.  Some are openly demonstrative with their feelings while others are more quiet and reserved.  What I do know is that when death occurs, all of us sitting in that funeral or Memorial service afterwards have at some point found ourselves being grateful that we are not the ones sitting in that front row, devastated and broken from having lost a loved one.

When death happens, it is human nature to be thankful that we are still alive, and that is something that we should never have to apologize for, not today, not tomorrow and not ever, because what we all know and understand is that life is valuable, and for that, I will always be thankful.