Monday, July 7, 2014

The Reality of Survivor Guilt

Me at 2007 Relay for Life; 2 yrs remission
What is "survivor guilt"?

The WebMD site defines it this way:  "Survivor guilt derives from situations where persons have been involved in a life-threatening event and lived to tell about it (such as Holocaust survivors, war veterans, rescue workers, transplant recipients, relatives spared from hereditary illnesses, and long-term survivors of acute and chronic illnesses).  In the special case of chronic illness, survivor guilt can occur after the deaths of peers who faced the same diagnosis."

After seeing one of Don Trioani's Civil War paintings, I realized why battle survivors feel guilty that they lived when so many of their comrades died.  In many instances, surviving the bullets, shrapnel, etc. can be a matter of luck so it's easy to see how survivors would think, "Why them and not me?"

In the last nine years since surviving aggressive and atypical non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, I too feel an unreasonable guilt when those I know and love (and even some total strangers) succumb to cancer.  I think, "Why them and not me?"  These feelings can really drag you down into a hole depression and despair if you let them.  You can waste precious time wringing your hands instead of rejoicing that you're still alive, or as my Dad used to say, "on the right side of the dirt."

Last year my beloved, full-of-life sister-in-law died from cancer that had become widespread before it was even diagnosed.  It seemed so unfair that she be cut down when she had so much more life to live, but she died at peace with herself and with God, and that certain knowledge has helped me more than anything.

Now when I begin to think, "Why him/her and not me?" I just imagine Charlotte's Tennessee twang scolding me and saying, "Now, Sis, it's just not your time yet.  You have work to do before you can join me."
Charlotte and me 1995--thanks, Sis!


  1. I am certain that we are all blessed to have you around feeling guilty for still being around, Katy. Try to remember whether your life is long or short...either's a finite blip in the grand scheme of need to be feeling guilty about those who have already passed while you are still here. You and the rest of us will be right behind them shortly. Every moment is precious. This life will soon be gone. Cherish the moments and thank God for the opportunity to live them. God is our only source of life. God will not be guilty of sustaining our lives past what should be.

    1. I agree it is totally illogical to "feel guilty" but it is a real emotion that many feel. Being thankful helps in dealing with it, for sure! :)