“Survival Guilt” affects all ages. It 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 his or her life.
We seniors are especially prone to experiencing survival guilt. So many of our friends and family members have passed away and we are often the only one left. Many of us have spent years tending to a loved one and the relief that we feel when they finally die is overshadowed by guilt.
With the help of a dear friend (who luckily for me happened to be a grief counselor) I was able to face the loss when my husband died and to experience all the emotions but not have them overwhelm me. After a few months she convinced me that it was crucial to get “out of myself” and, literally, get out of my house. I decided to look for volunteer work where I could make a difference.
Now I put in two days a week at our Free Care Clinic and I’ve found work that I enjoy and a whole new set of friends. One of the nurses and I found out that we had very similar political views and a fondness for the same type of books. We have become fast friends and she even sent me a “Mother’s Day” card with a note that said she thinks of me as the mother that she never had.
So, if you are experiencing survival guilt be kind to yourself. Chances are that is what your loved one would want for you. Get up and get moving and just remember that the longest journey starts with the first step.