Survivor’s Guilt

According to Wikipedia, Survivor’s Guilt is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not. It is common among the friends and family of those who have died by suicide. It is not a recognized diagnosis, but rather a symptom of post traumatic stress disorder. Hmm, well let me settle into that one. It seems to be just my size.

Do I think it was my fault? No. Could I have done more? Clearly. Clearly, now that I have the missing pieces to the puzzle. Do I have Survivor’s Guilt? Absolutely. I recognize it for what it is, but that changes nothing. Daily I remind myself to forgive myself for not knowing what I didn’t know before I learned it. My guilt is compounded  far beyond the way in which he ceased to be here. It is weaved throughout my entire being; how I grieve, how I heal, who I am, and who I am not. I am no longer Corey Gerald’s wife. I am no longer the boss’s wife. I am no longer married. I am no longer tied to my last name. I am a widow, and my guilt is perpetuated by the shock and horror on the faces of those who come to realize that.

I get that it takes however long it takes, but to set up camp in grief is a trap. Walk through the forest, but don’t pitch a tent. Can someone explain to me how to do that? Because here in the forest it’s hard to tell which way is north and nightfall is coming.

I wore marriage well. I knew who I was and I represented in every circumstance. I had the role down for more than twenty years. I was proficient. A friend surprised me with a visit a few months into my grief. He lives out of the country and this was the first time I had seen him since Corey’s death. I couldn’t keep it together, and then he said “It’s okay. It won’t always be like this, but he was a great guy. Don’t you think he’s worth the tears?” YES, a thousand times yes. He is worth the tears. That somehow gave me the freedom I needed to accept grief. I get that it takes however long it takes, but to set up camp in grief is a trap. Walk through the forest, but don’t pitch a tent. Can someone explain to me how to do that? Because here in the forest it’s hard to tell which way is north and nightfall is coming.

So here I am approaching four years out or in? Who knows. People find it an acceptable, casual conversation starter to ask me if I’m ready to date. I can’t imagine starting a conversation with “So, you’ve been married awhile now. Ready to move on yet?” My friends have been wonderful in including me in social activities, whether that be a girls night out, vacations, parties or fundraisers, but the reality is I don’t fit anywhere anymore.  Let me add to that complexity. I am now in a professional position that involves dinners and galas, fundraisers and evening networking. I throw off the balance of the round tables that seat eight or ten designated for each company. And I am not the only one who notices or pretends not to. Here’s the real kicker, it’s me and my Survivor’s Guilt. Not only to invite a plus one to an event would make me incredibly self-conscious of my glass-housed status, but I wrestle with the guilt. We loved each other for twenty-four years together. I’m approaching twenty-eight because love transcends. To wade into those waters is like me telling him, “We had a good thing for twenty-four years, but I’m only willing to give you four solo.” Yes, I realize that sounds warped. Tell that to my heart.


  1. Feeling that you do not fit into the social environment you are expected to perform well within is normal. You may never share those freedoms of spirit you once felt under the same conditions. It’s okay. No one needs to understand or feel sympathetic about the challenges your emotional self continues to face. No one needs to know or comprehend anything.
    I find it unfortunate that others might measure the time past (AD) in terms of preparedness to date another individual. Perhaps those people narrowly perceive that the joys of life are initiated or tightly entangled around egocentric physical pleasures. While you may find intimacy again at some point, intimacy will no longer be defined in the same manner for you. All meanings in this life have changed, become more complex and more difficult to share with the expectation of receivimg any mutual understanding. The location of the North Star is not important anymore. A true North no longer exists. Actual direction no longer matters so long as you are moving in the direction you feel that you need to travel at any given moment. Do not pitch a tent, but do not be concerned about the speed or direction of your travels. If you are moving in some positive direction, then you are heading the right way.
    Your own pace. Your own path. Your own method of travel.
    This side of life’s reality is not experienced by all, but you are not alone. We do not all need to walk together in order to provide simple acknowledgements that we are here to support one another in whatever manner is necessary. Continue to do what you feel you must. Seek help when you need some additional guidance


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