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Survivor Guilt

Hi! How have you been? I don’t know about you, but I feel like a hibernating bear, waking up and emerging from my man cave and finding that the world is again in fine shape. After a year of shattered lives and disrupted economies, we came through the fire and still standing. Yes, we lost 600,000 (600,000,000 worldwide) of our friends and relations to COVID-19 and that is always going to be regrettable, but most of us made it through but now the fear is gone and joy came this morning. Isn’t it a fine sun shiny day. In the words of Willie Nelson: “Blue skies looking at me. Nothing but blue skies do I see. Blue days are all gone. Nothing but blue skies from now on.” That is how I feel in this moment anyway. So refreshing to see smiles on uncovered faces, to walk about with pep in our step and greeting our neighbors. How have you been? I missed you.

We owe this remarkable recovery to the development of safe and effective vaccines. Most Americans are now vaccinated. School is in session, God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. The stock market is at a record high. We have woken up to no unemployment and most industries cannot find workers. Lumber is extremely expensive. Houses and cars are in high demand. Money is flowing and it looks like Japan will be holding the Olympic Games after all.

The question I pose, however, is whether you are feeling guilty for having not only survived when so many perished and whose lives were ruined. In addition, what right do you have for prospering from the deaths of others, particularly loved ones?

It was not until the 1960’s when therapists identified this syndrome among holocaust survivors and those who survived natural disasters as well as soldiers who witnessed the deaths of their comrades. The question that these survivors had to live with was: Why wasn’t I one of the unfortunate victims who did not deserve to die. Why did I survive? It is a burden that will require some intervention or to be addressed in some fashion.

Stephen Joseph identified "There were three types: first, there was guilt about staying alive while others died; second, there was guilt about the things they failed to do – these people often suffered post-traumatic 'intrusions' as they relived the event again and again; third, there were feelings of guilt about what they did do, such as scrambling over others to escape. These people usually wanted to avoid thinking about the catastrophe. They didn't want to be reminded of what really happened."

The syndrome, more recently classified as post-traumatic stress disorder, is usually manifested by mood swings, anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, loss of drive and ambition, sleep disturbance and nightmares. This is what you would expect from those who brought home the virus that subsequently caused the deaths of family members. But to add to their burden, they also inherited wealth as a result. That would be hard to live with.

At the end of the day, however, life is for the living and we need to go on with our lives. Best wishes.

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