It can be described in may different ways depending on the person's interactions and the outcome of the event. It can be from witnessing an event, or being involved in such event, or even just a family/friend of someone involved. Survivor's guilt can strike up lots of questions. So many that they can cloud your mind, fog your judgement, and can lead one down roads that are dark, not allowing someone to grieve properly.
The day I received the call about Sean, I had worked a management shift that required me to be away from my cell phone. I had received a few calls from a couple of people that I don't normally hear from at those times. Once I got off shift, I was able to call those persons back. I was only able to get a hold of my youngest brother. He told me Sean didn't come home and wasn't answering his phone. We spoke for a few moments about who we could try to call. We were more frustrated than anything. The worst of the worst never crossed our minds (that will come to play later on when we officially found out what had happened).
Fast forward to after "The Call" (details for a future blog), a million thoughts ran through my mind. Oh My GOD!!!!! How could I have missed this? How could this have happened? Why? Where? What if... (we were unsure of what actually happened at this point. There were plenty of questions left unanswered).
Those two words when put together are very powerful: "WHAT IF". They can bring down the strongest of the strong. They can make your knees weak, make you feel sick to your stomach, make you second guess every little detail down to the second. I questioned so many things. Why didn't I see the signs? How could I have prevented this from happening? Why didn't my little brother (Sean) reach out to me. I wasn't there to protect him. I wished I could go back in time to stop this tragic event...
...Needless to say, I wasn't getting answers I wanted. But, wanting is a whole different story.
Later I was told I had survivor's guilt. I called B.S. on that fact. How could I have survivor's guilt if I wasn't there and my own life wasn't threatened? Little did I know and to my clouded mind's surprise, I did have survivor's guilt. I had "loved-one left behind" guilt.
After finally realizing what I was going through, I was able to come to terms and start to properly grieve. I had to allow myself the opportunity to properly grieve. I was subconsciously holding back, feeling like if I did grieve then I would lose everything I had for Sean. Like I was letting him down. Now I know that isn't the case.
The moral of this story is that you can't control the actions of others, fate/God/happenstance will play out no matter what. You have to allow yourself not only the proper time, but the ability to properly grieve. IT'S OK!!!!!!!!!!!
Here are some times to deal with Survivor's Guilt:
Acknowledge your feelings and recognize that they are part of a normal reaction to uncommon circumstances.
Seek out other people for support. Share your feelings with a peer, friend or family member, or join a support group to help you cope.
Take time to mourn. Attend a religious or community ceremony or plan your own way to remember your fellow service member, friend, or loved one.
Turn your feelings into positive action. Make a contribution, hold a fundraiser, give blood or participate in any volunteer action that makes you feel like you are serving the greater good.
If the loved one that committed suicide knew what repercussions would come from their actions, trust me, they wouldn't have gone through it.
Remember, survivor's guilt is a component of PTSD. It's a sign that someone needs help. So be there to listen.
In conclusion, it's ok to feel. It's ok to talk about it. There are others that feel the same way. There are others that will listen and be there for you. Don't struggle alone. Heal with everyone!!!!