Thursday, 12 March 2009

Survivors' guilt

I know that many people find me difficult to deal with because they suffer from survivors' guilt. They look at me and they feel awful because it happened to me, and not to them. I understand this and I ask myself, 'What is it that I need from the survivors?' I know what I usually get and that is people telling me that really it's very tough for them as well. They tell me that one of their children has learning difficulties, or asthma or impaired hearing. As I'm a polite person, I finish up offering sympathy about their child's problem. But if I'm really honest there's a voice in my head saying, 'If your child is alive then you don't have a problem.' Or I get people telling me that they had a really bad labour and their baby nearly died. And I suppose that they say that in order to empathise with me - but it really doesn't work. Again there's that nasty little voice in my head saying, 'Yes, but the whole point is that your child didn't die.' I know that's not very charitable of me but it's just how it is. But then interestingly a good friend said something quite different to me the other day. 'I look at you,' she said, 'and I just value my children so much and I just feel so, so lucky ....' And oddly that was the right thing to say. That's what I need. I just need the survivors to know that they're lucky and to say it. That's all.


Mel said...

I'm so glad you said that, and that that comment your friend made helped you in some way. I have left comments on other blogs in the past and have said in them how lucky and thankful I am, then afterwards wondered if it was the right thing to say. If it may have come accross as a bit smug on my part. My journey to get my baby wasn't an easy one, at all, but he's here and he's alive and I feel so lucky and so so thankful. I am so sorry for your loss, after being touched by so many stories of loss I will forever treasure my children and how lucky I am.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alice,
I find the use of the word 'survivors' interesting. I see them more as the 'victorious' bouncing off with their spoils.

I would honestly prefer people to realise that it is a really terrible shitty thing to happen and say nothing to try to make it better or empathise. I've had women tell me that I'm so lucky not to have the hassle of kids, that their grandmother died quite suddenly (sad I know - but she was an OLD WOMAN), that I just need to find a hobby, that I'm dwelling, that I'm bringing people down, that my sister with her 3 beautiful bright children feels awkward around me.... blah blah blah. I imagine she does feel awkward being around a mother who gave birth to a dead baby, but she could chat it out with her drop dead gorgeous husband while they drive home to their huge house in their range rover with the little ones fast asleep in the back.. bitter? Why yes, maybe a little.

Anyway, a lovely post as always Alice and I'm sorry for hijacking the comments.

c. said...

This is precisely what I need from people too. In fact, I won't tolerate anyone who knows about what happened to my son and does not express this type of gratefulness for it not being their own experience. Does that make sense? I guess I just mean I have little patience for those who are not grateful that it did not happen to them and who can too quickly forget that life can go to shit in a heartbeat...or lack of one.

I'm not much of a friend anymore. I know this. But, I don't really care either.

Z said...

I can relate more to the thankfulness and gratefulness than your expression 'survivors' guilt'. I am indeed thankful, but I don't feel guilty. I am so, so sorry for your situation and I can't begin to feel the extent of your pain.

I was talking to a young woman a week or two back, all three of her children are handicapped, the youngest worst of all and I don't know how to equate her daily difficulties and sadness for what might have been with your grief for not even having the opportunity to have a child who would remain, in effect, a baby for the rest of its life.

She wasn't looking for sympathy and she said "well, you just get on with it, don't you? " I find her life unimaginable in its disappointment and constant hard work, but you'd probably find her lucky compared to you.

I am unimaginably lucky. I have a husband, children and grandchildren and I appreciate them all every day because friends have lost theirs. I don't know if it's worse to lose a child after several years than at birth, or worse if it's a random stupid accident or a long drawn out illness, or a physically healthy young person who commits suicide. There's no quantifying grief and those who haven't had to face what you have are clumsy in their sympathy, however much it's kindly meant.

charmedgirl said...

i am both the survivor and victim. i was extraordinarily lucky to have come through a very high-risk and not easily achieved pregnancy, but didn't realize how lucky i was. after that, i've had a full term stillbirth and 2 failed ivfs. i feel like the biggest jackass on earth to not have realized it lucky i am. it terrifies me to think of how i went through that first pregnancy, so blase and sure of it all. i am SO lucky, but only realized it after i became so UNlucky. it's all relative i guess.

Tash said...

I've also had a "friend" tell me that she was afraid her child would die in utero as a point of comparison. (Um, huh?)

While I don't like playing pain olympics and believe it's not so much the event, but what you feel about it that's important, I think it's all dependent a bit on the surroundings. I don't suddenly like to be the dumping well for everyone's shit just because I get it. There are times to bring up certain subjects and times not to.

Anyway, your friend is lovely.

Anonymous said...

I can assure you that you would rethink the 'you don't have a problem' if you had a child severely handicapped with a grim prognosis. I assure you that YOU are the lucky one. You have a child. A child that is well and healthy. Please don't say such silly trite things. Grief does not give you the right.

Anonymous said...

One further thing - have you stopped to imagine that perhaps they talk about their child nearly dying because they want to say that that was bad enough, the terror, and so they can't imagine how it would be if the baby really did die. That's okay you know.

Tash said...

Anon, I don't know where to begin, but having a live child does not mitigate a loss. And unless you've been through this, you wouldn't get that, and I wouldn't expect you to, but please don't say such silly things.

Further, she has the RIGHT to grieve any damn way she wants. And she is, IN HER HEAD. She's not harming anyone, people are hurting her. She's said nothing about anyone coming to her and telling her about their child with fatal disabilities -- she's talking things like asthma. Which is serious, yes, but treatable, and in no way compares with a dead baby.

And you don't have the right to drive by and say such mean-spirited things without using your name. That's outright cowardice. (And you're not anonymous, you do know that, right? That you leave behind your ISP everytime you as much as read a post here? If you don't like what you're seeing, leave.)

charmedgirl said...

i have never in my life heard of a parent of a child with severe disabilities/WHATEVER prognosis say they would rather their child was dead. of course they have problems, but, i mean, what are you getting at, anon? do you not realize that this is a personal space where the mother of a dead baby can say whatever the fuck she damn well pleases? and yes, we all know this is a PUBLIC personal space, but nonetheless, you are a callous asshole. and, contrary to your statement, her grief DOES give her the right...what, may i ask, gives YOU the right? we don't know, and will most likely NEVER know, are anonymous.

alice, don't pay attention to this jackass.

niobe said...

I have survivor's guilt. I feel ridiculously, unfairly lucky.