Survivors’ Guilt?

The Road Less Travelled

By Terri Windover, Connect Contributor

12. Survivors guilt

We’ve all either felt it or read the comments on social media. Maybe your neighbor mentioned it. (You know the one. The person you’ve lived near for three years, but didn’t know their name until the fire made fast friends of us all.) I don’t know about you, but I’ve been making even more of an effort to get to know people, to smile or to just say hello.

The term survivors’ guilt has been creeping up quite a bit since some of have been lucky enough to return. It affects the way we speak about our joy at being home or the fact that besides being displaced for a month, the rest of our life, our home and our routine has been virtually untouched.

Except for that damn guilt thing. What is it anyways? The official definition is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not. Once characterized as its own specific diagnosis, it has been redefined as a significant symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I’m not sure if what I feel can be termed as “survivors’ guilt”. As I put more thought into the subject I have come to some conclusions. I know that I’ve caught myself apologizing for talking happily about how beautiful my garden is blooming from the ash dropped on the soil, but I quickly pushed that behaviour aside.

I do not believe any of us should feel guilty for being lucky, because luck is a game of chance that we have no control over. I do think we should feel empathy, however. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. This is important as sharing the load of emotion between us all can help to ease the burden of others in our community.

I feel strongly that if we allow ourselves to mitigate our joy with guilt we are not doing us or others any favours. What we need right now is joy in abundance. We need to feel alive, strong and proud. Those of us who have been given the luxury of moving on with our lives need to reach out to those who do not have that yet.

I have made an effort since my return to invite friends and clients that have either lost their homes completely or lost the ability to live in them temporarily, to my home to share home cooked food, wine and feelings. What I’ve found we shared the most is feelings, of loss, frustration and hope. As I watch them run through the gamut of emotions, one thing rises above the rest – Hope.

Take Tania Murowchuk and Ben Sauve. I was invited to their wedding in Napa on August 20, 2016. Since they are one of the couples who lost their home – bridesmaids dresses included, they have had to postpone their wedding. When they told me their new date, it took me aback for a moment. They chose May 3, 2017. Because, as Tania said: “We wanted this day to be remembered for a happy time in history, not the disaster of losing our home.” If that isn’t a quintessential example of our Big Spirit, I don’t know what is.

Many of us are letting our anger and grief take hold of us. We are lashing out on Facebook, relationships are struggling and we are looking for someone to blame. Although these are normal emotions in the midst of a situation like this, we must not allow them to grow deep roots. I intend to focus on the future. To help my friends through these trying times, to be a shoulder to lean on and a voice of reason if possible. When we are emotional we need to surround ourselves with people that are slightly less so. We need the balance that this gives us until we are better balanced ourselves.

Look around you. Just weeks after that fire burned nature to the ground she has started rebuilding herself. It’s up to us to do the same. It is up to us how we grow as a community from here on. Weak and torn apart or stronger together. I choose strength and I hope you will too.

-Connect Weekly-