Survivor, survivor’s, or survivors guilt or syndrome is a mental condition … It may be found among survivors of combat, natural disasters, epidemics, among the friends and family of those who have committed suicide, and in non-mortal situations such as among those whose colleagues are laid off.
The experience and manifestation of survivor’s guilt will depend on an individual’s psychological profile. When the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (DSM-IV) was published, survivor guilt was removed as a recognized specific diagnosis, and redefined as a significant symptom of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
~ Excerpted from the definition of Survivor’s Guilt, Wikipedia
“I just have to respond to this ONE e-mail,” I say, “and then I’m done for now; I swear.”
Luau rolls his eyes.
I want to tell him I mean it, but ultimately we both know I’m lying.
Because the e-mails will keep coming. And with them the questions, the pleas, the requests to speak, to meet, to talk, to find, to ask, to connect. The ones from people who simply need to hear that someone somewhere understands. The ones that say I’m sorry, but I don’t know where else to turn.
I will respond to every one of them in some way – whatever way I can.
I will give them each something. Information, connection, direction. At the very least, an ear.
I have to.
I have to because I wake up every morning aware that my daughter was grazed by the same bullet that hit so many others square between the eyes.
Because my daughter has words. For the love of God, my daughter has words.
Because so many – so, so many – don’t.
Because Brooke is small for her age. Because people guess she’s five or six rather than the reality of her nearly eight and a half years. And because that buys her – and us – a wide cushion in strangers’ expectations.
Because so many don’t have that odd luxury.
Because she is not prone to wandering. And because when she does go too far, she can (now) answer to her name – or at the very least say, Here I am, when we yell, “Brooke, say, Here I am.”
Because so many can not.
Because we are not in the military. Because we don’t live with the fear that comes with a parent – a partner – at war. Because one of us isn’t at home trying to hold a family together – fighting a completely different kind of war every day. Because we don’t have to move every two years, starting over – always starting over – because the military says we must. Because our insurance covers at least some of what Brooke needs and we have access to the people who can provide it.
Because so many who serve our country do not have and cannot get what they need for their children.
Because we live in a time and a place where no physician would have the audacity to imply that I caused my daughter’s autism. That I – her mother – must have been cold, detached, that somehow I must not have loved her enough.
Because mothers who came before us were told it was all their fault.
Because we live at a time when no one would have dared to tell me to send my child away when her challenges began to emerge – to forget her, to erase her from our lives – because she was different.
Because so many before us believed they had no choice.
Because we live in a place where schools have Trees of Kindness, where parents before us have found one another, joined together and created advocacy groups, thereby leaving those of us who came next a clearer path to follow. Where there are inclusion specialists on staff, where social pragmatic groups are facilitated by specially trained SLPs, where BCBAs come to observe and consult with paras who get it – who really get it, where there are classroom teachers and PE teachers and custodians, art teachers and receptionists who truly care about my daughter.
Because schools like ours, while far from perfect, are a dream for far too many.
Because English is our first language, we know our legal rights and we can navigate the system.
Because sadly, even in schools like ours, those things make a difference.
Because although it’s not easy, we can afford the extras – the uncovered speech therapy sessions, the special needs drama classes, the gold-plated neuropsych, the play therapy, the one to one ABA parent training – etc, etc, etc …
Because so many simply can’t.
Because for the most part, the people in our lives either get it or want to. Because my parents read my blog and leave loving, supportive comments nearly every day.
Because so many are hung out to dry by families who refuse to try.
Because I have a group of Mama sister friends who walk this path along with me, who are always, ALWAYS there – to celebrate, to commiserate, to gently bitch-slap, to validate, to love, to simply say, ‘me too.’
Because so many feel like they walk this road alone.
Because I have a husband who stays strong when I fall apart. Who does the heavy lifting while I run around and tilt at windmills. Who makes dinner and does the dishes afterward. Who may roll his eyes, but who never says, ‘Don’t.’
Because so many parents are doing this – or feel like they’re doing this – without a partner.
Because I have YOU. You who take the time to read what I write here, who hold my babies in your hearts and remind me, day in and day out that we are in this together.
Because that is so incredibly precious.
Because when I really look at my life – and Brooke’s life and Katie’s life and our family’s life – what I see is an embarrassment of riches. And I wake up every morning feeling like I need to DO something to earn them.
So I tell Luau that I just have to respond to this ONE last e-mail and then I’ll be done.
And we both know I’m lying.
Ed note: Please click on the links (in blue) to read more about each topic.