Survivor Guilt. This is such a common phenomenon among those of us who face a serious, life-threatening disease.
I have known so many friends and friends of friends who have passed away of cancer since I was diagnosed. It is a tragic side effect of putting yourself out there, of making friends with others within the cancer community, of sharing your disease and experiences with others.
It never fails that I don’t feel guilty when a friend passes away and I am still here, living and enjoying my life. It is difficult to face their families. In the back of my mind, and sometimes in the front of my mind, I am positive that the family or friends of the one who has gone before us are thinking, “Why are you still here when our loved one is not? Why couldn’t it have been you that succumbed instead of my brother, sister, mom, best friend?”
This is a strange phenomenon that happens to many of us who are fighting for our own lives. I have heard many other people who are battling cancer talk about feeling guilty for still being alive after watching a friend or family member succumb to a similar disease.
Why? I’m not sure what the answer is to that!
How many healthy people do you know that feel guilty because you have cancer? Or because a loved one passed away? They’re sad, of course. But, they aren’t often wondering why it wasn’t them that got diagnosed with the disease or that passed away instead.
Recently, I was at a dear friend’s funeral. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and, sadly, passed away only two months later. He had kids, including one son who has mental challenges who lived with him. It just seemed so darn unfair that this insidious disease had robbed him of his life and his family of their loved one.
I told one of his daughters that I felt guilty that I was here and he wasn’t. She was astounded that I would feel that way. And, she quickly tried to assuage my guilt. While in my mind, all of his family was wondering why it couldn’t have been me who passed on … I’d had my time …, nothing could have been further from the truth.
Healthy people don’t wonder why someone else didn’t die instead of their loved one. They mourn the death of their loved one, but they don’t wish death on someone else instead.
My friend’s daughter told me she wanted me to keep on living, to keep on advocating on behalf of lung cancer patients everywhere. And, most of all, she wanted me to lose the unfounded guilt I was feeling for still being alive.
That’s advice for every person who feels guilty for surviving when someone else did not. Honor the one who passed away by living your own life well. And, whatever you do, don’t add to your burden by feeling guilty for living when someone else didn’t.