Elephants And Tea - March 2021 - 39

SURVIVOR'S GUILT

years later, I have a multi-layered cake of
guilt about it. You'll notice that I have not
mentioned this person's name or given any
real concrete details because I feel like her
family doesn't need to Google her name and
see some sad man from California crying
over someone he barely knew. I felt, and
still feel, unqualified and unequipped to
eulogize her.
I k new t hat she was a teacher and I
thought about how the slow trickle of news
of her passing would eventually reach the
children she taught or the parents of those
children. I thought about how a sibling or
parent had to sit down at a laptop and deliver the news. I'm crying right now, thinking
about it all over again, as I write this.
Survivor's guilt started to make a nest in
my soul after that night. There's the guilt
of feeling like you should have done more
with the time you had available to you with
that person. Even if they lived in another
state, they were always just a text or message
away! Did you really feel like you could just
send them jokes or commiserate with them
now and then forever?
They had cancer. You knew this. You
knew there was a chance that you would
never see them again after that conference
or that meet up. There's the guilt of feeling
like you have no right to be sad about it,
especially if you didn't know the person
very well. Cancer deaths hit hard and they
trigger a lot of feelings. It doesn't take much
to send you to the land of survivor's guilt,
but it takes a hell of a lot to climb back
out of there.
There's the guilt that you have been
depressed a nd a n x ious, but relat ively
healthy, and have been wasting precious
months of your own relatively privileged
life and squandering opportunities that
other people simply don't have or will never have again. There's the guilt of feeling
like that person never knew the impact
that they had on you. That feeling really
loves to make a cameo and make you feel
like garbage. The devil on your shoulder
whispering " Oh man, it's a shame you
never really had the guts to tell this person you cared about them, huh? What's
the matter? Were you scared it'd sound
weird, cheesy, inappropriate or misconstrued? Well, they're gone now and they'll
never know. "

Life seems unfair, but it's even shorter
and more unfair for other people and sometimes my empathy throws me hurtling into
the abyss of self-flagellation. The guilt. Oh,
the guilt.
I have made cancer friends and I have lost
cancer friends. Even the word " survivor "
makes me cringe sometimes now because
I have had friends and family members
who have not survived this. They are
gone. Some of them were younger
than me. Some of them never got their
dream job. Some of them never found
the love of their life. Whenever I feel
down about my perceived failures in
life, it's tough to think about these people and not come down with a gigantic
wave of survivor's guilt.
I still have time and chances to travel, fall
in love and achieve whatever I set out to do
and they do not. I'd like to say that it gets
easier. Maybe in some small way, you do
learn how to cope with it and you get used
to it. But the losses don't magically stop
hurting and the survivor's guilt pops up
every time. Honoring people and remembering moments with them is nice, but it's
hard not to think about what you've lost. It's
very hard not to default to regret. It's just
all so damn hard.
Sometimes I think about the friends
and family that I've lost to cancer as silent
cheerleaders. They are rooting for me somewhere and somehow and although they're
gone, I have to advocate for them and make
something of this life that they helped me
to shape. They would understand me being
sad, but they wouldn't want me to wallow
in despair.
They would probably want me to sing
songs and send people jokes to cheer them up
on their worst days and to live as much life
as I can while it's still possible. Sometimes
realizing that I will one day have to mourn
even more losses leaves me feeling like life
is just an endless parade of things that hurt.
But deep down, I know that simply isn't true.
Life hurts and it inspires, it causes grief
and joy, it's sweet and it's sour. The people
who have disappeared from my life, they
all contributed to a story. A story much
denser, more complicated and much bigger
than me and my own story. I'm lucky that I
got a second of their time or got to know
them at all. l

Reflection

" Sometimes I think
about the friends
and family that I've
lost to cancer as
silent cheerleaders.
They are rooting
for me somewhere
and somehow and
although they're gone,
I have to advocate
for them and make
something of this life
that they helped me
to shape. They would
understand me
being sad, but they
wouldn't want me to
wallow in despair. "

ELEPHANTSANDTEA.COM
MARCH 2021

39


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Elephants And Tea - March 2021

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Elephants And Tea - March 2021 - 1
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