A case of survivor guilt


I’m not sure why this subject is on my mind, but it is. Several years ago, I worked at an insurance help desk. There was a fellow employee in New York whom we will call Diane. She had called me requesting a change to one of the business software programs. When I checked with programming, they told me that since it was going to be replaced with a new web-based application, making the change wouldn’t be cost-effective. That made sense; however, I was convinced Diane wouldn’t be happy. I called her back and gave her the bad news. She wasn’t real pleased, but for some strange reason, we left the incident ticket open. Then there was the tragedy of 9/11. Our company would tell us when the New York office was re-opened so we could contact our colleagues. When that day came, I called Diane. The first thing I asked her was “How are you doing?” I told her I was following up on that ticket, but of course the answer was the same, and I was going to have to close the ticket. She said that was fine. The issue simply wasn’t important anymore. (I suspect 9/11 had changed her perspective; it sure sounded that way.) Then, Diane told me that she was in the gift shop on the first floor when the plane struck the towers on 9/11. She told me something I’ll never forget: “I should have been upstairs.” She said it more than once. I gently inquired “You feel guilty, don’t you?” She admitted she did. I assured her that it was okay to have survived (such a horrible tragedy), and there must be a reason she was still here. I told her God still had a purpose for her life. She quietly acknowledged, I wished her the best, and we hung up. I never had occasion to call her again, but I still think of Diane from time to time and wonder how she’s doing. I later learned that her reaction was called survivor guilt.

I stumbled across a website that discusses survivor guilt as well as other traumatic occurrences such as sexual assault, PTSD, auto accidents, grief, and many more. Even if you haven’t suffered one of these, it’s an excellent educational resource. I have listed the website Gift From Within under the Resources heading at the top of this blog. God bless!

Copyright © 2015 by Theresa M. Williams

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