Survivor’s Guilt by Miriam Feldman

By August 21, 2019Blog

I went to Florida with five other old bats with whom I have been friends for decades. We went para-sailing. We drank vodka and cooked expansive meals. We went sailing. We told off-color jokes and secret stories. It was a much needed break.

I was on the boat standing up high, high, on the wooden part. My clothes were whipping in the wind. I was blissful for that minute. I can be alive, I can be happy.

Then it hit me. Hard. Wow, isn’t that great? I can be happy in spite of this, can enjoy my life, I can feel the wind whip through my hair…I can. But I am not the one who has schizophrenia. I am the mother of the one who has schizophrenia. I am not the one who’s life is broken, ruined, mitigated. I bend inward with this sudden, obvious, realization: my resolution to get the most out of life and not let it (my son’s illness) wreck me is absurd. Obscene. How brave of me. I can stand on a boat flying through the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and actually enjoy myself, what a hero. Suddenly I hate myself like dirt, like an inky black stain traveling over my belly, over the surface and sinking in. I gasp, I swallow air. I can’t breathe. I howl soundlessly, helplessly. What am I doing?

Thank God for the friends. Thank God for the women. What would I do with this ache if I was all alone? One of the friends is right there next to me on that boat. But I can’t even talk for a minute. I am stunned. Then I confess. I tell her my guilt, my shame. I tell her I don’t think I should be on the boat, in the sun, happy.

“But don’t you see?” she says. “Don’t you see? That is survivor guilt. There is a whole pathology that already exists to explain this.” And then, gently and liltingly, to the background symphony of wind and water, my friend explains survivor’s guilt to me. Something I know all about already, of course. I’ve read every book. I’ve gone to meetings. I’ve talked to so many therapists. It doesn’t help. But right at that moment, as I looked into my tanned friend’s brown eyes lined with concern, it sounded good. I decided to believe her. I stopped crying. I opened my eyes. The vista was spectacular.

At that very moment my son is in his apartment in Washington State. It is cold out, there is snow on the ground. He is lying on his bed, a mattress on the floor (because he wouldn’t let me get him a bedframe) in his clothes. He has a baseball cap on, his dirty hoody is up over his head. He is wearing his sunglasses. His hands are clasped across his chest. Three fans are on, in different rooms, at full blast. He is fast asleep.

There is not even a little wind blowing through his hair.

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