Survivor guilt and the business at hand
Back row: Mother, Grandpa Gury (her father), Elouise, and Sister #2
Front row: Diane and Sister #4
As of today, three kinds of survivor guilt have invaded my life.
- The guilt of living longer than Diane, Sister #3. She died of ALS in 2006.
- The guilt of wishing my father had died before my mother. She died in 1999, 78 years old.
- The guilt of wishing my father had died instead of Sister #4’s husband. He died in 2008; my father died in 2010.
And then there are nagging realities from my past.
- In 1960, I got a job right out of high school. It paid more than my father was making at a weekday job. My mother told me not to talk about the size of my weekly paycheck. Then my father lost his weekday job and I felt awkward talking about what happened at work today.
- When I left home for college (1960, age 16), my younger sisters had to face the music at home without me. Sometimes that was for the better. But not always. They became more vulnerable to our father’s oversight and disciplinary methods. This weighed heavily on me, especially with regard to our youngest sister.
- My educational and workplace opportunities gave me an advantage when I was looking for a teaching position, right out of university.
I can’t change any of this. Yet each item above has surfaced more than once in light of my youngest sister’s current health crisis. It began on Christmas Eve.
So what’s going on? I know it’s important because I’ve become self-conscious about my current situation. Yes, I have health challenges. Sometimes I don’t manage them well. Still, they aren’t as difficult to navigate as challenges Diane or Sister #4 experienced.
Am I overthinking this? Part of me wants to believe I am, even though that would be nonsense.
Today I want to know how to be present and fully focused on the business on hand. Not on what might have been, or ten reasons I should have had something awful happen to me years ago. As though that might spare any of my sisters or my mother the horror of sudden interventions that leave all of us gasping for air.
Thanks again for listening. As of today, I’m happy to report that Sister #4 is in a rehab facility, beginning a long journey.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 January 2020
Family Photo taken by JERenich in Savannah, 1959