Monday, November 25, 2013

Survivor Guilt

Have you ever survived something and felt guilty?

I have, several times. One time was in Joplin after the tornado. Part of my job at the time was clearing wiring and electronics out of the destroyed homes. At each house I saw the lives torn apart as much if not more than the dwellings themselves. Every day on my way home I would wonder, "Why not us?" I was feeling guilty because while Casey's workplace got destroyed, we were okay. Our cars weren't damaged other than a flat tire. Our apartment wasn't touched other than debris in the parking lot. I had a job which would be enough until Casey found another (especially thanks to a gift from the church to help cover a month of her being out.) All this added up to a lot of guilt. Professors, ministers, and even those from the very houses I was cleaning out all asked us to not feel guilt. However, that did not change that we did. So when I wasn't at work, we were at the church volunteering in whatever capacity we could. After about a month straight of volunteering and working in the damage zone, I broke down to one of the ministers about the guilt and the PTSD that was forming from my work. I cried for quite awhile and he just sat with me, reminding me gently that it was not my fault and that I could let the guilt go. Those were healing words I needed.

Fast forward to this past week, on our way home from a week with Casey's family in Union, MO. Many of you probably either saw on the news or experienced the winter weather firsthand. Well, outside of Oklahoma City as we were going across a bridge I noticed it was pretty slick. I went slow and kept off the brake to not start sliding. That is when it happened again. Everything happened so fast I cannot be sure what actually happened. We were almost to the end of the bridge and I was keeping my eye on the pickup truck behind us. All of a sudden there was an explosion of noise and I realized a UPS truck had lost control and hit the pickup. There was a car about 15 feet ahead of me but none in the next lane so I took my chance and gunned it. At first I could tell the wheels were just spinning on the ice, but then we got to the end of the bridge and we shot out of there. Right then the pickup truck, which had been spinning, collided with the front end of the UPS truck. If I had been watching in front of us and not the rear view mirror, that crash could have included us.

That's when it started. For the next 10 hours of the trip, guilt tried pushing through to the surface. Not only from the crash but also from seeing the many vehicles that lost control and ended up in the median or shoulder. Casey and I talked it out, reminding each other it was not our fault that aside from a greatly prolonged trip and Dante throwing up, we were most unaffected by the weather. Is it hard to come to peace with something like this? Yes, of course! Even as a primarily logically minded person, this is difficult. However, with these two instances and with other events as well, I have come to know it does not help to worry about what could have been. By all means we can pitch in to help, either through volunteering at the church or by donating to the Red Cross. However, if you ever have, are now, or ever do suffer from survivors guilt. Please, let Jesus take care of that for you. Pray for those affected and the rescue workers going to help them. Just do not carry what is not yours to carry. If you need to, seek a friend, minister, or counselor to cope.

Grace and peace,
PS If you want to read about the actual week with her family, check out Casey's post here: Traveling. Oh, I also got published this past month! Doxa, Nebraska Christian College's Undergraduate Literary Journal published my retelling of the woman at the well. You can buy copies of the journal for $10 by contacting Dr. Bob Milliken at or 402-935-9400.

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