Monday, April 16, 2012

Survivors' Guilt Happens to Families, Too

Survivors' guilt. We've all heard of it. A soldier comes home. His combat buddy doesn't. He doesn't feel like he deserves to seek help, apply for benefits. Why should he be compensated for that brain injury, PTSD, or lost limb? He got to come home.

That is the thinking of many of our returning troops and veterans. It is actually a pretty normal one for them. What some people don't know, don't realize, is survivors' guilt affects families as well. I'm here to tell you it's nothing to be ashamed of.

When our loved ones came home from combat, it didn't take long for most of us to realize something was different, something was missing. It was the light in their eyes, the laughter and spontaneity. Instead, there were hours of silence, a distance as if they were someplace else.
I was grateful my son came home. I'm still thankful every day that he survived Iraq. Yet I knew there was something wrong. The wonderful young man who loved his family, was popular with the girls, sparkled and lit up a room every time he entered, who didn't hesitate to go to war when called because he believed in his country, that young man came home with nightmares and epileptic seizures caused by a brain injury. He came home with mood swings and memory loss. He came home with PTSD.

But he DID come home. And it was because he did that I felt my own survivors' guilt. I was lucky. But there came a day when I had to put aside the fact that I was indeed blessed to have him come home and start the journey to get him the help he needed.

I remember going to a funeral with my husband. A family member was deploying. I didn't mention my son or his TBI and PTSD. I didn't want to “whine” when someone was going to be leaving. Yet after that person was safely home, I began to express some of my own experiences with my son's TBI and PTSD. I was then blasted in a private message for whining by another family member. My son was injured. Her husband was not. By the end of the day, I had removed her from my Facebook. We still do not speak to this day.

I was told by a spiritual counselor that perhaps she was dealing with her own survivors' guilt. Just as I would feel bad that I was dealing with a TBI and PTSD while others had lost loved ones entirely, she was facing the fact that her loved one was bragging about being protected in a bunker while some such as my son were on the front lines. Yet to this day, I wouldn't wish the front lines on her husband or anyone else.

Survivors' guilt affects our veterans and affects us as families. Neither is something to be ashamed of. Both are natural. Both are understandable. Reaching out to each other instead of blasting each other can help tremendously. Find a support group in your area. If you need help doing so, let us know. We'll help you find the resources you need.

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