Bryan's comment on my Cancer, Love and Guilt post got me thinking again about the term, survivor's guilt. Its focus on guilt adds undeserved shame or regret to an already uncomfortable feeling.
What's a better name for the feeling that arises when you learn someone else died from a condition similar to one you survived? In my search, I examined the feeling. It's a mix of...
- Empathy for others, which stirs my grief for their losses
- Sadness for me over what might have been lost had I not survived
- Shame for feeling relief that the untoward outcome happened to someone else, and not me.
The unpleasantness of "survivor's guilt" doesn't help anyone. Bryan's point is that the feeling spoils otherwise good time -- and that is NOT okay. It dishonors the legacy of those less fortunate. If anything, they'd want their loss to, somehow, enhance my joys. Of course, it's out of their control; it's up to me.
I can add meaning to their death by choosing to feel heightened gratitude for my good fortune and by choosing to embrace with extra gusto what they were denied.
For lack of a better term, I offer "sgraditude" (scrad-i-tude) as a label for the feeling survivors experience after learning of another's death. The first, fourth, and fifth letters (s-a-d) of sgraditude acknowledge the sadness, while the overriding sound of the word focuses on gratitude.
Healthy Survivors turn survivor's guilt into survivor's gratitude. Maybe we should call it sgraditude.