Survivor’s Guilt and My Children


Last weekend, I talked to my son, as I often do. He is in the US Army, hoping to earn a special green hat in the next year or so. I am really proud of him.

He is in his early twenties, newly married, and has a stable and sufficient income. His wife has an even better gig. She has just graduated and has a great first job. Right there, they have something I’ve never had.

Add to that, they are renting a home near base. It is a two-story, simple, but beautiful home, with a 2 car attached garage, and a decent-sized lot. These are things I’ve never had.

In that home, they have furniture that they bought. Outside, they have a grill and a smoker. They have things I’ve never had. It’s bizarre and wonderful.

I might have had furniture at the home they were raised in. I might have even had an area rug and a TV and beautiful pictures on the wall. But these were all gifts (for tending my siblings for long stints for my parents….years ago) or simply hand-me-downs. I was and am still so grateful for my parent’s generosity. But this isn’t about that. I could go on for days about that.

My son and I talked about Christmas. I was the mom, asking my son, what he wants for Christmas…what they — his new wife and he — want for Christmas together. He avoided the question like he usually does.

Being the oldest, he has been all too aware of the financial difficulty that he was surrounded with. With a father who wasn’t dedicated to making a liveable wage (until he moved out, of course), we more than struggled.

My son was the man of the house, the one to help bring stability, the one I needed so often. He was the only one to reassure me that everything was going to be okay, even when I knew things were not.

I am more than grateful that he is no longer in that role. I am grateful that he has found a way to take good care of himself and is actually doing it. As a mother, I am so blessed.

On the phone that day, I felt something that I had never felt before. In his voice, I felt something like survivor’s guilt. You may say that it makes no sense, but I have to disagree.

Because you see, he survived. He is actually thriving. He is making a life for himself, while knowing that there are parts of me, his mother, that did not survive. He knows good and well that I may never recover from the divorce on more than one level.

And he did.

I hear it in the voice of my oldest daughter — when she insists that I’ll feel better someday and that things will get easier. That I’ll be able to live into some dream of mine, someday. She insists. And I know why.

It’s because she cannot bear to see me NOT do so.

It is so hard for them to see me NOT recover, not be well enough to make a new life for myself, and not be independent.

They want that for me. I want that for me…more than anything.

But it is not meant to be. Not yet, anyway.

As I talked to my son, I asked him what they needed. “Do you need a good blender? Do you need a good mixer for the kitchen? A hot pot? A rice cooker? A pressure cooker?”

A blender. They need a blender. But…they want a particular blender. “That’s fine”, I say. And I knew what he was going to say next.

“It’s really expensive and we are just saving up to buy it. Mom, it’s so weird. We can just save up and buy things like regular people.”

I laughed. I knew what he meant. He was trying to say:

“Mom, don’t even worry about us. We’ve got this totally under wraps. We have a savings account (something you never got to have). And I’m not a spender, so we will have enough in a month or so. No problem! It’s really fun to be able to buy things we need. I don’t want you to worry about us. Ever. I know you never got to have nice things and never had financial stability. I’m really sad about that. But I’ve moved on and it is not keeping me down. We are doing well.”

He didn’t need to say all of that. Because I knew what he meant. He was doing his best to reconcile the differences in our lives, all the while trying to grant me the relief of knowing he is in a good place.

I am so grateful that he is. I want nothing else for him…for all of them. I’m grateful that the poverty mentality that he could have “caught” from his upbringing didn’t stick. And I feel relief.

I feel relief every time I see my children make smart choices…choices I failed to make at their ages. I feel relief that the cycle will not continue.

I hope someday that I can show them that I have the ability to heal and recover what I lost, after giving it freely away to a man who misused it. They deserve to see that someday.

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