In past centuries, people looked on death as an inevitable part of life. Yes, they grieved for lost family members and friends, but they had to continue on the path. Today, with life-prolonging medical advances, death is the enemy to be held at bay. Unfortunately, it’s no contest—death will inevitably win.
But we look at death differently nowadays. We fear it, fight it, take it apart and analyze it, and often make it a cause celebrѐ. War, disease, suicide, accidents, violence—all these are part of our lives on a daily basis, and somehow we don’t seem to have the coping skills our ancestors had.
When I write, I often include a death by one of the above means in connection with an ongoing theme of forgiveness and reconciliation. I also include the one consequence which isn’t talked about much: survivor’s guilt or SG.
Now, this isn’t meant to be a morbid blog—far from it. But it may strike a chord for someone out there. It certainly does for me. Hardly a day passes that I don’t consider how the lives of my adult sons might be different had their father lived. Could I have said or done anything to keep him alive? I’ll always wonder. He’ll always be 37—and I’m turning 70 this year.
Yes, I have survivor’s guilt. But the word ‘survivor’ is the key here. It never goes away, but it doesn’t preclude a full life.
That said, how did the characters in my books deal with SG?
In Where Is Papa’s Shining Star? Lenore Seldon loses her fiancé, the “boy next door”, in WW I, so she goes to business school and gets a job. She loses her parents within a few years of each other and then her older brother under questionable circumstances. She has no choice but to go on, so she does. But when the chance comes to marry a man who adores her (the feeling is mutual), she has a difficult time accepting her good fortune.
The sequel, Finding Papa’s Shining Star, finds Annie Ashley still bitter about her father’s seeming desertion. When she loses her unborn child while her husband is overseas during WW II, and later her adoptive parents, she is bereft. All she can think of is that she’s been left behind again. It isn’t until she is confronted with a greater need than her own that she can begin to heal. David, her husband, deals with having survived a concentration camp when so many others didn't, so now he strives for the success of a new generation in Israel.
The Showboat Affair portrays two characters whose separate circumstances relate. Nick Cameron has raised his only son, now his law partner, after the loss of his wife to cancer twenty years earlier. When he meets Jean Kingston, cast aside by a philandering husband, he knows he’s finally ready to move on. His son plays on the dormant SG Nick has harbored for so long and almost turns his father’s dreams into a nightmare
In The Face on Miss Fanny’s Wall, which spans a century from the Civil War to the present, love and loss touches the lives of all the characters. Some feel guilty because they’ve survived their various situations, while others haven’t moved beyond the anger engendered by their circumstances.
Celeste Riley isn’t exactly a prototype of SG in Dancing with Velvet, but the death of her mother and her father’s subsequent abuse has made her feel guilty in ways she doesn’t understand. When her true love, Kent Goddard, goes missing on a bombing run over Germany—after they quarreled on the night before he left—she bears a huge guilt for not giving him what he wanted even if she felt it was wrong. Again, someone with a greater need than her own is the beginning of healing.
The Penelope Pembroke Cozy Mystery Series pits divorced Catholic Penelope Pembroke against the mysterious Sam, a confessed lapsed Catholic with a dark secret. When Penelope’s ex-husband meets a violent death, she can’t help but re-think her decision to divorce him. Could she have been a better wife? Should she have ignored his moral stumbling? Is there any way she could have kept him alive for their grown son and his future children?
Sam, on the other hand, is angry—at life, at God, at whoever is responsible for the loss of his entire family. Anger is the second of the accepted five stages of grief. Adding to his rage is the knowledge that he was the target—and yet he is alive while the others are not.
Finally, in The Dreamland Series, Trixie Blake, a young Air Force widow, is clutching at straws as she tries to make a new life for herself. Intellectually, she knows she couldn’t have prevented her husband’s death in a training flight accident, but her heart tells her she has no right to still be here. Fortunately, she meets Mitch Langley, who was driving when the car went off the road in a torrent of rain and killed his wife, his high school sweetheart and love of his life. He wears the resulting facial scars as a badge of shame—but when he meets Trixie, he recognizes her pain as akin to his own and wonders if it’s time to move ahead.
In the end, all my characters went on, as I have, with head up and eyes fixed on the future. It is, after all, the way a survivor survives. And life is good after all.
Visit my blog, Someday Is Here, for more.