The Living and the Dead–survivor guilt

If you get down to it, the question at the bottom of my book is “What is up with that little girl on the wall?”

The Girl On The Wall--Phantom sister

I’ll tell you why it was so important to me, if you haven’t guessed already. 

It was the survivor guilt that dogged me, especially because my father acknowledged but could not explain the death of the girl in the picture above his bed. I’ve lived a great life, but there was always a dark layer of confusion and self-sabotage that kept me from fulfilling my potential. I showed early promise in a lot of areas, but did not pursue them for no good reason:

I was a stellar biology student in high school, yet never took another science course in college.  I really enjoyed writing comedy and participating in shows,  and tried out for plays, but never went to the callback auditions. Running cross-country track in sophomore year gave me a killer body, but I refused to go out again for cross country my junior year. After I graduated and got into the working world, I got myself fired from one job for just not trying hard at all. Then I got married and decided to stay home after I got pregnant–and I only got pregnant after attending a workshop with other children of Holocaust survivors– instead of staying with the job I had in the family business. Survivor guilt–I was smart enough to contribute in the business and the home, but didn’t feel up to it.

Playing it safe was a way of life for me. I preferred to hide at home instead of going out into the world. Laziness might be a part of it, but after a string of therapists, the one I have now pinpointed the root cause, which was deep down I felt that I was not worthy of the gifts that had been given me in my life  (aptitudes in science, comedy, writing, and other things) because my half-sister had died. 

Wikipedia says this about survivor’s guilt:

Survivor syndrome[edit]

Survivor syndrome, also known as concentration camp syndrome (or KZ syndrome on account of the German term Konzentrationslager),[3] are terms which have been used to describe the reactions and behaviors of people who have survived massive and adverse events, such as the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking, and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.[4] They are described as having a pattern of characteristic symptoms including anxiety and depression, social withdrawal, sleep disturbance and nightmares, physical complaints andmood swings with loss of drive.[5] Commonly such survivors feel guilty that they have survived the trauma and others—such as their family, friends, and colleagues—did not.

Both conditions, along with other descriptive syndromes covering a range of traumatic events are now subsumed under posttraumatic stress disorder.[6]


I never was very comfortable in my own skin as a young child. Cameras made me particularly uncomfortable and I hid my anxiety behind smart aleck faces:

Preeva 1964






After I finished my book, I felt a bit better. Now, at the age of 57, (I NEVER saw myself getting this old, but here I am)  I’m trying to unlearn the mental habits of a lifetime.

How about you, my blog readers?


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