Survivor’s Guilt, Distraction and Nothingness.

Do I still think about you?
I know I do but I mean, do I still think about you the way I use to?
Do I still constantly wonder what life would be like? Do I still have your name on the tip of my tongue ready to expel it from my mouth and into the ears of anyone who will listen? Do I still say your name in side of my head thousands of times a day? Do I still yearn for a moment past, every time I think about a moment that has yet to come? Or have I accepted life the way it is? Do I wake up and get ready for my day. Do I think “coffee” as I pull myself out of bed and then of all the things that wait for me at my desk as I make my commute to my 9-5. Do I deal with mornings then realize its afternoon, only to wonder if I have thought about you yet?  Do I swallow your name from my tongue and push it out of my head so I can concentrate on work, or friends, or a lover. Do I think of getting home and what to make for dinner as I drive, music loud, singing along? Do I do all the things I do after a long day at work and then crawl into bed, asleep before my head hits the pillow without your face appearing behind my eyes? Do I think of you only a few times a day, instead of in every moment and do I still yearn for that time lost long ago or am I yearning for a better future, knowing you can’t exist in it.

Survivor guilt (or survivor’s guilt; also called survivor syndrome or survivor’s syndrome) is a mental condition that occurs when a person perceives themselves to have done wrong by surviving a traumatic event when others did not. (ref:Wikipedia)

I may not have had cancer -side note, why the hell not? I had just as much of a chance to get that cancer as she did, and SHE is the one that got it? Come on.- but I do have the guilt of surviving when she didn’t. How could I not? It’s so easy to say “she would have wanted you to enjoy life” but the truth of the matter is: She is dead. I am alive. That much is black and white. So how do I go on and enjoy a life when she was robbed of hers? How do I breathe in air that she should be breathing in?

To say that I miss her is an obvious understatement, but its so much more complicated than just missing her. It goes much deeper than just the pain of her being gone.

Grief has many faces. Some are prominent, like pain, sadness and anger. And some are quiet like, hopelessness, fear and anxiety. But there is another side of grief, a side that is often forgotten, or thought of as a reprieve. It’s the side that scares me the most.


It’s like a switch flips. Its like the build up has reached its max and instead of over flowing, the whole system just shuts down; I just shut down.

Nothingness comes in waves, but it’s duration is unknown. Sometimes I get so checked out that its as if I am looking down on myself as I move through the day. Nothing flusters me, nothing startles me. Its as if there is residual shock that casts its shadow every now and again on my eyes and on my heart. It scares me because its calm. I am calm. I am indifferent. I am bulletproof. I am not guilty, I am not sad. I am not happy. Joyless, fearless, desire less. The chaos is silent, but so is everything else.

You can’t live in that state because it is not living.

But it is uncomplicated. Being in a state of indifference (which, I will add, is different then BEING indifferent) to the world around you dulls it. I could spend an uneventful, unloving and unloved life in nothingness. Because it’s easy. And life, for me, is anything but.
I have become a product of my grief, and because of that I am constantly checking, battling and manipulating my emotions to suit the situation I am in. I do not have the luxury of just feeling what I feel in any given moment, so I have found ways to address, accept and move forward through moments without change on the outside.

So when the nothingness comes, it is most welcome and if my mind and my heart didn’t know any better, it would be a more permanent visit.

These past couple of weeks, 3 years ago, are reminders of some of the most incredible moments of my life but also the most devastating. If I ever had doubts about the oneness of the human condition, August 2013 completely obliterated them. I witnessed instinctual, effortless selflessness, I witnessed LOVE overcoming disease. I watched the gift of LIFE, freely given to a tiny person, even if her earthly one was coming to an end. It was like, as the pieces of my heart were falling out of my chest, family, friends and strangers alike, were filling the holes with pieces of their own, to make sure mine could beat long enough to see my Lilee out of this world and onto the next. My experiences in those weeks are so hard to put into words. I can not paint the pictures that rotate through my mind and do them justice. I can not articulate what it felt like to watch my child do something so normal and have it feel so extraordinary.

But as these weeks were approaching, so was the nothingness. It just hurts too damn much and I am not ashamed to say that I have been desperate to shut off for one hot second.
Why can’t I just love her without feeling like my insides are being torn to shreds?
Why can’t I just remember those days and still be able to breathe?
So I got a distraction. And now I am too tired to think. I am too busy to cry. The moments come and go, most importantly, they go.
They don’t linger and dig in and squeeze out the life I have built up.
And I am sorry.
Lilee, I am sorry.
I just don’t think I can do it this year. I don’t think I can walk that path again without you, for the 3rd time. I need to switch off. I need to shut down. Because what I need most, I’ll never have again.


But, as always where my sweet girl is involved, a moment of kindness chips the stone from my heart. A call from an old friend, a moment of tears for someone who is hurting. Laughter, love, joy and their companion grief, find a way back in through the smallest crack in the great wall I’ve constructed and my broken heart continues to fall apart, rebuild and fall apart again. Remembering moments on Sandringham Drive, remembering pumpkins, and witches, and candy and costumes. Remembering Santa and Snow, and presents and the Grinch. Remembering a carol on the radio, played just for her.
and family, and friends, and strangers and love. Oh, so much love.

So do I still think about you the way I use to? Or has missing you become less of a thing and more of who I am. Is every breath out, me speaking your name? Is every step a memory of a step I took with you? Is every act of kindness and love now how I tell you I love you? And every moment of silence a replacement for the tears I abundantly gave? Do I speak your name inside my head so often, so quietly that even I don’t always recognize it as such, and instead just the chill up my spine or the feeling of warmth; the smile that wont leave or the sudden heaviness in my heart? Even in my nothingness, maybe you are the calm? Is your memory now so entwined in my soul, the heart of my heart, the breath of my breath, that I don’t know where the memory of you ends and where I begin?


Always Entwined,

Chelsey xo


photo: Mikaela Ruth Photography 

3 thoughts on “Survivor’s Guilt, Distraction and Nothingness.

  1. You write so beautifully and although I have never experienced the kind of pain and loss that you speak about, reading you words makes me feel so much. I sobbed for Lilee the day that she died and tears come to my eyes every time I read her name. I am so, so sorry that she didn’t to experience the life that belonged to her and I am so, so sorry for your loss.


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