Victim or Survivor?

Two articles by Natalie Himmelrich on Still Standing resonated with me:

“How Do You Define Yourself After Loss?” and “Having Lost and Being Lost.” Go on, I’ll wait while you give them a read. They’re very short.  Okay, you’re busy? Here’s what resonated with me from the second:

  • I have lost trust in the world, as I knew it before I became acquainted with death.
  • I have lost faith that good things will happen.
  • I have lost the belief that things will turn out well in the end.
  • I have lost motivation to persevere with certain things.
  • I have lost the ability to live free of worries.
  • I have lost the tenacity to follow through and be vigilant.
  • I have lost the zest of life I used to experience.
  • I have lost energy to socialize and to manage long conversations.

Yep. Amen, right? I have lost all of these things as well, except I am still vigilant. Hyper-vigilant, in some situations. More likely to obsess over controlling the things I can control (is the stove off? Is the door closed?) than I was even before.

I’m baby-lost.

But then Himmelrich said this:  “I take responsibility for these experiences, believing they happened ‘for me’ as opposed to ‘to me’. I choose to be a creator and experiencer rather than a victim.”

I’m still not ready to see how losing Anderson was “for me.” But I do see how I’m mired in victimhood, and I hate being considered a victim – by others or myself. I am lost. I have lost. This happened to me. I guess, technically, I’m a victim of an unfortunate pregnancy complication, of circumstance.  But what should I do? On one hand,  I could resist the label of victim. But on the other, there is no inherent shame in victimhood, nor should there be. I do not think less of a rape victim, for example. Being a victim of such a crime does not mean one is weak, or helpless, or take away her agency. Yet we are quick to self-claim survivor status, for its superior connotations. But am I survivor? Can you really survive grief? I don’t think so. I think it becomes easier to bear, but as it never ends, there is no survival date, if that makes sense. You cannot ever say, “this is now over, and I have made it through to the other side.”

What other options are there besides victim or survivor?



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8 Responses to Victim or Survivor?

  1. Emma says:

    I’ve struggled with the exact same thing, that survivor implies I’ve made it through a tragedy, when I feel that there is no end, she’s not going to ever be not dead, so how can it be over? And I get frustrated when people speak of the time she died as a difficult time, or a sad time, it hasn’t stopped being difficult or sad, 2 years later. Buuuuuttttt…. I am surviving. I am living in the “after”. I am changed, so very changed, I am heartbroken, but I go on. My life has continued in her absence. My life is even good, I am even happy, but it doesn’t make her any less gone. Perhaps we are not survivors, perhaps we just perpetually survive. Does that make sense? Maybe we are “continue on er rers”. We don’t move past, we don’t leave them behind, but we continue life, taking them with us, in all their absentness.

    Wooooowww hope that made sense!!

    • babylossmama says:

      It does! Under your definition, I can be a survivor, if surviving means continuing on after a traumatic event (the event itself is over, after all). I’m all about re-imagining definitions of words to better suit my circumstances, LOL!

  2. I share many of the same feelings. In many ways, the trauma will never end. I agree with Emma, we are surviving. The way we feel and the nature of our survival will evolve – but we are surviving the unimaginable, every day. We shouldn’t forget that, and it’s something to hold on to on the crappiest days.

  3. typhaine says:

    I have been thinking about this since i read your post yesterday. I do not appreciate the term victim either — it is hard to reclaim and make one’s own…

    I think the main problem with “survivor” is the meaning that has been ascribed to it with tv shows and cancer awareness campaigns that make it something that should be celebrated and revered. I don’t feel like like this version of the word survivor is so well adapted to the reality of loss (mine at least). I don’t want to be celebrated, just respected in my grief. In that sense, “survivor” could be a good word if we use it as something that’s ongoing — “today, i continue to survive, i am staying alive”…

    • babylossmama says:

      Yes, exactly, that connotation of victory is what I was trying to capture in my post, in my struggle against the word survivor. Also, you got “Stayin’ Alive” stuck in my head now :).

  4. meghanoc says:

    i’ve been playing around with our relationship to grief. I started with we are encompassed by grief… then encompassers of grief… then I envisioned walking arm in arm with grief… friends, friends of grief,..but that seemed like we liked it… i think I’ve settled on we are companions of grief, kind of like roommates. it’s an equal relationship- each of us put in, but we can be independent too. we tolerate each other. we inhabit the same space. sometimes we even find comfort in each other. Or like an old married couple- sleeping in separate beds but the same room? I am not a survivor of grief because I havent gotten through it- it will live with me forever. but I am not a totally helpless victim either. such a good thought provoking question

  5. Pingback: An act of intentional optimism | baby boy blue

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