Survivors of tragedy see the significance of a new day—its beauty and splendor—clearer than others. I say that not to boast, just as an observation. Every morning when I’m in that almost-wake state but not ready to open my eyes, I thank God for giving me the opportunity to welcome another day. I am also cognizant that greeting the day does not guarantee putting it to bed. Years ago a good friend told me of her husband’s passing saying, “You may put your shoes on in the morning, but never know who will take them off at the end of the day.” I thought that was a powerful statement then and it took on even more strength after I was diagnosed with meningioma (tumor on the brain).
I rarely challenge gratitude in my life. I do, however, have times of struggle when it comes to survival’s guilt.
Last week Lew and I went to dinner with a wonderful couple who have been in his life for years. As friendships go, Lew stays in touch with them more than I do, but it works out fine. We all have a great time when the four of us get together. When Lew and I found out that he had a brain tumor, everything possible was done to eradicate it. Unfortunately, the tumor burrowed into areas the doctors could not go.
The tumor was there to stay.
All my memories of this man were coupled with being physically fit and full of life. When he walked into the restaurant with his wife that evening, I barely recognized him. His steps were slow and aided by a cane. Once seated, he struggled reading the menu. When his wife read it to him, he asked her to slow down, saying he couldn’t think as fast as she was reading.
My heart sank. That could have been me.
Why did my brain tumor respond to surgery while his didn’t? Why was my family spared watching me become a shadow of the person I once was, while his family’s pumping all the experiences into his life as possible? I am so thankful that my tumor was removed and I have a productive life, but I found myself wanting to apologize for getting better.
I still wake up each morning with words of gratitude and praise on my lips. But I also offer up a tear for those who haven’t been as fortunate. I’m happy I survived brain surgery, but dealing with guilt never leaves.