Any good readings on survivor guilt?
April 3, 2012 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Anyone know of any good readings on survivor guilt? (And maybe even how to deal with it?)

My elder brother died just a few months before I was born (I'm 33 now), so I grew up in a pretty traumatised household. My folks didn't have any other kids and pretty much forever I've tried to be the perfect child for them, as in my head my brother would have been had he lived.

Recently, this has got quite trying.

I'm in therapy, which is good, and the term survivor guilt has come up. I've only ever really associated the idea with the Holocaust, but realise it must be applicable to a whole load of situations.

I'd like to learn more about the phenomenon, through readings, films, etc. Any recommendations would be seriously appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Ordinary People by Judith Guest is a novel about a boy who loses his older brother in an accident and about how the whole family deals with the aftermath. It's a beautiful, well-written book. There's also a movie based on it that is quite good.
posted by colfax at 1:43 PM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies is a book of short stories, many of which are about people whose lives are defined by the traumatic loss of a sibling or other family member. This is not a self-help book, by any measure, but it does paint vivid interior portraits of people who have managed to construct an identity in the face of surviving when others did not, and you might find some solace or insight in that.
posted by alms at 2:11 PM on April 3, 2012

Not a book, but the movie Fearless deals with this (plane crash).
posted by Mchelly at 2:54 PM on April 3, 2012

It is said that Elvis Presley dealt with this all through his life. He was born as one of twins and his brother was stillborn. That affected him from the time he was old enough to understand until the end. Most serious biographies of him note this and try to analyze it. The two volume Peter Guralnick bio has this as one subtheme all the way through. If you have no care about Elvis it would be tough reading.

A wonderful true book is Half A Life by Darin Strauss. His story of his teenage car accident that killed a girl who also went to his school, who he knew but just barely, like enough to say Hi -name- in the hallway. He went through every possible feeling about that as he lives his life, including something akin to survivor's guilt, and there is also a vague mystery about the accident which clears, but not fully, through the book. Note the collision was not his fault and there were a dozen clear witnesses, strangers, who said so. (The book grew from his magazine article, and that and a good audio interview with him is on the net--but luckily I read the full book first, which is what I suggest too if you're interested. The book is much deeper and clearer.)
posted by caclwmr4 at 10:32 PM on April 3, 2012

It's fiction, but in the movie Stand By Me (and the novella it's based on, The Body by Stephen King), the main character is a 12-year-old boy who is trying to cope with the death of his older brother. His parents are almost catatonic with grief and don't seem to have a lot of time and energy left for their surviving child.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:27 AM on April 4, 2012

Sorry, hit post too soon. I meant to add that even though I normally think of Stephen King in terms of monsters and scary things, I remember feeling that the portrayal of Gordie's grief in both the movie and book were sensitive and realistic.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:29 AM on April 4, 2012

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