I heard a kindly-looking, 30-something-year-old man interviewed recently on the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. He was a survivor of the massacre. The lives of his sister and two friends were snuffed out by the shooters.
“How did you get over asking, ‘Why’?” the interviewer asked.
From my training in critical incidence, I understand survivor guilt is real and can debilitate one’s spirit. Suicide rates among trauma survivors are higher than normal. While most victims demonstrate resilience and survive—even thrive—some are unable to reconcile their loss and grief.
I loved the answer this Columbine survivor gave the interviewer. He said something like this: I stopped asking ‘Why?’ a long time ago when I realized the better question to ask was ‘What?’ What can I do with the reality that I survived when so many others did not?
“Why?” is a legitimate question that may never be answered this side of Heaven. Asking, ‘What?’ instead can bring meaning to an unanswerable ‘Why?’
- “Why did I survive when my sister/friends didn’t?”
- “Why did my loved one die in so much pain from cancer?”
- “Why am I infertile?”
- “Why was my baby born with birth defects?”
- “Why was I the one who was laid off?”
- “Why is my child being bullied? Why is he/she different from most kids?”
- “Why did my significant other say, ‘I don’t love you anymore.’”
- “Why did my body become disfigured or disabled?”
- “Why must I live with the shame of childhood abuse perpetrated by someone I should have been able to trust?”
- “Why am I still single when the deepest desire of my heart is to be married and have children?”
- “Why can’t my family be united and happy?”
- “Why did my too-young, brilliant friend develop early-onset Alzheimer’s?”
- “Why, after raising great kids and building a beautiful home together, did my husband have an affair?”
- “Why did my seemingly happy child die of a drug overdose?”
- “Why is my husband critical and belittling when I’ve worked so hard to be a good wife?”
- Why was I born like this?
- “Why can’t I overcome this destructive habit?”
- “Why was I a victim of that crime?”
- “Why do my friends have grandkids and I don’t?”
- “Why doesn’t God heal me?”
- “Why did my husband die when we were looking forward to a happy retirement?”
- “Why were we forced to declare bankruptcy?”
- “Why do I feel so lonely and unhappy on the inside when my outside circumstances look like all is fine?”
If you identify with any of these “Why?” questions as I have, I encourage each of us to re-phrase the question and prayerfully inquire:
Blessings on your journey from “Why?” to “What?…”