Surviving a cardiac arrest can raise profound existential questions about life, death, and meaning. These thoughts are normal, but can also feel overwhelming. With time, support, and self-compassion, survivors can process their experience and move forward.
Why Me? Making Sense of the Unexpected
Cardiac arrest strikes suddenly and without warning. In an instant, your sense of safety and invulnerability is shattered. The question “why me?” naturally arises as you try to understand how this traumatic event could have happened.
The reality is that there is rarely a simple answer. Cardiac arrest has many potential causes and can happen to anyone. Sometimes, even extensive medical evaluation fails to reveal an underlying reason. The important thing is that with proper treatment, the dangerous heart rhythm was reversed. You survived more because things went right—the chain of survival worked—not because of random chance or destiny.
Still, it’s human nature to search for meaning and causation. You may wonder if you could have prevented it, looking for something you did “wrong.” Or you may look for a higher purpose, a reason you were spared. But the truth is you did nothing to “earn” or “deserve” this experience, good or bad. It was simply an unpredictable event, where the outcome could have gone either way, with little under your control.
While there may be no satisfying “why,” you can still find ways to make sense of what happened. Talking to doctors, therapists, clergy, or fellow survivors can help gain perspective. Over time, you may come to accept the unknowable and focus less on reasons and more on moving forward.
Life and Death in Focus
Coming so close to death makes one realise how fragile life is. Your heightened awareness of mortality may cause fear or anxiety. You may replay the “what-ifs” endlessly in your mind.
But the experience can also have the opposite effect. Many survivors emerge with a renewed appreciation for life. Having confronted death, everyday moments suddenly seem more precious. You may feel motivated to spend more time with loved ones, focus on your health, or pursue long-held dreams.
Of course, a heightened sense of meaning doesn’t erase the trauma of the event itself. Be patient and understanding with yourself as you work through any difficult emotions. Negative feelings don’t negate the positive changes happening concurrently. With time, a sense of calm, optimism and gratitude often emerges.
Questioning Faith and Meaning
Profound brushes with death frequently lead to questioning one’s religious or existential beliefs. You may doubt beliefs that once comforted you, feel abandoned by your god, or question the gods within your faith. Conversely, some find their faith strengthened after the close call.
This questioning is natural.
Examining your core assumptions about life is part of making sense of what happened. Take time to process these complex feelings without judgment. Talk to trusted advisors who will listen without imposing their own agenda. Be open to evolving your perspectives in a way that works for you.
Along with religious faith, you may question your purpose in life. Some feel pressure to do something “important” with their second chance, even guilt at survival. In truth, you need not accomplish great things in exchange for living. If it brings you joy, you can advocate for cardiac arrest causes or make other meaningful contributions. But your worth isn’t defined by what you achieve after survival—merely being alive is enough.
Finding Your Way Forward
Ultimately, processing the existential questions raised by your experience is a journey unique to you. Don’t rush to find concrete answers. Allow your perspectives to develop organically over time. Be gentle with yourself when you feel overwhelmed. Seek support from those who allow you space to process in your own way.
While the philosophical questions may never be fully resolved, most survivors eventually find peace and meaning on their own terms. Focusing on each day, spending time doing what you enjoy, and appreciating the gift of life can help settle the mind. Though your life may seem more fragile, it is all the more precious. Live it in a way that reflects your true values.
The journey remains ongoing, but the future is open-ended. You have survived, and now have the opportunity to live life to the fullest, however you define that. What comes next is yours to shape.
After our first meet-up in February 2015, I realised I was not alone. It was the first time since my cardiac arrest the previous year that I had spoken face-to-face with someone who had experienced what I had. This was also true for my wife, who also happened to be my lifesaver. From that meet-up, the idea of SCA UK was born. Since then, we have achieved a considerable amount, primarily providing information, resources and support to others in a similar situation but also raising the profile of survivorship and the need for better post-discharge care. We are starting to get traction in this, and with the formation of the charity, I genuinely believe we have a bright future ahead and will make a significant difference in the lives of many who join our ranks.