When my dad died, I didn't just lose him. I also lost the future I had always envisioned.
It was my first year going to homecoming. While homecoming seemed like the last thing I wanted to spend my Saturday evening doing, my friends had all convinced me that it would be a great time.
My best friend, Sarah*, and I were getting ready in my room.
"I'm starting to regret this," I said, looking at myself in the mirror. "My original idea of a movie night seems more enjoyable than spending an evening wearing this."
"Oh be quiet!" Sarah said, looking at me and smiling. "This'll be fun!"
I groaned. "For who?"
Choosing to ignore my comment, Sarah stood up, grabbed her phone, and then gestured for me to come downstairs with her.
"Mr. Adams!" she called out. "Come look at Natalie!"
My dad quickly walked in from the other room with his phone camera out. He stopped when he saw me, smiling. "You look amazing Natalie! And you too Sarah! Here, come over for a photo!"
My dad proceeded to take what felt like a million photos of us. Sarah was enjoying the whole thing, but I was imagining how nice it would be when all of this was over.
"Oh - we have to go!" Sarah finally said, looking at her phone. We quickly grabbed our things, not having realized how late it was, and Sarah rushed out of the door, saying a quick goodbye to my dad.
"I'll text you when I get to mom's house," I told my dad, giving him a hug.
"Have lots of fun. And remember - don't dance with any boys!"
I laughed and smirked at my dad. "No promises!"
I turned around to walk out but my dad stopped me again.
"Kiddo, you look beautiful."
I smiled, giving him another hug, and walked out to Sarah's car, ready for an interesting night.
That would be a really good memory. Except, none of it was true. Instead of that memory, I chose not to go to homecoming. A memory that I had been looking forward to making wasn't going to happen, and even if I had gone it still wouldn't have been the way I imagined. My dad had died before that memory, and so many more, could be made.
Grieving my envisioned future was something I didn't expect to do after my dad died. I had never realized how important this vision was to me. With losing him, I also lost how I imagined my future. I would never get to see his face when I got my drivers license (he always joked that I would be a terrible driver after I crashed a car in a video game), when I went to homecoming or prom, never get to introduce him to someone I was dating, never get to tell him when I got accepted to college, and so much more.
The first time I realized how much I missed my original dream future was when I got my drivers permit. I remember rushing to study once I realized how soon I could get it, going to take the test, and then finding out that I passed.
When I got my permit, I was thrilled. This was something I had always dreamed of and I was so excited to tell my dad - oh. I couldn't.
I got a sinking feeling in my chest as I realized that I couldn't tell my dad. As I stood in the parking lot next to my mom's car, holding my new permit, I imagined an alternate reality where my dad was alive, which I had imagined for years. Instead of just standing there I was calling my dad, jumping up and down and ready to tell him the great news. He would say something like, "Well I guess I'll have to tell my friends to stay off of the road for awhile!" and then tell me that he was proud of me. I would then tell him that my photo looked really funny, and he would say that he couldn't wait to see it
That wasn't going to happen though. It was a bittersweet moment. I was so happy about getting my permit but also so sad that that moment wasn't going to happen like I had always imagined it.
Many moments like that have happened since. First days of school, birthdays, and more. Each one, like getting my permit, is bittersweet. I'm happy, but can't help myself from imagining what I had always imagined that way would be like, with my dad there.
As time has passed, I've slowly started reimagining my future, this time without my dad. While I still often think about what things could've been like, I now find myself imagining big moments with the people who are currently in my life, and not my dad.
It took me awhile to do this - about a year after his death. That doesn't mean that I'm not upset when big moments happen without him, but it means that I can enjoy them a little bit more and not be disappointed when they're not what I imagined.
The future isn't going to happen like I once imagined it. Even though that sucks, it's okay. I've learned to cope with that, and you can too. Don't push yourself to start imagining a future without your loved one - take your time. It's okay to grieve your imagined future.
*Name changed for privacy purposes.
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Written by Natalie Adams, the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks. Photo by Zach Vessels.