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  • Natalie Adams

How I'm Living with Regret and Grief

Forgiving myself for what I did (and didn't) do before my dad died.

Unanswered phone hanging off of a table.

Teenagers are infamously known for making poor choices. This was a fact my mom made a point to remind me of every single time I left the house my freshman year of high school.

“Don’t do drugs!” she’d say as she dropped me off at the local bookstore to meet my friends.

“Don’t drink and drive!” she’d say as she dropped me off at school (I neither drank nor had a driver's license).

My mom was always worried I’d do something I’d regret, and she made it her life’s mission to warn me about every single thing possible. I swear, I learned more about the trouble teenagers get up to from her than from any of my peers.

I was a really good kid, even without my mom’s consistent nagging. On top of that, I had near-crippling anxiety at the time, and the anxiousness that came from forgetting a homework assignment in another classroom that one time was enough to keep me from any serious trouble. I thought I’d be okay and never look back with regret.

But, little did I know, I was already making choices that haunt me still.

In late August of that year, one of my childhood best friends invited me to a birthday pool party. I was so excited - the only downside was that I wouldn’t get to see my dad that weekend. It was honestly a pretty easy choice: Pool party versus Dad’s pool-less, party-less house?... pool party, for sure.

A few weeks later, after a student council meeting, I got on my phone and saw that my dad had called me. I texted him, asking what was up, and he said he was giving me a call back. I was confused, since I hadn’t called him in the first place and my dad was tech-savvy enough to know that, so I just said I hadn't called and didn’t call back.

Those two moments still play in my mind, over and over, five years later. It wasn’t the regret my mom or I had pictured myself living with, but it’s the regret that stayed. My dad died just a few weeks after that pool party. I had barely seen him that last month because he was sick and I was busy with school and band, and I missed out on my last chance to see him. The missed phone call was just days before he died. When I didn’t call back, I missed out on the last chance to talk to him, ever.

The regret of those two choices engulfed me after he died. How could I have chosen a pool party over him?! Why didn’t I call him back? Those two choices I made were big and terrible, and I hated myself for them. Now that I was living in a world without my dad, it made no sense why I would have made those two, terrible, horrible, mistakes.

"Now" is the key, though. Now that I was living in a world without him. For me, logic tends to work best when I’m coping with hard situations, so that’s how I’ve dealt with this. I didn’t get it at the time, and honestly even if I did it might not have helped, but those two things were perfectly normal choices for a teenager to make. Most teens would choose a party - let alone a pool party - over spending time with one of their parents. Teens are also notorious for not returning phone calls. Neither of these situations would likely still be strong memories now if he hadn’t happened to die right after - and I didn’t know he was going to. Looking back, there were so many signs that it might happen, but I didn’t see them. I was a kid, I was a teenager, I didn’t know what would happen next, and that is not my fault.

If I had known, of course I would’ve chosen to see him. I would’ve called him back - or, better yet, I would’ve spent that entire last week with him. If I had known, of course, of course, of course I would have chosen differently - but I did not know.

To be honest, I think even if I had spent that weekend and I had called him back, I’d still have regrets. This article would still exist, just with different context. In a strange way, that is comforting to me. There never would have been a perfect ending, even if I had called. No amount of him with him would have been enough. Even if I spent every one of his last days with him, I’d probably still be right here, regretting all of the days I spent without him.

Regret and grief suck, but I’m trying to move forward. I wish I had spent more time with my dad, but I didn’t, and I’m trying to make that okay. I’m trying to forgive the me that didn’t know. I’m trying to remember that I was a kid, and I still am (just not legally). We all do things that we regret, but living in it won’t change anything. The only thing we can do is try to improve for the future. For me, that means trying to spend more time with my sister. I don’t let myself take her love, support, and life for granted. I call her, and I visit her, and I tell her I love her all the time. It doesn’t erase my regret about my dad, but it does help me feel better. If he were to show up here, I know he’d regret the time he’s missed in her life, so I don’t let myself miss it.

Forgiving yourself is a journey, a hard one, but it’s worth it, of course. I encourage you to channel your regret into something else - like how I reach out to my sister - and to remember that it’s not your fault that you didn’t know what you were going to lose. I didn’t, either.


Written by Natalie Adams, the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks.

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