Like how you can't stand still on a moving treadmill, I was unable to stay the same and avoid change after my dad died.
While most childhood best friends fall apart somewhere in elementary or middle school, my friend Emily* and I managed to stay close through it all. We had been best friends for years, going to the same school, having the same interests, and playing the same sport, and our friendship was still going strong.
By the time high school began, I was determined to stay friends with Emily for as long as I could. I mean, we had made it through middle school, and there was nothing that could break us apart. At least, I thought.
Emily and I were in the same classes in high school, but we began moving apart from each other, no matter how hard I tried to keep us together. We were in different clubs, sports, and were making new friends that we began spending more time with than each other. One of my biggest childhood fears had been that Emily and I would stop being friends, and that was happening right in front of my eyes.
If that wasn’t bad enough, it got worse. As we were falling apart, my dad died. And everything changed.
Emily was there for me after his death, but our friendship was still falling apart. My dad hadn’t known that Emily and I weren’t as close when he died, so he probably wouldn’t have guessed that we’d stop being good friends. This bothered me. If I stopped being friends with Emily, my dad would never know. Every time I changed, such as getting new friends, I was becoming less and less like the person my dad knew.
I began obsessing over not changing around then. I tried to wear the clothes that I had when my dad died, and not new ones that I got after his death. Even though my interests were quickly changing, I tried to stay involved in the things I had enjoyed before his death. Emily and I were still falling apart, which made me upset even though I couldn’t really control it, but I was determined to keep everything else in my life the same.
As a teenager in high school, it was normal for me to change. Everyone around me was becoming more themselves and changing every single day, but I didn’t want to do that. It scared me to think that I was becoming someone that my dad didn’t know. Realizing that there would be a time in the future where, if my dad saw me he might not recognize me, terrified me. I didn’t want that ever to happen. But, it was like I was trying to stand still on a moving treadmill. Even if I firmly planted my feet in the ground, I would still move, no matter what.
I began thinking about what my dad would want me to do. I imagined him looking at me and seeing that I was the exact same person I had been when he left. While that might be comforting at first, I realized that it would probably make him sad. I was growing as a person, and it was in a good way. I was becoming a better version of myself, but trying to stay like I had been in the past. I knew that he would want me to be myself, the best version that I could possibly be, and that he wouldn’t want my fear of change to stop me from doing that.
While grieving, I’ve realized that thinking about how my dad would respond to a situation helps a lot. Logically, I know that he would want me to embrace my changes, even though in my head I was convinced that I shouldn’t do it, and by realizing that would be what he wanted, I’ve been able to embrace those changes. Yes, it took time, but every time I get worried or try to become like the me I was when he died, I think of how proud my dad would be of me today. Whoever you lost, they’d want you to be the best version of yourself possible, and it takes changes to do that. Change is okay.
Now, Emily and I aren’t close friends. I have new hobbies and interests. My dad didn’t even know half of my current friends. But, that’s okay. It was hard to accept it, but I know that I’m doing the right thing by being myself, instead of someone I used to be.
*Name changed for privacy purposes.
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Written by Natalie Adams, the creator of Teenage Grief Sucks. Photo by Chuttersnap.