When I was a teenager, I lost my dad to a terminal illness.
He was 60 years old.
It has been more than a decade, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. He was sick for months, and it was difficult juggling hospital visits and studying for my college exams.
Losing him was excruciating. I remember wishing I had something else to be sad about, like breaking up with a boyfriend or failing my exams. But I didn’t.
Looking back, I still don’t know how I did it. But the trauma of it made me the adult that I am now. Here’s how I’ve changed.
I became more independent
When I lost my dad, it was a wake-up call. All of a sudden, I was forced into adulthood. I realized early that there were bills to pay and responsibilities to manage.
My mom shouldered most of the responsibilities, but I had to step up somehow and try to fill my dad’s shoes.
While most of my friends were thinking about what to do for the weekend, I was busy sorting out my dad’s old stuff and settling legal household matters.
Going out to a club on a Saturday night was the last thing on my mind.
Don’t get me wrong, extended family and friends were helpful. But there’s only so much I could rely on them without feeling like a burden, so I learned to do most things by myself.
Now, I know how to fix pipes, mend faulty bulbs, assemble the TV systems in the house, and other chores which my dad used to do.
It feels like I ripped off the ‘dependence’ plaster while I was young; in contrast, I see my peers still struggle with it in their 20’s.
I didn’t know it then, but I’m glad I learned how to be independent at an early age.
I hated the idea of change
My father’s death changed my whole life.
It wasn’t in the big father-daughter events or celebrations. It was in the day-to-day activities, like eating, watching TV, going out, etc.
Because now, there’s one less person with you. He was noticeable, because he wasn’t there.
In the years to come, I hated change. Even if it was the small day-to-day changes, I craved routine and was only at happy if life went on exactly the same every day.
But of course, life doesn’t ever do that.
When I started working, it was the most nerve-wracking experience my teenage self ever went through. I developed workplace anxiety disorder because it was so stressful.
What I didn’t know at that time, was that my anxiety was a direct manifestation of this fear of change.
Even now, change still makes me uncomfortable. But now that I know why I dislike it so much, I can work on getting better at it every day.
I looked for father figures everywhere
My father wasn’t an overly affectionate man, but he cared for the family. He always provided what he could, and he made sure that I was always comfortable… without spoiling me too much.
Like most father-daughter relationships, he would nag me to study hard, work hard, and make good choices.
I remember being quite jealous of my friends who still had fathers. Even now, reading Father’s Day posts on social media still makes me a little sad.
As the saying goes, you don’t really know what you have until it’s gone.
At my first job, an older, married, male colleague would often make advances towards me.
At that time, I let him because I wanted the attention. I wanted that security and intelligence that an older man could give, and I craved their affection.
Looking back now, I realised how unhealthy and wrong this was.
It was not until my mid 20’s that I started to change. I looked at qualities which I liked in a man, like stability and wisdom, and started building it in myself.
From that point on, I never surrounded myself with sleazy old men ever again.
I learned to take steps forward
Moving forward was difficult.
To me, moving forward meant moving on, and moving on meant forgetting my dad. Or so I thought.
But there is a way to move forward without forgetting the past.
It took a long time, but I have finally come to terms with the fact that losing my dad was not something my younger self could have controlled.
I let go of the guilt and sadness, and I just hold on to the happy memories I had with my dad.
“When life gets hard, just take one step forward, and another, and keep going. “
These days, I apply this adage to everything: breakups, financial crisis, work issues. When things get too overwhelming for me, I take a step back, breathe and take it one minute at a time.
Losing a parent at a young age was not easy, but looking back on it, everyone has a choice to make it either their crutch or their shield.
It takes a bit of strength, a ton of patience, and the permission to let yourself make mistakes as you go along – but I assure you, it’s worth it in the end.
For more stories about grief, read She Went Through 3 Miscarriages, Fell into a Coma, and Watched Her Daughter Die in NICU. Here’s Her Story and My Abusive Husband Died in My Arms. Here’s My Story.