My youngest daughter is 16. She was 13 years old when she found out her Dad was dying. She was 14 when he actually died. I’m sure it goes without saying that every moment of her life since the day she found out he was sick has been a challenge. A challenge that most adults would be unable to manage, and yet this girl manages. She is resilient, for sure.
I could tell you all sorts of horror stories that happened to her in the months since her Dad became sick and in the months since he died, but there are just too many. So here are the highlights in a nutshell:
She didn't know how to cope. She became very angry. From her perspective there was really no one here for her. She felt like she was being treated like a baby. She felt lied to and betrayed and she became even angrier. And while it is so easy (for adults) to understand why my daughter would be so angry, unfortunately her friends did not.
When a 13 year old girl is angry, and the anger emanates from her pores every single minute of every single day, other 13 year old girls don’t see the pain behind the anger. They just see the anger. And when you are an angry 13 year old girl, “anger” and “anguish” and “pain” all translate to “bitch” in the other girls’ eyes. That’s what happened to my girl. All the 13 year old girls around her lost their patience quickly, informed her openly that she was a bitch (God how I cringe when I remember that incident) and walked away.
Only to reappear briefly around time of the funeral and then disappear again.
When you are an angry 13 year old girl watching your father die in front of you, there is really only one way to cope with being ditched by all your friends. You become angrier. You develop the “I don’t give a shit about anyone” attitude. You give off the illusion that you don’t care. Except you do care. And when your Dad draws his last breath in front of your eyes, and you feel as though you were treated like a baby while he was dying and you feel like you didn’t get to say goodbye, you become angrier again. And then, when old friends don’t come around to try to help you cope, you feel alone and ... wait for it ... angry.
That’s the simple version of what happened to my girl. The detailed version would take pages and I don’t care to write it or even remember it, because it hurts me too. It really hurts me to remember that she was left alone to fend for herself. And while I try to remind myself that the other girls were also just children who didn’t know how to cope with grief turning into anger, I find that I am still very hurt myself over all that took place. I am sad that my girl was left all alone. I am sad that she feels she was abandoned. I am sad that she feels she wasn’t worth the energy it would have taken the other girls to try to understand her pain. And I’m sad that she will carry those feelings with her, because that isn’t something you forget. You don’t forget feeling all alone while you lose your Dad.
In any case, that’s not the point of this post but merely the background. It answers all the questions you may have when I tell you that my daughter wants to move. She wants to change schools and she wants a fresh start, but of course it’s not that simple. I cannot just pack up and move away, because my tribe is here and I really, really need my tribe. I could possibly have her change schools if I lied and said she moved in with my parents (there are strict rules about catchment areas here), but that isn’t ideal for her either. She had other reasons to say “no thanks” to that suggestion.
Then we found “the house.” The absolute perfect house for us, that was close to the beach and big enough for us but small enough to not make us feel lost in the space as we do right now. The problem was that it was completely unaffordable, and it also happened to be the grand prize in a home lottery. Otherwise not for sale. So, I did the only reasonable thing I could do …. I bought a ticket. And the two of us visited that house several times and took the tours, and day dreamed about where we would put our things and what we would sell and what we would keep. And my sweet girl convinced herself that it was so perfect that we just had to be the winners. It was meant to be, she said.
Except it wasn’t.
She was so convinced that we would be the winners that she noted the draw date and time on our calendar. She posted reminders. She texted me on the morning of the draw to remind me that we would be moving soon. She was so convinced, and she was so convincing, that I snuck away from my office just after noon on the day of the draw and watched the news so I could see the draw take place live on tv.
I'm sure you have guessed by now that we were not the winners, and even though we obviously both new that it was very unlikely that our name would actually be drawn, we were disappointed. And I told myself that the easy solution to our problems was just not meant to be. I actually said that to myself. I said, “the easy solution to our problems is not meant to be.”
And then I laughed.
I was driving to pick my daughter up from school and I laughed out loud as the words “the easy solution to our problems…” ran through my mind. Seriously? Did I actually think that all our problems would be solved if we won a house? Ha! Perhaps if Ben was sitting on the front porch to greet us on move in day our problems may be solved, but short of that I’m pretty sure a new school and a new house will not change our reality.
I think we have to find a different way to cope. I’m not quite sure what that looks like for either of us, but at least we have each other while we try to figure it out. And, as I told my daughter, those girls will grow up like everyone else, and someday one or two of them will reach out to say "I'm sorry. I was just a kid. I didn't know how to cope." I know they will do this, because at age 45 I did the same thing. I reached out to a childhood friend and said "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you when your Dad died."
Sometimes it takes awhile to learn the lessons, but the important thing is that you learn them eventually. And in the meantime, my daughter now knows how to be there for the next girl. She learned that lesson early, unfortunately, but someone else will benefit from her experience and that will be a good thing.