Look at me. This is what I think you see. You see a girl who lost her dad. You see a girl with a single parent. But this is what I see when I look at myself. I see a strong woman with a strong single mom. I see a girl who once had a dad and still has a dad, but now not physically.
In 2012, my father drowned in Lake Michigan. Although he saved two boys, his three children lost him. This story is not merely about the fact that I lost my dad, it’s really about how I grew as a human being.
Being female has always been a huge part of my life. My mom always taught me to take pride in being a woman and to be strong. She showed me that I have a mother who is caring, loving, strong and powerful.
When I lost my dad my mother became a single parent. Being a parent is hard, but being a single parent is harder, especially with three adolescent children. But having a single parent has been one of the most important factors in my life. It has helped shape me into who I am and who I’m going to become. Having a single mom showed me what being a strong woman is really all about.
After losing my dad I also realized that my siblings were going to be there for me. They were going to be my rock. We understood each other. Even though people told us they knew what we were going through, they didn’t. Not the way we did.
Losing a parent is unexplainable, it is like you are missing part of your heart and a part of yourself and you gain a label. I knew I would go to my siblings for everything, and I knew they were going to be there for everything. I remember lying on my sister’s bed crying about how I got the least time with my dad. She hugged me and told me all the memories she had watching my dad carry me in his arms, playing baseball with me and his late night Best Buy runs with my siblings. My siblings were the people who gave me hope that everything was going to be okay.
When I went back to school in September, everything really hit me. I realized I was going to be that girl who lost a parent. I knew that everyone in the classroom would be cautious talking to me, not wanting to hurt my feelings in any way. I remember coming into my second grade classroom and seeing all my classmates sitting on the rug. As I sat down I felt eyes watching me full of pity. I immediately felt like an outcast. Sitting next to me was a girl named Grayson. She introduced herself and almost immediately we became friends, the first friend I made after my dad passed away. All the trust falls and paper fortune tellers made me realize that having fun with Grayson was an antidote to my sorrow. Grayson had proved me wrong. She proved to me that I wouldn’t be looked at as just the girl who had lost a parent. She showed me I could still be happy and have fun without feeling guilty.
Another door that opened for me after my dad passed away was finding out more about his importance in his field. To me, he was just a guy who wore scrubs and untied worn tennis shoes who happened to be my father. But when I heard the distant chattering of people who I had never before met in my life talking about him I came to realize how many lives he had touched.
While I would do anything to get him back, the truth is I know I cannot. And I know that I have to continue to live my life in a constructive way and as a good person. My dad will always be with me. He’s always part of me, not just my DNA, which counts, but as role model. And he will always be my father. And my mother, strong and supportive, will always be my mother. And my siblings will always be my supportive siblings. But the most important thing, I think, is that I am strong for myself, inside and in what I do in life. So, I can always be a support for them.
Look at me, I think you see me differently now. You still see me for what I’ve lost… but even more importantly for what I’ve gained.