I never realised how much losing a parent would make me question who I am

My dad died when I was 16, and a bit of me died too

I was a fresh-faced teenager with so much excitement for the coming years. Bored in lessons, I’d fantasise about my Leavers’ Ball, moving into my first room at uni – even the wedding and children I’d have one day. Both of my parents featured heavily in all of these things.

But on Christmas Day 2014 that was stolen from me when my dad never woke up. Everything I knew about myself – and how my future would be – was suddenly thrown up in the air and I had to re-imagine all the coming milestones in my life. My Leavers’ Ball photos would now show a significant absence, and slightly smudged under-eye makeup after another parent mistakenly called for a “daddy-daughter” photo and I had to blink away the tears.

My dreams of walking down the aisle are now tinged by the thought of his absence, and one day, all I’ll have to familiarise my children with their granddad will be endless stories and photographs. Every success in my life is now greeted with the response, “your dad would be so proud” from family members, and every day something happens that I wish I could discuss or laugh about with him.

I went to university open days alone, as my mum had to stay at home with my younger brother, and watched as other father-daughter duos discussed the facilities. Looking at the beautiful red brick of the Newcastle campus I imagined my dad being next to me, remarking on the impressive university site and asking how soon we could stop for a coffee break. I even had to face the day that his phone number was re-allocated to someone else and I had to delete his number from my contact list, which cemented the constant reminder of the now-smaller size of my family.

Now I wasn’t just a “normal” teenage girl like everyone else around me – I was the girl everyone pitied, the girl you’d mumble “I’m so sorry” at if you ever happened to mention your own dad. The girl who knew what it was like to feel the most horrendous shock and loss at such an early age. I never realised how much losing a parent would make me question who I am. Looking around me, I’d see the “normal” teenagers – those with both their parents alive and well – and wonder if they appreciated their dads as much as I would if he was still here to hear it. Almost two years later it still feels like a punch to the stomach every time I meet someone new and it comes up in conversation, and I have to hear their apologies and see their pitying stare.

I’m honestly happy for those who still have both their parents around and I hope that the people who express their sympathy to me make sure to tell their dad they love him as often as they can. I, meanwhile, am learning to live with my new identity as both highly qualified to console others who suffer a bereavement, and also highly motivated to achieve some kind of success in my dad’s honour. Hopefully one day soon the shock will have worn off, and I’ll get back to the stability I felt daydreaming back in that classroom at 16.

Losing a parent shocked me into becoming a whole new person, and I’m still learning who she is today.