I have a friend who we’ll call “Andrew.” Andrew and I have been best friends since 6th grade. He’s been with me through everything and is always so supportive and kind… which is why this particular event weighs on me so much.
I’ve never been one to take things seriously. I’m rather awkward in serious situations, and I tend to default to comedy or take things too lightly, which leads to me saying some pretty insensitive stuff sometimes. I’m fully aware of this, and I’ve been getting a lot better lately! But the thing is, when we were in 7th grade, Andrew’s dad passed away really suddenly. He was out of school for a few days, and when he came back, he told our friends what had happened. This was when I said something akin to, “Aw, that sucks. Wanna play Bananagrams?”
It’s the worst thing I’ve ever said in my life. It’s so insensitive and awful and I haven’t been able to forget it, even though it happened almost 4 years ago (3 years and 8 months, to be exact). I regret it so much and I’m reminded of it every time I see him. I can only imagine how much I hurt him by being such an insensitive idiot during such a hard time for him. After thinking about it, I think the only way I can move past this is to apologize. The only problem is that I don’t even know if he remembers this happening, let alone is still offended by it. Would it be weird for me to bring it up now, four years after the fact? I really don’t want to, but I don’t know any other way for me to get closure. (And should I even be thinking about my own feelings in this situation at all? He’s still understandably really upset about his dad, which is another reason why I don’t want to bring it up.)
And I’ll tell you what, Sparkler: that’s certainly a good reason! In fact, between the amount of time that’s passed, the fact that it’s never come up, and the part where you’d be potentially pouring salt in an emotional wound that may or may not still be quite raw, you have a pretty compelling case here already for leaving the whole thing alone. But allow me to give you one more reason not to bring this up:
You don’t need to.
You didn’t make the kind of mistake that requires a plea for forgiveness or a lifetime of regret. You made the kind that deserves to be left in the past, where it will evolve from something you cringe over to something you can someday shake your head and chuckle about, because none of us, and I mean none of us, are paragons of tact and sensitivity at the age of thirteen. You must realize: the vast majority of kids (and a fair share of adults, too) do not have the kind of improvisation skills that allow them to say the right thing in a moment like like. It’s hard! And not only is it normal and natural (and not even that bad, really) that you blurted out an awkward apology followed by an immediate subject change, I’m going to wager a guess that it was not a significant moment for your friend at the time, let alone four years later. Even if he remembers it, and he very well may not, it’s not going to stick out in his mind the way it sticks out in yours. For you, it was the worst thing you ever said in your life; for him, it would’ve been just one out of a hundred stammered expressions of sympathy that may not have even registered through the fog of his awful loss.
But that’s why, if you want closure, you’ve got to give it to yourself—which, in addition to being fully within your power, is also the right thing to do. It’s not just that you deserve a pass for being a normal seventh grader who was clueless about what to say to your grieving friend; it’s that you do have the maturity now, four years later, to not seek closure at his expense. The kindest thing you can do is not burden him with the responsibility for forgiving you.
Instead, take it in your own hands, and find your own way to this truth: this is what it means to grow as a person, and it’s okay. In that moment, you were thrown the kind of curve that few people (and almost nobody your age) would have been able to handle well. And you reacted as best you could—but you also discovered that your best could be better, and no doubt you’ll remember that whenever you’re called upon to respond to similarly tragic news. Your regrets are painful, but they are also useful. You will do better next time. And the grace that comes from understanding that is yours for the taking. Let yourself take hold of it, and let yourself move on.
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