Dahl adapts after sister departs for college, grapples with new absence

Madelyn Comstock, Staff Writer

Growing up the youngest of four sisters, Meredith Dahl (10) was accustomed to goodbyes. But this time, it was different.

“With my other sisters, they would be gone at school and their jobs,” Dahl said. “But with Natalie, she was always there and then she wasn’t.”

Natalie Dahl (’21) moved into her dormitory at UC Riverside on Sept. 19. She is majoring in neuroscience and plans to become a nurse or physical therapist. 

Both she and her sister were part of the theatre company and improv program at Westview, where they shared a passion for the performing arts.

According to Meredith, the two sisters were very close, and spending a year and a half together during the pandemic allowed them to form an even tighter bond. 

However, spending so much time with her sister made it more painful to say goodbye when Natalie left for college.

“It’s just such a stark difference between being together in quarantine 24/7, then suddenly it’s just all gone,” Meredith said. “Whenever I had nothing to do I was able to hang out and bond with her, [so] the drastic change is really jarring and hard to go through.”

Meredith said she frequently dropped in to her sister’s bedroom during fourth period after she was released early from her virtual ENS class. 

Now that Natalie has left for college, Meredith is disappointed that she isn’t able to hang out with her sister during her free time.

“I’d go and sit on her bed where the camera couldn’t see me, and just chill during her Spanish [Zoom],” Meredith said. “It was the small moments like those that made us bond.”

Even though they couldn’t go out in public as frequently due to the threat of COVID-19 this past year, they still found ways to spend time together. According to Meredith, their family car became a comforting place for the two to open up with one another.

“We found out a lot about each other,” Meredith said. “In the car, that’s the place I remember feeling safe because it was just us, and we could talk about anything in the world.”

Their car trips became less frequent, however, as she had been in denial for the weeks leading up to Natalie’s move-in date and avoided spending time with her. 

As Natalie’s moving date drew closer, Meredith said she masked her dismay by withdrawing from her sister, a defense mechanism she now deeply regrets. 

According to Meredith, having her parents constantly reminding her that Natalie would be leaving soon made it more difficult to cope on her own.

“I think I got kind of sick of my parents telling me ‘you have to hang out with Natalie because she’s going to leave,’” Meredith said. “I realized it would be some of the last times I would do those things with her and so I just wanted to avoid it.”

Eventually, when it came time to say goodbye, Meredith only gave her sister a half-hearted hug. Even though she is typically comfortable expressing emotions in front of others, Meredith said she wasn’t ready to deal with them herself when saying goodbye to her sister. 

Meredith recalls watching her sister and mom hug each other and trying not to let them see her cry.

“I didn’t want to admit it, even though I know I’m closer to her than anyone else,” Meredith said. “I didn’t want to show that I missed her already.”

Ever since they parted ways, Meredith said she regrets not letting her sister know how she felt that day. 

“I wish I’d shown that emotion to her so she knew how much she meant to me,” Meredith said. 

According to Meredith, when she and her mom returned home after saying goodbye to her sister, her mom cried and hugged her dad, causing her to start crying too.

“After she was done, we just hugged each other,” Meredith said. 

In the days following, Meredith said that many things had changed in her sister’s absence. 

Natalie always motivated her to get off her phone and stop procrastinating on her work, so she found that staying on-task had grown increasingly difficult since Natalie’s move.

“I’m a really lazy person, so it’s hard for me to get motivated,” Meredith said. “[Natalie] would steal my phone from me because that was my main distraction, and she’d just make most mundane tasks so fun. Now there is no one to force me out of my comfort zone anymore. It’s gotten very boring and repetitive [because] she’s not there to add that little bit of spice into my life.”

Not only this, Meredith says that ever since her sister left for college, their house has felt sluggish without her sister’s high energy. With no other pets or siblings around, it became strangely quiet. 

“I knew it would be lonely,” Meredith said. “But Natalie has so much energy that the whole vibe of the house is different.”

According to Meredith, she was expecting an increase in digital contact with her sister, but the amount of interaction between them has remained the same. 

“I thought that once she left I would be calling her all the time,” Meredith said. “[But} it wasn’t like ‘oh I missed you so much,’ [and] pouring my heart out to her.”

Meredith is beginning to get used to not having her sister around. To distract herself and fill the void, she says she has even taken up piano and other activities.

“I’m finding other ways to fill the time I would normally spend with Natalie,” Meredith said. “I still miss her but picking up those new activities helps me fill that void in my life instead of dwelling on her absence. I’ve finally accepted that she is gone.”