Illustration by Alan Doodles
With summer in full swing, the moving season for military families is well underway. During this time, we often focus on the pain and trials that come from moving to a different duty station. But while moving is a serious and arduous business, I stopped to consider what it feels like not to be the one moving, but to be the one left behind. Leaving a place is always hard, but it is a totally different experience to be the one staying. I asked a few of my friends who were military and non-military affiliated their thoughts on being the person left “on the other side,” and how the departure of their military friend has shaped their lives.
My friends Cassidy and Katelyn are not affiliated with the military, while Kait, Lilly, Luke, Ella, and Josiah all are. Some responses have been edited for clarity while still trying to remain parallel to the original messages.
What does it feel like to be the person staying behind while your friend moves away?
“It definitely felt weird, and it took me some time to adjust to the fact that one of my friends that I’d known for years moved away and I was the one who stayed. I missed the friend a lot, and it made going to school different since I’d been in the same class with them for so long.” – Josiah M.
“Sometimes, it is harder to be the person who stays behind while your friend moves away. After my friends moved away at the beginning of high school, not only did I feel lonely without them, but also empty, regretful, and confused. Two of my best friends had moved that summer, and the school year following, I felt empty because life without them felt different, fake, and was not as exciting.” – Luke K.
“It’s a strange feeling because as military kids we’ve known loss our whole lives. Grieving is easier when you’re the one leaving and you have new experiences waiting ahead for you. But when you’re being left behind it’s a heartbreaking reminder that you’ll still be trapped in a place that you used to share. Nothing will be the same, yet you haven’t even moved. “ – Kait H.
What impact, if any, do you think that person’s absence has had on your life?
“It’s made a huge impact. We’ve been able to have deeper conversations and we’ve been able to be more real with each other. With my friend moving away, it forced me to talk to others and form other connections.” – Cassidy R.
“It makes it hard to trust people. Especially when you tell each other you will always be there for each other and then slowly start to drift apart. Plus, it starts to get harder to make new friends the older you get. Because the older you get, not only is it harder to socialize and meet new people, but you also feel like you can't go through that same pain you've gone through over and over again in past friendships. Losing someone like a best friend doesn't get easier.” – Lilly S.
“The biggest aspect of my best friend’s absence that I feel is the comparison. It’s like my brain is struggling to comprehend the fact that she isn’t here anymore. I compare her to all my other friends. I compare our experiences to the ones I have now.” – Kait H.
“When my friend left, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness knowing that I had to start over, that I had to do something that I was trying so hard to avoid. I learned from this experience that I had a friend that was like family, someone who I loved like a sister and I knew my friend loved me back. It was great knowing that even if the distance was long, I still felt that our friendship was worth something that I could never give up and never will.” – Katelyn N.
Has the experience of your friend moving away made you stronger and
what can you positively reflect back on now?
“I've only ever had friends that have lived around Utah and in the US, but having a military friend taught me so many things. When they left, the experiences I went through with them began to teach me and shape me into the stronger person I wanted to be. They helped push me to be the person I always strived to be.” – Katelyn N.
“The experience of my friend moving away while staying behind has definitely made me a stronger person. It’s shown me that people can leave our lives and then walk back in later on. “ – Josiah M.
“It’s made me stronger and it's made me closer with God and my mom, as I’ve leaned on her for help. I think I can positively reflect back on the good conversations that I’ve had with my friend. I can also reflect on the friends I’ve made and the connections I have now alongside the connection with my friend that moved away.” – Cassidy R.
“Now looking back, because my friends moved away, I learned to become more adaptable in new environments and learned what character traits I look for in a person in order for us to be good friends.” – Luke K.
“I think my friend moving actually made our relationship stronger, because we had to learn to keep in touch. It took a lot of commitment.” – Ella W.
Even though experiences vary for each of my friends, the impact of being the one left behind while a friend leaves is painful all the same. But it was beyond encouraging to see each of my friends take that pain and use it to conquer hard times. Each one of them chose to reflect on how a friend’s absence shaped their lives for the better and strengthened their character. Thank you, my friends, for being so strong in the face of difficulty and heartbreak. I hope this encourages all of us to continue to be open to new and different friendships, never replacing the friends that have left, but continuing to move forward.