Crucible (noun): A ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures. Also: A situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new.

My grandmother was a good gift-giver, the queen of small treats. When you’re 7, there is very little more exciting than being given $5 to buy anything you want from the dollar store (and this was back when everything in the dollar store actually did cost a dollar). She was an equitable giver as well, and made sure to spend exactly the same amount of money on all of her grandchildren’s Christmas and birthday gifts.

My grandmother gave me a gift when she died.

I’m not talking about the cashmere sweaters and scarves that I inherited while cleaning out her closet, although I’m really appreciating them right about now.

Grammy died suddenly and unexpectedly, one month into my sobriety, and one week after my dog had to be put down. She died in Newark, New Jersey, in the middle of a heat wave. (The car that we drove down to New Jersey? Did not have air conditioning.) Then the next weekend, there was the 16-hour round-trip for the funeral, and the reception with cousins I’d never met and gallons of boxed wine from my grandmother’s beloved Finger Lakes Region.

And you know what? I got through all of it sober.


Sure, it was by the skin of my teeth – if there had been booze available in the hospital cafeteria, I probably would have cracked. But there wasn’t, and I had an enormous coffee instead, and I got through the day without a drink. Because when you’re in recovery, it doesn’t matter if you were tempted a little or tempted a lot. There is only sober, or not sober.

I have been sober for over six months.

It’s not long in the grand scheme of the universe, or even a human lifetime, but it feels like a heck of an accomplishment for me, and I owe it in part to Lois Fleming. Whenever I am tempted to have a drink – whenever I’m sad, or angry, or stressed, and I feel that twitch in my jaw and pull in my gut that says I can fix everything with a shot of vodka or two – I remember watching my mother watching her mother take her last breaths.

Then I think to myself, “Is this it? Is this really worth it? I got through that with nothing but my own heart and brain but somehow, this is too much?” And every time for the past six months, the problems tempting me have come up short.

My grandmother’s final gift to me was her death itself – the crucible that has forged me stronger. While I would have preferred her to pass away at the age of, say, 102, ideally while napping on a resort balcony somewhere, that wasn’t in the cards; and anyway, I think she would have been happy to have been helpful. She was born at the tail end of the Great Depression and grew up with a “make something out of nothing” mentality. She’d probably be quite encouraging of me taking something helpful out of the experience of her passing.

The last words I heard from her were in an email, a few weeks before her death. (Email was our preferred form of communication – high-tech enough for me, but low-tech enough for her. I recommend it highly for grandparent-grandchild communiques.) She had seen my column here, where I came out as an alcoholic. I had been worried about her reaction – I didn’t want her to be ashamed or disappointed – but she wasn’t. This is what she said:


“Just read your article and am so proud of you. I am sending your email address to (a family member) who has had the fight for many years. Perhaps it would help to talk to him. I know that your dad would also be proud of you. When I was in Maine before he died, the two of us were up early: me after coffee, him wandering. He said then your drinking bothered him, he wished you would stop. So your current action is, in a way, for him. I love you.”

For him, Grammy, but also for you.

I love you, too.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: mainemillennial

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