Saturday was Sep. 12, which was my 28th birthday, and the third anniversary of my father’s death from cancer (metastatic melanoma).

It’s a weird day on the calendar, and I have, to put it mildly, mixed emotions about it. I didn’t do anything particularly special; I certainly didn’t go out to celebrate. The reason I’ve been taking the coronavirus pandemic so seriously, the reason I always carry extra masks and hand sanitizer and have no problems asking people to stay six feet apart – it’s because, even three years on, I still grieve the loss of my dad every single day. It’s a terrible feeling, and I want to prevent anyone else having to feel it.

There is a lot of grief in our country right now. Grief for the lives lost to coronavirus, grief for the lost ceremonies and social bonds that have been cut; grief for the futures we had hoped to build.

I’m not qualified to speak on much, but I know about grief.

When it comes to grief, there are two types of people: The Firework and The Leaky Tire. The Firework burns through their grief quickly and intensely, and then their healing can begin. I think this is the healthier form of grief. The Leaky Tire seems unaffected at first, but the grief and the mourning comes out a little bit at a time, for a long, long time. Eventually, you get a flat.

I’m a Leaky Tire. My grief follows me around, not unlike my dog, but nowhere near as cute. It sleeps on my feet at night and wakes up next to me in the morning. It accompanies me on walks around the neighborhood. Sometimes the grief sits quietly in the next room while I’m occupied, and sometimes it rushes in suddenly and unpredictably, making a ton of noise and disrupting everything.

There are Silent Mourners, who prefer not to talk about the person they miss; and there are Talkative Mourners, who keep the memory of their loved one alive by talking about them a lot. I will give you one guess as to which type I am. Sometimes I feel bad for talking people’s ears off so much about Dad, bringing him up in so many conversations, especially to people who never met him and so don’t have any particular reason to hear about a random dead guy. (Most people humor me, because most people are nice people.)

You know what nobody told me about grief? That you have weird moments where, as much as you miss your loved one, you’re simultaneously happy they aren’t around. I would give anything to have Dad back – but I can admit that he would be driving us up the wall if he was quarantined in the house with us all day. I don’t miss his habit of waking me up at nine in the morning on the weekend to do yard work.

When I was a kid, my mom used to read to us, and one of our favorite picture books was “We’re Going On A Bear Hunt.” We had the Michael Rosen version, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. It’s a classic for a reason (and Mom, who trained in theater, is a wonderful reader). At each obstacle the protagonists encounter – mud, grass, river, snowstorm – while “hunting” a bear is met with the refrain “we can’t go over it, we can’t go under it – oh no! we’ve got to go through it!”

So it is with grief. You can ignore it, but it is persistent. You can use alcohol to numb the pain – which I tried, believe me – but the problem with anesthetics is that they wear off and eventually the pain comes roaring back, worse than ever.

Grief pushes and pulls you like the ocean tides or the river’s current. You can swim against it as hard as you can, but you’ll only exhaust yourself. The trick is to let your body and brain relax and float along. You will get where you need to go.

The best advice I have for anyone experiencing grief – the only advice – is be careful with the booze and let yourself be a little weird. Maybe you – and I’m just spitballing here, this definitely never happened to me – found a candle in Target that smelled like your loved one’s cologne and so you bought the store’s entire supply. Or maybe you feel a need to show photos of your loved one to your dog even though they never met and your dog would probably hate them anyway. (Also something I definitely never did.)

Oh, and wear a mask. If everyone did, there would be a lot fewer dead dads.

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
[email protected]
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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