Monday is my 30th birthday. Monday is the fifth anniversary of my father’s death. Life is funny like that, but death has the last laugh. Getting older is always a bittersweet proposition – that’s kind of the human condition – but every year older is another year since the last time I saw Dad. As of Monday, he will have been dead for one-sixth of my lifetime. The proportions will only continue to grow.

My grief now is a lot less existential than it was in the first year or two. For several months after Dad died, I couldn’t think more than two weeks into the future. Literally. If you asked me, “Where do you think you’ll be in five years?” I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer. All I could see was gray fog. Eventually, my sense of the future came back to me. I don’t always like imagining the future (climate change, anybody?) but at least I possess the ability to. The day-to-day living with grief got easier, too. If you’re in a fresh grief-mist, don’t worry. You’ll develop emotional calluses. That will help.

It’s the day-to-day stuff I miss the most, of course. There’s so much I want to show Dad. You know how little kids are always going, “Look, Daddy! Look what I can do!” before doing something objectively unimpressive? I still have that feeling. Look, Dad. Look at my car. My dog. My house. My boyfriend. (Not my tattoos; those would probably kill him again.) If my dad were here, he’d be wandering around my house trying to fix things and I’d be trying to stop him; he fancied himself a handyman, but installed the hot and cold sink handles backward at our house.

He was a wonderful horticulturist, gardener and landscaper. No doubt he could putter my lawn into a perfect, organic, bee-friendly garden. I didn’t inherit his green thumb. My plan is to dump a bunch of native wildflower seed on the ground and hope for the best.

I wish I could pick his brain about the war in Ukraine and the overturning of Roe v. Wade (he was a political science major in college and boy, did it show). I’m sure his take on Paul LePage’s return to Maine politics would be completely unprintable in this paper.

Most of all, I wish I could tell him about my sobriety. Tomorrow will be four years, three months and 12 days. The biggest regret I have regarding my father – other than not urging him to get a second opinion when he was diagnosed with “fibromyalgia” – is that I didn’t get sober before he passed. I know he didn’t like how much I drank. I know he worried about me and wished I would stop. I know because my grammy told me – about a month before she died unexpectedly (2017 and 2018 were rough years for my family) – that Dad had told her, about a month before he died (somewhat more expectedly).

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When my dad died, I thought it would break me. And it did. But it broke me like an egg. BC (Before Cancer) Victoria cracked in half so that AD (After Dad) Victoria could emerge. The old, young Victoria is never coming back. And maybe that’s OK. I like the new, older Victoria.

Sometimes I worry I’m not successful enough. Depending on the measuring stick, I’m not. I’m not rich or famous. I haven’t changed millions of lives or carved my name into the history books. I haven’t even gotten married or had kids yet. The insecurity of not-done-enough has definitely crept in. And yes, I definitely hear the ticking of the biological clock as I stare down the dawn of my final fertile decade.

But. I became a homeowner before I turned 30. I adopted a strange little dog and made her a mostly functional canine. I’ve taken good care of the rest of my family. I’ve written this column for almost five years now, and we’ve even managed to do some good here in our little corner of the world (you and I together, readers, have raised thousands of dollars for the Press Herald Toy Fund, for example). I’ve donated gallons of platelets. I’ve received my final approval to donate a kidney. And I’ve done all these things because I try to focus on the most important metric of success: I want to be someone who Ross Hugo-Vidal would have been proud of. I think I’m making good progress.

But one of my dad’s favorite sayings was “the biggest room in the world is room for improvement.” So I guess that’s my goal for being 30-something instead of 20-something. Make a little more room for my bettering self.

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


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