Today, Sept. 12, is my 29th birthday. It is also the fourth anniversary of my dad’s death.

It’s a weird day. I’m still not quite sure how I should feel about it. Mostly I just want to bury my head in the sand and ignore the 24-hour period of Sept. 12 and then emerge on the other side, on Sept. 13, as a 29-year-old, instead of a 28-year-old, without any acknowledgment of the actual date. I want that spot to be a black hole on the calendar, a scratch on the year that causes the record needle to skip right over it.

Dad wouldn’t want me to be mopey, because he loved me, and wouldn’t want me to be sad. After all, Sept. 12 was one of the happiest days of his life, tied with the dates my brother and sister were born (of course). But I can’t just ignore the fact that every year I grow older is another year since the last time I saw my dad.

In his defense, Dad tried very hard not to die on my birthday. No man shall know the day nor hour, etc., etc., but this particular man knew the hour was barreling down the tracks at him, and he had the best medical guesstimates available as to the actual day. In his last week of consciousness, time got fuzzier for him, mostly because he was on enough hospice drugs to drop an elephant, but when he woke up from his naps (which became more and more frequent, until one day he didn’t wake back up), he asked Mom what day it was. He tried.

He wasn’t scared, even though he knew he was going to die soon. For a while I thought he was putting on a brave face to make the rest of us feel better. He always put his family ahead of himself, after all. That’s why he chose to go to a hospice, instead of receiving palliative care at home – he didn’t want to fill the house with memories of his death. I asked Mom not long ago if he was scared of the dying. She said he wasn’t, that he found comfort in his faith. (Dad wasn’t Episcopalian when he met Mom, but by the end of things he sure was.)

I find a lot of things in the Bible, but not much comfort. Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of what Jesus had to say, particularly relating to how humans should be treating one another, but I’ve always been a very logical, scientific-minded sort of person. I don’t know what happens when we die, but I suspect the chances of us being judged in front of a large pearly gate are somewhat low. Not impossible – nothing is – but it’s very hard for me to believe in things I can’t see and track and quantify. I’m not very good at faith.

For a while, I thought I’d found comfort in alcohol, but it turns out that was just an anesthetic. I’ve found other sources of solace, though – in the notes he left behind, in the stupid fanny packs I’ve inherited and started wearing, in the faces of my brother and my sister. Sometimes when my brother rounds a corner unexpectedly, I think Dad’s walked back in, just for the splittest of seconds.

Mostly, though, I find comfort in the law of conservation of energy, which is simple, absolute and foundational to the universe as we know it. (It was also first proposed, theorized and tested by a woman, Emilie du Chatelet, in 18th-century France. Fun facts.) This law states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed; it can only change from one form to the next. I know what happened to the carbon atoms that made up Dad’s physical body, of course. He was cremated; intense heat caused some of his more liquid building blocks to vaporize; some became heat; others, in the presence of the heat, baked down to a more simplified form of carbon (ashes).

But what about – for lack of a better word – his soul? His thoughts and his inner voice, you know, the one that’s inside your head verbalizing your thoughts silently, the one reading these words out loud in your brain? That voice? What about the love he had for his family – where did that energy go? When you love someone, you can feel it; that radiating energy. The most nitpicky folks will say, well, those were only chemically generated electrical impulses. OK, sure. But electricity is energy. Where is that electricity now? I don’t know. But I do know that it hasn’t been destroyed. Which means that although Dad continues to be absent, he never was and never will be gone completely.

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


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