When I write about my mom, I try to remember funny or happy stories. But the fact of the matter is, my mother was an addict. She spent a couple of years battling alcohol; something she was ultimately able to walk away from. But the one drug my mother could never kick--the drug that robbed her of the last 20 years of her life--the drug that ultimately killed her, was nicotine.
My mother started smoking when she was a kid. 12, maybe 13 years old. In those days everyone did it. Through the 1950's, even our heroes like Sheriff Andy Taylor had his evening cigarette. It's just what people of their generation did. Especially if you grew up in rural Eastern Kentucky.
I'm certain my mother smoked throughout both her pregnancies. It didn't seem like a bad thing to do in those days. When I was little, I can remember both my parents smoking in the house and even in the car. I cannot begin to tell you how badly I detested it; especially in the car. It nearly choked me to death. At some point in time my Dad took pity on me and decreed there would be no more smoking while I was in the car. To this day I feel my throat close up when I see adults smoking in the car with children. But something good came of all that childhood second hand smoke. I hated cigarettes so terribly bad that I knew I would never, EVER smoke. I could never understand the appeal of it, and still don't to this day. So if nothing else, it turned me against ever wanting to try them.
My dad quit smoking sometime around 1980, but my mom was a different story. When my mother was in her early 50's, she suffered a brain aneurysm. Then a few years later, a heart attack. After that, a second brain aneurysm, and about a year before she died a second heart attack. One year after that, a blood clot to the brain took her life. Cigarette smoking caused all of these cardiovascular diseases. Her blood was thickened to the point it could not flow properly. The walls of her arteries and vessels were weakened and compromised. She had developed COPD, and often had frightening spells where she couldn't catch her breath. In the mornings, she coughed and choked, and spit up for at least an hour. To the day she died, she called it "allergies".
While he had success giving her an ultimatum about her drinking, my dad was never able to stop my mother from smoking. One of the saddest things I ever heard my dad say was when we were sitting at the hospital during one of my mom's extended illnesses, and he told me how he'd worked so hard his whole life, and how he'd hoped that during retirement he and my mom could travel and see the world. But instead, he spent a good many years sitting vigil in hospital rooms for weeks on end, then providing weeks or months of home health care, driving her to doctors appointments, changing her bandages, and making sure she got her medicine. At one point he got so fed up he told her if she didn't stop smoking he would leave her. He felt her illnesses were preventable, and that she'd brought it all on herself because she wouldn't put the cigarettes down. From that point on my mother had to sneak smoke. I'm sure my dad knew it. We all knew it. But at least if we pretended not to know it would make it more difficult for her to score her fix. Any smoker who came to my house knew my mom would be hitting them up. Ironically, they sometimes tell me with great fondness, and a big smile, stories of how my mom would corner them for a cigarette. This seems to harken happy memories for them. It just pisses me off.
A couple of weeks ago I was getting a pedicure from the nice Vietnamese lady who has lived next door to my parents for the past 6 years. She told me how my mother would come knock on her door when my dad was away, and beg her to take her to the store so she could get smokes. The neighbor said she knew my mom wasn't supposed to be smoking, but she didn't know what to do. She felt she would be disrespecting her by turning her away. She told me how uncomfortable this made her. Talk about uncomfortable!!! I was squirming in my massage chair, fighting back tears. Have you seen Clint Eastwood in "Gran Torino"? My parents were mortified when Vietnamese people moved next door. Yet my mother wanted or needed her drug so desperately that she begged these people to help her get it. It hurt my heart terribly to think of my mother being that desperate. And it hurt even more for the kind neighbors who were put in the position to unwillingly enable her.
When I think of the addictive part of my mother's life, and when I think about my dad, I see so many parallels. This isn't an epiphany, I've pointed that out before. But what must we sacrifice when we love and live with an addict? It's a lot to give up. Our dreams for retirement? Our freedom? Many people don't see cigarettes the same as alcohol or other drugs, but I do. Tobacco took my mother away from me and I hate it. It just took sitting there getting my toes done by a sweet little Vietnamese woman to remind me just how much.
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