Orphaned Before 50!

You may think the title strange but I want to get your attention. I’m not one to preach about smoking, I don’t smoke, never have, so I can’t tell you about quitting, but I can tell you about not quitting. I’ve always believed that life is about choices, you choose the action you also choose the consequence. But there is something that I don’t think most smokers think about and that is you are not only choosing your own consequence, but the consequence for your entire family.

We trod along in life thinking that bad things happen to other people, or at least I did…I did until November of 1978. I was just 15 yrs. old, too young to lose a parent, an active, healthy parent, who hadn’t smoked for 10 years…my dad. He took sick on October 15, 1978 and died November 15, 1978. It was lung cancer that took him. He left us so unexpectedly leaving my mom and I, and a farm. My mom hadn’t work in 30 years outside the home. She hadn’t paid a bill, signed a check, etc… She was beginning life again at 50. She got a job at McDonalds, the only job she could get at her age, with no experience, and no high school education. She continued to milk the cows as well for another two years after dad’s death, doing everything she could to keep life normal. But you know what else she continued to do, smoke! After everything she witnessed with my dad’s death she continued to smoke.

My mother continued to smoke until the fall of 2001 when she had her first real health scare. We got a call late one night, it was my mom. She said she had a terrible cough and would we go to the drug store and get some cough syrup for her. I had some cough syrup in my medicine cabinet because I had two young children of my own that had the normal colds. When we arrived with the cough medicine we immediately called 911. Her cough was the least of my concern, she could barely breath. She was in the ER for just a short time, long enough to put in a vent tube and the she was airlifted to a larger hospital 50 miles away, Fort Wayne. She was in intensive care for a week with pneumonia. She came home and gave up cigarettes, at the age of 73. She went back to work part-time and seemed to be doing great until May of 2003. It was déjà vu. She called and wanted medicine again, and again we called 911, ER tubed her and then she was airlifted once again to Fort Wayne. This time was a little different, not only pneumonia, but the bottom valve of her heart was only working at 20%. They couldn’t operate because her lungs were so damaged from years of smoking that she couldn’t survive the surgery. Two weeks in intensive care and she left with a death sentence, and an oxygen tank. They wouldn’t even speculate on what kind of time she had left. She died August 22, 2003.

My sister, 15 years older than myself, had been through both of these deaths with me and yet she continued to smoke. In early 2010 I was in the middle of a separation and divorce, talking to my sister weekly for moral support. Out of the blue, one day in February she called to tell me she had lung cancer, that she had just been diagnosed. I was not shocked, and yet I was. I wasn’t even 50 years old yet and I had lost my parents, I really couldn’t believe that I could lose my only sister too. The fact was that they had given her just six months. My niece and I headed over to Pennsylvania, where my sister was hospitalized, to visit and get things settled and prepared for her to come home. I received a call from my niece, who had just arrived at the hospital, asking me to get there as quickly as I could because my sister, her mother, had lost conscientiousness that morning and they wanted to take her off of life supports. What happened to my six months, I barely got two…how does that happen? My niece was losing her mother and she wasn’t even 38 years old yet.

This is the ugly side, as if death isn’t as bad as it gets, the actual process of dying as a smoker. I was with each of those three individuals when they died. No child should ever have to experience their parent gasping for their last breath. It’s not pretty, it’s not quiet, and it’s not peaceful, nor is it instantaneous. I can’t imagine in their last moments what it must have felt like to not have any air. Not one of them wanted to be kept alive artificially so it had to be as it was. I remember a conversation I had with my doctor, on the day we took my mom off of life supports. He painted a rather grim picture, and then said we had a decision to make, so I asked, “Are we prolonging life or death at this point?” His answer was death, and with that we turned off the support.

I’m not bitter, please don’t read this as bitter or angry. I had an amazing family, very supportive, and so much love…it’s just that my time was very short with all of them. They made a choice, and inadvertently made choices for all of those people connected to them as well. I truly believe had any one of them believed that cigarettes would kill them they would have never started. I can’t change my past, nor any of my families, but perhaps I can change yours or that of your children’s. Smoking does kill, if it doesn’t kill you directly, then it will find its way to you indirectly. My story speaks for itself, it should be enough to make someone at least stop and think. I will leave you with this thought…My mom excused her smoking like this, “If this is the worst thing I do in my life then it’s not so bad, there are a lot of other things much worse than smoking.” Quit for your family if not for yourself, another year of life is one of the greatest gifts you can give those who love you, the trouble is you don’t realize that until it’s no longer yours to give.

In Memory of… My Father William Conrad My Mother Betty Conrad My Sister Sally Conrad Aunt Betty – Life long Smoker – Died of Brain Cancer Uncle Jack – Life Long Smoker – Died of Luekemia Aunt Peggy – Life Long Smoker – Died of Brain Cancer Uncle Bob – Life long Smoker – Died of Lung Cancer Cousin Theresa – Life Long Smoker – Died of Lung Cancer Aunt Lois – Life Long Smoker – Died of Lung Cancer Uncle John – Life Long Smoker – Died of Cancer Uncle Carl – Life Long Smoker – Died of Heart Issues associated with Smoking

Just a side note…I do not have any grandparents, nor aunts or uncles left on either side of my family…the statistics speak for themselves.

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