Starting Over

I’ve been trying to figure out how to start this post all day. And I couldn’t come up with a good idea, so bear with me.

Many thanks for the countless emails, comments, and cards you’ve sent in the last couple of weeks. The love and support are very much appreciated. 

I’m not ready to write very much about the last week of my mother’s life. I don’t know if I will ever be. But I am comfortable saying this; being able to care for her as she died, being a part of the gathering of our family, and honoring her wishes to die in dignity and at home was one of the most profound experiences of my life. 

Hospice does not sweep in and take care of everything. Hospice provides medical oversight and guidance, and an hour or so of care a day. But because of the Oswego County Hospice program, my mother got to die on her own terms. Her last week was filled with flowers, grandchildren, friends, the music of Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, and Henry Mancini, and wet kisses from our dog, the Creature With Fangs. And ice cream. Lots of teeny-tiny tastes of ice cream.

There was one moment I’d like to share with you. After my mother died, I removed the oxygen tube that she had worn for the past six years and turned off the machine that provided her oxygen. My mother suffered for decades and died much earlier than she should have because she smoked cigarettes for nearly her entire adult life. (She quit the day the doctors put her on oxygen 24/7.)

When I was a kid I was angry at her for smoking. Watching her struggle to breathe as she got older, the anger melted into compassion. My heart goes out to anyone fighting their addiction to cigarettes.

If you are thinking of quitting, please do it today. If you fail, try again tomorrow. And the day after that and the day after that – as many times as it takes. You deserve the ability to breathe deep, to walk with your children and grandchildren, to take ten steps without stopping three times.

If you don’t smoke, for the love of all that is holy, do NOT start. Cigarettes are not cool or hip or remotely wonderful. They are a tool designed to steal money from your wallet and kill you…. but kill you slowly, breath by breath, so the cigarette industry can extract as much profit as possible from you.

………

OK, I wrote more than I had planned on. Thanks for listening.

44 Replies to “Starting Over”

  1. Laurie, obviously there is no good way for this to happen, but it sounds to me like you all did the best you could for your mother, yourselves, and each other. It’s certain she knew how much she was loved.

  2. Quitting smoking is one of the hardest things I have ever done. I had to do it twice to get it to stick. I can never ever start again because I know I’ll never be able to quit again.

    I’m going to repost this, because this is IMPORTANT. Thank you so much for sharing this. You’ve been in my thoughts.

  3. Again, I’m so sorry for your loss. My mom also died from lung cancer at home with hospice care, so I can empathize. Hugs!!

  4. Amen. Cigarettes took both of my parents lives the way you described–slowly, painfully–and the hardest part of it was knowing that they couldn’t stop smoking, even in their final days.

    My thoughts, prayers, and raised eyebrow remain with you all.

  5. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I don’t really know what to say, I just really want to express my condoleances and my admiration for you. Not only are you an utterly fantastic writer, you also appear to be a truly admirable woman. This is quite possibly one of the hardest things one can experience, but you seem to have handled it as well as possible. Again, I’d like to express my sincere condoleances and wish you all the best in dealing with this situation. And thank you for sharing this with us.

    Furthermore, I couldn’t agree more with what you said about cigarettes. Sadly, too many don’t take smoking seriously enough, but I do hope experiences like yours will help them think about how foolish and dangerous their expensive habit is before it’s too late …

    ps: This is my first comment here as I’ve just discovered your blog the other day and it’s fantastic, I’ll definitely be coming back. I also follow you on Twitter so it’s nice to get the updates there as well. Also, I’m not sure if this is the right time and place to get all fangirly on you, but I simply must tell you that Wintergirls made it straight to my Top 3 Books Ever list after I’ve read it! I wrote a review of it on my book blog (http://bookalicious85.blogspot.com/2009/06/wintergirls-by-laurie-halse-anderson.html). I apologize if this is inapporopriate, but it’s something that I just had to share. 🙂

  6. Deepest apologies. I only wish I could convince my father of this very thing. I don’t want to lose him the way you lost your mother–or at all.

  7. I’m so sorry about your loss. Hold your memories of your mom close to your heart.

    I lost my dad to lung and brain cancer when I was six. He was a smoker. I echo your thoughts: If you smoke, do your family a favor and find a way to quit.

    I’ll be thinking of you. Take care.

  8. I’m sure you’re hearing lots of stories from other folks – so I don’t need to go into the care cycle I’m currently involved in for my mother. Suffice it to say that you’re not alone, and that those of us “out here” who are caring for elderly parents know what you are – and have – gone through.

    There is so much I would share, so much I would love to listen to, so many hugs I would give you, if you and I were friends. Since I’m “only a fan” I will wish for you to have the friends and family you need to give you those hugs, that ear, those stories whenever you desire them.

  9. Thanks for letting us know how you are – grief is a journey no one can take for us, but we can ease the loneliness of others by sharing what we’ve learned.

    It sounds like you gave your mother the ending she wished, which is all anyone can ask for. One of the best books I’ve found on being with loved ones at such a time, and after, is Meetings at the Edge, by Stephen Levine, and he mentions how loving that act can be.

    And yes, cigarettes kill. I lost two aunts and an uncle to it, and another uncle is on his way. While cigarettes are an easy gesture to add in dialogue, let us show the truth of them in our writings so that the next generation may not suffer as the last.

    When tears come, I breathe deeply and rest. I know I am swimming in a hallowed stream where many have gone before. I am not alone, crazy, or having a nervous breakdown. My heart is at work, my soul is awake.
    – Mary Margaret Funk

    A great grief is a tremendous bonfire in which all the trash of life is consumed.
    – Clare Booth Luce

    The very memory of the sorrow is a gentle benediction that broods ever over the household, like the silence that comes after prayer.
    – James Russell Miller

  10. I was at a friend’s house the morning she died from lung cancer. She was 48. I would never wish that death on anyone. It was horrible.

    I hope one person listens to you. Every time I see a kid smoking, I want to talk to them, but 48 would seem so old…

  11. listening…

    I feel for you… most people can’t put into words how devastated you feel when you lose someone you care about… your words are what will help you…
    with regards…
    KS

  12. I’m so sorry, Laurie. Dying is never easy but at least you had a chance to say goodbye to her and she went on her terms. My mom died the summer before last in a car accident. There were no goodbyes and my heart still bleeds for her.

    Smoking is a terrible addiction. I smoked for a few years but quit when I was pregnant with my first born. What I couldn’t do for myself, I did easily for him.

    Hold her in your heart.

  13. Thinking of you, Laurie, and hoping that the days ahead and the memories of your mom will help to ease your grief.

    Thank you for your message about smoking. My stepdad died from lung cancer, and my grandfather-in-law is dying from emphysema. Both were smokers.

    *warm hugs*

  14. I want to first say that I am deeply sorry for your loss even though I know how inadequate that sentence is.

    My father passed away from lung cancer 3 days after Christmas in 2007. I remember fighting with him about his smoking habit constantly throughout elementary and high school. I remember the anger I felt when he was diagnosed. Anger at him for not quitting, anger at the doctors for not being able to fix it, and anger at myself for not being able to make him stop smoking. My father was my rock, the one person I could talk about everything with and be completely myself. He was in many ways not just my father but my best friend and my buffer against the world. Graduating high school and facing college and the “real world” has been more than difficult without him, but it’s also forced me to be a much stronger person than I had ever been before. I believe this was my father’s last gift for me. Since he could no longer be my strength, he gave his strength to me.

    I still struggle without him here. There are still times when I go to my phone to call him. In my dreams he’s still alive (I love and treasure those dreams). Then there are times when out of nowhere the loss will hit me, and I’ll feel the same I felt the day he left. But then there are times when I can feel him. Not a literal tangible figure, but there are moments when I feel the same warmth and calmness that I would feel in his presence. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, and I still cry. But now I can also laugh. I can remember moments and times and be happy. That’s the gift time has given me.

    I just wanted to share this with you; to give you all my love and support. I also wanted to thank you. Reading is one of the things my father and I shared a love of. From reading to me at bedtime when I was little to rides to the library (where they knew us both by first name) where I’d spend hours and come out with stacks of books. I remember sitting outside on the porch reading until it got dark with him at my side. I also turned to books for solace after his death. Your books have been a part of some great memories and also helped me heal. For that I am eternally grateful.

    – Monica Watson

  15. To many, my grandfather’s last words were something along the lines of “bye” as they were leaving his nursing home room. To me, they were “don’t ever start smoking.” He died of emphysema 13 years ago this November.

    I won’t pretend to know what to say; I have never had to say goodbye one last time to either of my parents. But be assured of my prayers, which fill the absence of words.

    –Brian

  16. Deepest sympathies

    My heart goes out to you and your family. I’m so sorry for the loss of your mom.

  17. Tanita Says :

    WORD. I so hear you. My Papa died of emphysema, and it’s a tough, tough thing to watch. Appreciate your voice and your words, and will be here to read them when you get back.

  18. It’s really good to see you back here. You’ve been in my thoughts every day and I was torn apart to hear about your mom. My gram went through the same experiences. Like you, I was angry at her for smoking. She quit when I threatened never to talk to her again, but she went back to smoking a while after that. Even with emphysema, struggling to walk on her own, she still smoked (less, but the damage was already done). When I was cleaning out her home after she died, I found packs of cigarettes hidden in the back of a kitchen drawer with a note. The note basically said that it was her life and the freedom to smoke was hers. She knew I would find the note after she died.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this message today. You touch so many lives. Hopefully, at least one of them will be saved.

  19. Sympathies Extended

    Laurie – Eighteen years ago my dad died of lung/liver cancer too. I remember his words to this day about smoking – “I wish I would have never put one of those damn cancer sticks in my mouth.” If there was one thing his smoking accomplished was the total disgust of smoking it instilled in me. Remember the wonderful times.

  20. Laurie:

    It has been 7 years since I held my daughter’s hand as she made her tranistion. Hospice was a blessing for me as well. She went peacefully with all of us gathered around her. I kept a journal of those last days and probably will never share it with anyone else. But it was healing for me to write.

    My heart was with you as I read the postings from you and Office Mouse and Bookavore. Peace does come, but the emptiness stays and the emotions well up unexpectedly. Last week at church the deacon talked about being with a friend during the transition and I just wept big black tears with the kids pressing me with their hands to let me know they too felt the loss keenly.

    Healing prayers for you and prayers for your mother as well.

    teri

  21. My grandmother was put on oxygen 24/7 when I was 7 years old, she was the light of my life. She smoked nearly her entire adult life as well, and I had to watch her suffer from day to day, for one mistake she made when she was younger. Surprisingly, both my parents smoke, however I do not. I refuse to let those sticks of cancer affect me the way they affected my grandmother. My heart goes out to you, and I am very sorry to hear about your mother’s death. At least she is no longer suffering. Best wishes in the future, and lets hope that both my grandmother and your mother are happy and healthy where they reside now. <3

  22. The Joyce

    Laurie – If it’s any help: I stopped for good 2 1/2 years ago, partly after watching Joyce, and partly for my grandchildren. Hardest(and best)thing I’ve ever done. My love from here. NAG

  23. My thoughts are with you and your family during this time.

    Thank you for the words about smoking. My father started smoking when he was 13, and smoked two packs a day until just before I got married, 15 years ago. I am grateful that, after 36 years, he stopped smoking and hasn’t had a puff since. He is in excellent health now, is retired, plays table tennis competitively, and rides many miles a week on his bike (he also participates in “century” rides several times a year). I have no doubt that he would be unable to do this if he had continued to smoke.

    As Laurie said – if you smoke, quit. And if you don’t smoke, then for heaven’s sake, don’t start!

  24. Hi–I read you but I never comment. I had to comment to tell you that I’m sorry for your loss. There is no feeling like that of contemplating a world without your mother in it. She’s the one fixed point of your life, having always been part of it, isn’t she?

    She remains that, just so you know.

    I’m also going to tell you that even though you’re going to feel like a broken record, go ahead and say it. Go ahead and tell people to quit. My mother died of a smoking-related cancer five years ago and I spent the first two telling everyone I saw smoking to put out the cigarette. I know we’re all going to die… I know nonsmokers aren’t immortal…I also know dying from smoking is a terrible waste and people just need to knock it off.

  25. Laurie, my condolences. When I lost my mother to lung cancer two years ago, I couldn’t string words together or put pen to paper for a few months. I admire you for your strength, and for sending out this important message. I thought of the many younger fans you have, who so look up to you. You gave them something very important to think about. Wishing you peace.

  26. I am sorry to hear about your loss. I’m terrible at expressing sympathies, as I never know what to say, but my heart is with you and your family.

    My grandma quit smoking, and I am glad for it. I’m also angry, though, because she misses it. She still wants to be a smoker. Cigarettes are awful.

  27. my condolences, Laurie~

    Laurie, your mother, from how you described her and from the photo, looked like such a lovely soul, and I’m so glad for you (and for her) that she died with dignity and surrounded with those she loved and what she loved…and was able to depart this mortal coil in the way she wanted to–that’s the last, wonderful gift you could give her. Peace & love, Juliette

  28. I am so glad that it was possible for there to be good moments in this hard time for you. You are in my prayers. ♥

    Laurie, as a nurse I see what cigarettes do to people every day, and I know how hard this must have been for you. One of my most beloved patients went through the same thing that you’re describing, and it breaks my heart to think that there are people all over the world that go through this because of cigarettes. However, in spite of all this, I still smoke although I’ve been quitting-in-progress for the past 4 months. It feels like it’s impossible but I know some day I’ll get there because I want to.

  29. I’m so sorry for your loss. I don’t think I’ve gotten completely to compassion yet myself. I’ve got tears in my eyes, both for your loss and selfishly knowing that my mother can’t take ten steps without stopping. And the addiction still has her.

    I’m glad though for you and your family that you had this peaceful end for her. Hospice is no small dignity. It’s a precious gift.

    Hugs and healing

  30. You have my deepest sympathies on your loss. I lost my dad 20 years ago this year. It gets easier. Keep on putting one foot in front of the other. Sending healing thoughts in your direction.

  31. Possibly Helpful Quote

    Never commented before, but I read the blog all the time and love both it and all your great literary works! I lost my mother last August and was with her for her last 13 days caring for her – much in the same way as you. And reading your post at work yesterday afternoon, it pricked my own grief. As losing my mother was the first big loss of my life, it’s been quite a year. But I’ve found, the more people who share the grief, it’s a teeny bit easier. So many of us are sharing your grief and holding you and family close in our thoughts. 2 years ago, one of the bloggers I read for work (I’m a librarian) shared a post about another blogger’s grief. I think it expresses the beauty and power of this online connection we make with one another so perfectly: http://freerangelibrarian.com/2007/06/18/pets-social-software-and-unconditional-love/

    And lastly, a friend shared this quote with me and I’ve returned and returned to it this past year, maybe it’ll help. It’s from Dean Koontz (surprising, or maybe not so):

    “Grief can destroy you- or focus you. You can decide a relationship was all for nothing if it had to end in death, and you alone. Or you can realize that every moment of it had more meaning that you dared to recognize at the time, so much meaning it scared you, so you just lived, just took for granted the love and laughter of each day, and didn’t allow yourself to consider the sacredness of it. But when it’s over and you’re alone, you begin to see it wasn’t just a movie and a dinner together, not just watching sunset together, not just scrubbing a floor or washing dishes together or worrying over a high electric bill. It was everything, it was the why of life, every event and precious moment of it. The answer to the mystery of existence is the love you shared sometimes so imperfectly, and when the loss wakes you to the deeper beauty of it, to the sanctity of it, you can’t get off your knees for a long time, you’re driven to your knees not by the weight of the loss but by the gratitude for what preceded the loss. And the ache is always there, but one day not the emptiness, because to nurture the emptiness,to take solace in it, is to disrespect the gift of life.”

    Hope you’re surrounded by family and hugs and soft animals to pet.

  32. Your loss

    Just found your blog, Laurie. So sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. I know you will miss her. You have my deepest sympathy.

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