I was his “Tootsie Pie” and “Cuddle Bunny”. They are silly terms of endearment that charmed my three-year-old heart. They now sadden my middle age.
My Dad is dying. Not from something quick and definite, not from something insidious like a malignancy that will claim him silently, but something that challenges his every-waking moment. Some 67 years of cigarette smoking have damaged his lungs beyond repair. I only wonder what that is in “pack-years” but that doesn’t matter anymore. The numbers are too high to count. Every breath is a struggle. Every movement that I take for granted is difficult for him. I could get technical and talk of “oxygen-carrying capacity”, “lung volumes”, “diffusion capacities” and”spirograms”, but that doesn’t concern me now. Medical science cannot undo this scenario. Comfort is the cure now.
I detest cigarette smoking yet I have lived my entire life with it, though certainly unintentionally. My mother smoked during pregnancy with me. My childhood house was always in a constant haze. My mother smoked so much that she had constant bronchitis, and often coughed so much in the morning that she vomited in the kitchen sink. Not a pleasant way to greet your day at age 8. Dad was just as bad. My husband smokes but that too will change.
I am a gift giver. Always have been, always will be. I think long and hard about my presents that might just make the day of the receiver. One Christmas I had nothing to give my parents. My sister and brother and I just simply forgot and certainly didn’t have the means nor transportation to get something really nice. I took a pack of my parents’ cigarettes from their drawer and wrapped it. I didn’t realize it was the last one. Children don’t always think of supply and demand, but I certainly got a quick economic lesson on that Christmas Eve. My parents ran out of cigarettes that night. There were no 7/11s in the 1960’s and I had two addicted parents. I witnessed first hand the power of nicotine addiction. In fine urban vernacular, words exploded, chair cushions overturned, and cabinets were ransacked. They didn’t think about looking under my bed where the pack of Lucky Strikes with a simple bow was hidden.
My parents were out of the room when I snuck under the bed to retrieve the pack. I hid it behind their tall dresser as if it had naturally fallen there. Since us kids had been recruited to look for the pack, I calmly shouted “Mommy is this what you are looking for?” Peace descended in the household along with the typical acrid haze.
Do I blame them now? Do I blame him now? Do I blame Madison Avenue with their sleek campaigns? Do I blame some elusive “addiction gene” which has yet to be defined? Do I blame myself?
Comfort is the only gift I can give now. It doesn’t come with a simple bow, it doesn't have the Surgeon General's warning and it’s no longer hidden under my bed. It is from my heart.