My heart broke last week. I nearly doubled over as two paramedics loaded my father onto a gurney for what became his final journey into in-patient hospice care. Words tremble and fail to describe how that felt.
On Monday, one week after he left home, he passed on to what I believe is a better place. I am grieving, but I am writing to you about gratitude. Not because I have to, but because I want to.
I’m grateful for the time I had with my Dad. He has been a committed husband to my Mom for 65 years. He literally worked himself out of the abject poverty of his childhood in rural Missouri to give his three kids a better life. He was amused and enchanted by his granddaughters and thoroughly fascinated by his great-grandchildren.
He loved to sing, fish, play cards and laugh. Calm under pressure, my sister and I still giggle at the memory of when a bee darted up his pantleg while walking on my Aunt’s farm. He did not raise his voice or make a scene. He just quietly told us to turn around so he could drop his pants.
There’s a lot more I could tell you. However, this is not a eulogy for Dad, but rather as a paean to gratitude and a story of addiction.
Dad’s drug of choice was nicotine. Even as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) began choking him, even while enduring two bouts of radiation for cancer, Dad kept smoking. It’s hard to say whether this made us more mad than sad. As anyone knows who has a loved someone that is addicted, the vacillation between those two emotions is constant and borderline violent.
Like many people of his generation, Dad started smoking as a teenager. The facts about its enormous damage to our health were not quite in, but the ads making it a cool he-man thing to do were everywhere. Think Marlboro Man, John Wayne or Yul Brynner. (Youngsters, you can Google these).
You may see nicotine as rather harmless in comparison to alcohol or heroin. And, there is an argument to be made about this. Addiction to heroin, in particular, is much more disruptive to daily life and results in a sharper decline in life expectancy.
But no matter the substance, an abuse disorder remains just that. The drug rewires your brain. It causes overwhelming cravings, reinforced by painful withdrawal symptoms should you dare to try and stop. It demands that you structure your whole life around its care and feeding. It doesn’t care how much destruction it causes to your health and relationships.
And be sure of this. Family and friends hate the addiction. They resent it completely, even as they love the person who struggles with it.
I had the privilege of working to enact and then keep Columbus’ clean indoor air law more than a decade ago. I remember some of my colleagues demonstrated unbelievable passion and incredible dedication to this cause, pouring themselves and their resources into making it illegal to smoke in public places and restaurants.
And, at least in one case, I understood where this all-in work ethic came from. This man lost his Dad to lung cancer.
To friends and family members, please try and be like my friend. Find the good in the experience of living with another person’s addiction and put it to use to help others.
To those coping with addiction, please know we can love you and hate the disease at the same time.
I am grateful for the wonderful man who was my father. I will grieve him the rest of my life. And, I will do my best to help other people find amazing places like Maryhaven and get the treatment they need to lead healthier, happier lives.