Thursday, May 7, 2009

My Mother in Law has COPD

For the Love of a Child

My mother-in-law has COPD.  At first she didn’t understand what the doctors were telling her, as to what this condition actually means, maintaining but never getting better.  Her strength continues to diminish and her struggle for breath is ever increasing. She now understands that her condition can only worsen over time. All the stages of grief are present: terror, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And as the disease progresses, these stages will be repeated over and over.

Smoking was her addiction.  For decades she tried valiantly to quit.  She did it all, medicines, patches, acupuncture, and hypnosis.  Her addiction was strongly entrenched and there was no way to change it. When she smoked, a large grey cloud would literally hang in the air above her.  But one day something happened.  She quit cold turkey and went through a year and a half of hell, and to his credit, her husband, poor man, went though the same year and a half of his own hell living with her while she beat her addiction.  

A love greater than she had ever experienced was her reason to quit.  Because of this love she was able to find the will and strength to put the cigarettes away and I believe she extended her life by many years because of it. Her only grandson, Beloved, asked grandma to quit. 

One day Beloved noticed that I would wash all his clothes after a weekend visit with grandma and grandpa whether they were clean or not.  I would complain about the smoke smell and how foul I found it to be and he picked up on it.  He asked why grandma couldn’t smoke at our house, so I told him the story about his premature birth and the heart monitor he wore for six months after coming home from the hospital.  As a new mother, the heart monitor freaked me out.  Whenever the alarm sounded, and it went off frequently, I would be gripped in fear. I didn't want anything to compromise Beloved’s health at that time, so I told grandma for the first time in her life, that she could not smoke in my house. When I witnessed that grey cloud over her head while she was holding my child, I knew it had to stop.

At first she didn’t believe me, and then was indignant, and then insulted.  I remained firm and soon she was ostracized to the porch whenever she wanted to light up. This story prompted him to ask questions and more questions and more questions.  Ay yes, four year olds and their undying quest for knowledge.  I answered his questions about smoking and the health risk his grandmother was taking.

Two months later, I was wrapping Christmas gifts when I noticed Beloved playing with the leftover scraps of wrapping paper.  He was amusing himself by rolling them between his hands making cylinders and rolling them on the floor. When I was done wrapping the last gift, he came to me with the colorful cylinders in his hands and asked me to wrap them up.  What are they? He answered that they were a present for grandma.  They were cigarettes and that these would be much better for her than what she was smoking now.  I was touched and did what he asked. At the same time, I knew I was setting grandma up.

Queen Maker said, “You aren’t really going to give them to her are you?  It’ll make her feel bad.” I told him it was Beloved’s present to her and maybe she should feel bad. Beloved thought this one up all on his own. Who am I to tell him he is wrong that he can’t give a present that he so lovingly fashioned especially for his grandmother.

This is a lesson that only a four-year-old can teach and she was about to learn it. Beloved took the wrapped cigarettes and put them in his “present” bag.  Beloved was proud when he presented grandma with his gift.  I mentioned that he had made the gift all by himself and brought them to me to wrap.  She made a big deal of it, confused as to what they actually were. He told her they were new cigarettes that she could smoke instead of the bad ones.  She was a little side swiped by the explanation. This small loving act from her four-year-old grandson spoke volumes to her.

Later I told Beloved that he was probably the only person in the world that could help grandma quit because she loved him so much. That if she couldn’t do it for him, she probably couldn’t ever do it.  It might work. That by telling her that he loved her and wanted her to be there for his graduation from college and at his wedding that she might find the strength enough to quit.

She told me years later, that the next time she lit up in front of him, he asked her specifically to stop smoking. He told her that he wanted her to be alive and well.  He asked her, don’t you want to see me graduate from college or when I get married or when I have my own boy? And from that day forward she stopped smoking.  She did put a pack of cigarettes in her desk drawer, but only as a safety net. Knowing they were there made her feel better, but she never had to take them out.  Years later when Beloved was seven years old, he saw them when she opened the drawer and instantly became angry with her. He asked her if it wasn’t about time to throw them out.  And she did.

She hasn’t smoked in 17 years, but the emphysema came anyways.  Now her body is denying her the freedom of movement she once enjoyed. But with the help of oxygen she is hanging on and working on maintaining quality of life. I am sure that Beloved’s intervention gave her many more years. A week ago, she witnessed his college graduation.  


Sprite's Keeper said...

My grandmother died due to causes related to emphysema, having smoked for most of her adult life well into her early seventies when she passed away. I can only imagine how much longer she would have lived if she had never picked up a cigarette. I battled cigarettes myself for about 9 years before I got pregnant with Sprite and gave them up completely. Best thing I ever did for her. Best thing I ever did for me. Beloved was wise beyond his years and probably gave your MIL more time than she would have had without his (and somehow your) intervention.

Ellie Belen said...

Congratulations on giving up the smokes. Isn't it amazing that love can give you the strength you need.

Evie said...

This piece speaks volumes. I have sent it to all the smokers I know. My daughter who is 5yrs has a grandmother that smokes. Sometime when we pass someone smoking she'll say " that smells like grandma". Hopefully grandma will read this and quit.
Thank You!

Middle Aged Woman said...

Smoking is what ended my dad's life, too, only it was a quick death from cancer, not a slow one from emphysema.

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