Smoking affects loved ones as well as smokers

Letter to the editor

Posted: Monday, January 12, 2004

On my first visit to the hospital to see my Aunt Rita after she was diagnosed with cancer, she said to my sister and me, "I smoked all my life. That's why I have cancer. I take the responsibility for it. Smoking was my choice."

In the debate about smoking, over and over smokers say, "I choose to smoke and I should be allowed the freedom to smoke in the last place where smoking is allowed - bars." Those who work in bars say they choose to work in smoke and they know the consequences of second-hand smoke. My aunt said the same.

Smokers and those who choose to work where smoking is allowed forget the people who love them. Smoking does not affect just the smoker. I will never forget the grief of my aunt's nieces, sister, daughters and grandchildren. Her smoking did not just affect herself; her death broke the hearts of her 19-year-old granddaughter, her 14-year-old granddaughter and her 9-year-old grandson, as well as her two daughters. All five are still actively grieving after two and a half years.

After Aunt Rita's first stay in the hospital in June 2001, she was unable to return to her apartment. Instead Rita went to her oldest daughter's home. Nancy's three children welcomed their grandmother just as Nana had always welcomed them into her home. Lynsey, the 14-year-old, took charge of the primary care of her grandmother while her mother, father and older sister went to their jobs.

For two months, Lynsey enticed her bedridden grandmother to eat, ran errands for her, greeted the hospice nurses and visitors, waited for her call, watched over her, and made her grandmother as comfortable as possible. On the day that Rita died, the family watched over her for hours; the shutting down of her body was painful to watch. Finally, Lynsey's father said to his daughter, "I need to go to the store. Lynsey, you need a break. Please, come with me."

Lynsey did not want to leave her grandmother's bedside, but her father finally persuaded her. When they returned in less than 30 minutes, Rita had died. Lynsey became hysterical. "I abandoned Nana. I left her." Lynsey was inconsolable for weeks. She felt guilty; she felt that she had abandoned her Nana.

Smoking does not affect just the smoker.

Alma Harris


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