I Have A Decision To Make.

My grandmother had a great laugh.  It would start out ordinary, but before you knew it, she was crying and bouncing and gasping for breath.   Even if you didn’t know what was so funny, you would likely be crying along side her because it was contagious.

I don’t quite know when it started, but at some point everyone noticed her voice grew increasingly raspy.  In time, her voice was gone.  She could communicate in only a whisper.  Grandma distrusted doctors, so it was no surprise that she dismissed her inability to speak with a wave of her hand and a roll of her eyes.
Someone found out that she was no longer eating full meals.  A piece of toast and a cup of tea was all she could manage to swallow over the course of a day.  Recognizing that it was time for help but continuing to refuse to visit an MD, Grandma agreed to allow my aunt to take her to a dentist.  It was a step in the right direction but all of us knew he could do nothing to help what was really happening.
As a smoker of at least 50 years, we all knew what was coming.
The dentist took one look inside her mouth and saw her throat had closed to the size of a dime.  He surmised that if things had continued any longer, she’d either suffocate or starve to death.  Tumors had overtaken her.
Grandma underwent surgery and radiation and was left with a hole where the tracheotomy was performed.  She brought home one of those machines from the hospital that was meant to become her new voice.  In spite of the hospital personnel’s best efforts, she never got the hang of it.  No matter how she positioned the microphone, her words were unintelligible.  
One night, she sat visiting with my mother.  I joined them briefly before heading out for the night.  Grandma was showing us how she had been practicing with her machine. Over and over she tried to eek out a sentence that either of us could understand, but to no avail.  Her frustration mounted as did our discomfort watching her struggle.  She slapped her hand down on her thigh in anger and I said, as gently as I could, “Grandma, I’m sorry, but you sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher.”
That did it.  She started to laugh.  Mom and I did, too.  The three of us laughed so hard that we shook and bounced.  We laughed because the three of us were rendered equally speechless, poking fun at someone who, once she was done laughing at herself, wouldn’t regain the ability.  We gasped and coughed, choking on the knowledge of what the future held.  
Sometimes you laugh so you don’t cry. Others you laugh until you do.  This was a little bit of both.
When the uproar diminished, bellies stopped jiggling, breaths were caught and eyes were dried, Grandma placed the microphone on her lap, all humor gone from her face and staring me down with an intensity I’d never seen in her before, she opened her mouth slowly and deliberately.
“You’re not smoking anymore, are you?” she mouthed each word, making certain I got every bit of it.
The world stopped in that instant.  This wasn’t an update request.  This was a directive.
“No.  I quit for the new year,” I replied, feeling the weight of her regret and sadness.
That was in 1998, the same year that she died.
Last night I stood out on my deck, lighting my fourth cigarette of the night.  Up until about a year ago, I could count every relapse I’ve had on one hand.  I knew where I was and what I was doing that lead to the smoking.  Lately, I’ve lost track.  I have my excuses and my reasons and my explanations about how it’s different this time.  It is different this time, but I’m at a crossroads.  This habit of mine, this thing I’m doing, it could go either way.  
Bracing against the snow and wind, gloved hands already smelling of old nicotine, I shivered and said out loud that I need to stop.

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Edited to add:  I’m honored to have been selected as the Jury Prize Winner and to have landed second in the popular vote.  Thanks to everyone who voted and enjoyed the post!


88 Responses to “I Have A Decision To Make.”

  1. Brenda says:

    As always, you drew a picture with your words but this time I wasn’t sure where it was going. I felt like I was there, that my time machine had been repaired and all was (sort of) right in the world. Got quite a many dark giggle out of that “machine”, even brought it to Maine with us for Grandma’s last family reunion – it wasn’t long before a few pencils and a large stack of paper were handed to her by my cousins!
    But I didn’t know you were struggling with the evil weed again. I know exactly how you feel, I actually tell them I hate them, hoping that my brain figures out how to get the message to the right cells at the right time. I’ve slowed down, mostly because my daughter and now her husband have both quit. My granddaughter told me I “have to stop doing that” the other night. I feel guilty, especially knowing what Grandpa would think. And we sure as hell can’t afford it…
    But this might have been the thing that does the trick. Who says our loved ones who have passed don’t speak to us? Thank you for being the medium in this case, and I really hope you (and I) can quit for good.

    • I can’t help but think Grandma’s notes would have been equally indecipherable.

      The smoking has been on and off (mostly off) since Mom died, but it’s been picking up steam, which is not a good thing. And the desire is always there, which makes it worse.

      I know I can stop, I stopped for SO long with no slips. It’s just whenever the temptation is there, I keep giving in. I swear I won’t, but I do.

    • Brenda says:

      You have much more will power than I have, plus I have a few years on you…no excuse, you’d think I would have stopped when she got sick. Or when your mom did. But lately smoking is only out of addiction, and I regret how I feel afterwards. I really am too young to get sick or die from this, and I don’t ever want to make Jenny that sad. I had two today (down from about 5 – 10) with a little help from the e-cigarette. I just don’t want to go through the angry part, that’s what keeps me from succeeding right now the most.

    • I’m always annoyed about something, so the angry part isn’t a problem for me 😉

      Last time I quit cold turkey and that worked for 7 years. I had one cigarette one night in 2005 and was good again until 2010. I need to just buck up and be done with it.

      Cutting back never worked for me. I’m an all or nothing kind of girl. But you knew that.

  2. Larks says:

    Really powerful post. Addiction is so strange. We *know* something is bad for us and feel it in our bones yet stopping is such a complicated process. I’m rooting for you!

    • Thanks Larks. The sad part is I can go weeks without smoking, but then the opportunity presents itself (you know, a friend has one I can grub and my kid isn’t around!) and there I am, doing what I know I shouldn’t. I don’t know how I let this happen.

  3. Christie says:

    Oh your grandma sounds like fun! And Larks is right… Addiction is strange and powerful. I hope you get the support you need to take care of you.

    • My grandma was great. I miss her so much.

      If I could just get the whole world to stop smoking, I’m sure I could beat this once and for all.

      It really pisses me off that I keep giving in to it. I beat it for so long, I don’t know why I can’t right now.

  4. I love your last line, I can see you out there on the deck. Addiction is such a struggle, and you are so strong for recognizing that.

    • It was so cold out there, and yet I stood out there like a dummy. I don’t feel strong since I keep giving in every chance I get – but I hear what you’re saying and I appreciate it, I really do.

  5. Winopants says:

    This was such a beautiful portrait of your grandma. I hope you can find your resolve to quit. But I understand how these things go. My boyfriend’s mom almost died from lung cancer and he (and she) still smokes

    • I wish I hadn’t had the lapse I had that opened the floodgates again. It feels so hard to stop completely. I want to be able to just have one every now and again, but I know there’s no such thing.

    • Arnebya says:

      How perfect a sentence is this: I want to be able to just have one…but I know there’s no such thing. It’s like this with me and alcohol. I’m just going to drink at social gatherings, not at home, and then only have 2. It’s a lie. And I know it.

      Good luck with your trying to quit, though. I know how hard breaking the cycle can be.

  6. This was beautiful and sad. As a former smoker, I am familiar with the hold that addiction can have on us. But considering how vivid your memories are with your grandma, I’m sure you will find the strength to quit.

    • Remembering the look on her face that day, I feel like a giant ass for ever picking up another one. I have such guilt over letting her down. I need to muster that strength and just be done with it forever.

  7. Erica M says:

    Powerful imagery, Michelle. I was right there with you in each room of the story. Well done.

  8. That was absolutely captivating. A great story and so powerful. Very well done!

  9. Angela Ryan says:

    This piece is so beautifully written and richly detailed. The emotion and imagery are simply stellar. And, the post holds many universal truths. I was especially fond of the line: “Sometimes you laugh so you don’t cry. Others you laugh until you do. This was a little bit of both.” You are truly a writer, Michelle! Great work.

  10. Cindy says:

    Another powerhouse post this week. Also, love the bangs! You can do it. I know you can, my email pal. See you next Sunday, smoke-free?

  11. First visit to your blog, and a heart wrenching post. I hope you are able to quit again.

  12. Wow to your story….heartrenching and “real”. You can do it, stop smoking. It took my mom 15 years of attempts and then she did it .be strong. You have family,friends, and blogging buddies behind you. You did the first step as admitting this all, telling this story ,shows you have a ton of strength!

  13. jared Karol says:

    Powerful post, Michelle. While I’ve never been a smoker, I know the power of addiction and how hard it is to stop doing what you’re doing, even when you know its damaging effects. Thank you for giving me a small glimpse into your grandma’s life. This post will stick w/ me, for sure. . .

    • Thanks Jared, I appreciate the comment. I wish I had never gone back after quitting the first time. I thought if I beat it for that long a few here and there wouldn’t hurt. I was wrong.

  14. TriGirl says:

    What a beautiful and sad story. I don’t have any words of wisdom about quitting smoking, but I know that old habits die really hard, because of the routines and feelings associated with them (beyond of course the addiction to the nicotine). Good luck with this next phase!

  15. cynk says:

    Have you decided? Do you have anyone close by to offer support?

    My grandfather died of lung cancer. He was in so much pain in the end, and it was hard to witness.

    I’m not saying this to wag a finger at you. I just know that it is stories like this that make the decision to quit smoking a “logical” decision. However, I know our choices and habits often have little to do with what is logical or what is “right.” I hope that, if/when you choose to quit that you have all the help and strength you need.

    • I have decided. Now I just have to stick to my decision. Easy to do when the opportunity to smoke doesn’t present itself.

      You’re right in that logic has nothing do to with it. And one moment of enjoyment isn’t worth this much stress and harm to the body. I just need to remember that when the time comes. I appreciate your comment. I’m sorry you lost your grandfather that way.

  16. Kristin says:

    “We laughed because the three of us were rendered equally speechless, poking fun at someone who, once she was done laughing at herself, wouldn’t regain the ability. We gasped and coughed, choking on the knowledge of what the future held.”

    Tears. Especially in this section, beautifully told.

  17. Kristin says:

    PS: Nicotine leaves the body after 100 hours. After that, it’s a habit. You can do it! Don’t trade losing weight for losing your life.

    ~ Ms. Know-It-All

  18. christina says:

    oh Michelle. such a beautifully told story.

  19. Robbie says:

    very powerful and FWIW I hope you find the strength to stop again. My mom has smoked for better part of 55 years and she’s on oxygen and can’t play with the grandkids like she use to. She was admitted to the hospital on Thursday with bacterial pneumonia and I thought that would be the last time.

  20. IASoupMama says:

    Michelle, Michelle, Michelle — such a beautifully written post about something so hard. You can do it!

  21. My mother had a small stroke before christmas. Scared us all to death. We all quit smoking the next day. She’s still quit. My brother and I are not. Great post.

  22. And yes you can do it. I can too. Trying again Monday…

  23. wow, such a story. such strong imagery. love your grandma. hope you take care of yourself and kick it.

  24. Marcy says:

    A great piece–very powerful. I lost my mom to lung cancer. She tried to quit for at least 20 years. I’ve heard it’s one of the hardest addictions to get over. Good luck to you.

  25. Amazing post Michelle, so well done! I hope you are successful this time. Sounds like your grandma was wonderful.

  26. Dana says:

    You’ve hit another one out of the park this week, my friend. But, as your friend, the next time I see you, I will not permit you to smoke while I’m around. Really. I’ll rip the damn thing out of your fingers and throw the rest of the pack in your neighbor’s garbage. Only ’cause I love you.

  27. Kathleen says:

    You. Can. Do. This. I am 42 days smoke free right now, and I feel better than I have in five years. The key is wanting it. I don’t think I ever really wanted to stop until this time. I’m 45 and my oldest is getting ready to start high school; mortality is biting me right in the ass.

    I wish you the very best of luck in quitting, when you decide you are ready. You will.

    Beautiful, gut-wrenching post, Michelle.

  28. Jack says:

    I have had a handful of cigarettes in my life and could see how it could become a habit. But I saw my dad hooked up to a ventilator and know smoking was the reason, so it scared me before it could get serious.

    I am sure you can quit again and that you’ll do it when you are ready.

    • When I first started, I was too young and stupid to think that I would have trouble quitting completely and forever. If I knew then what I know now…

      Glad you didn’t make a habit of it!

  29. I’m with you on this one. Michigan Left did it. You can do it. And I can do it. I’m bookmarking this post – because my day to start quitting again is coming soon and I will want to read it again when that day comes.

  30. Omg, it’s impossible…it’s like being a heroin addict

  31. Wow, I relate to this on so many levels…my grandmother, also a lifetime smoker, died two years ago of cancer. Reading this reminded me of what we all went through during those end times…
    And I’m not a smoker, but I am an addict (alcohol), and I know exactly how hard it is to kick a habit like that. I have yet to relapse, thank God, because if I did it might mean my life.
    Good luck, from the bottom of my heart!

  32. Esther says:

    I love how your grandma’s story is the backdrop for your own here. Habits are so confusing. Best of luck!

  33. Linda Roy says:

    I wish you all the best in your decision to stop, Michelle. You can do it! The memory of your Grandma will be a strong motivation. Your piece is a powerful tribute to her.

  34. Great story and powerful motivation to quit again. You can do it!

  35. Stephanie says:

    beautifully, beautifully written. I’m sending you lots of good thoughts!

  36. Michelle, thanks for sharing such a beautiful moment with your grandmother. I have this image of you all together laughing through the pain. Wishing you all the best as you try to kick the habit!

  37. Kim S. says:

    This is one of my favorite post from you!. Poignant and honest and funny. It’s a hard habit. (btw- I love the bangs too!)

  38. Bill Dameron says:

    Wonderfully told story and yes, you do need to stop. My father died from lung cancer. It was ugly and sad and I remember changing his diapers on the day he died. We’d like to keep reading your stories for as long as possible!

  39. Bill Dameron says:

    Wonderfully told story and yes, you do need to stop. My father died from lung cancer. It was ugly and sad and I remember changing his diapers on the day he died. We’d like to keep reading your stories for as long as possible!

  40. Dilovely says:

    Perfectly told example of the human condition. We work against ourselves so often. May this effort to quit be your best yet – even the best ever.

  41. Catching up on you, too. Damn good piece, told brilliantly and vibrantly with so much heart. Well deserved wins, my dear. xo

  42. Nathan needs you to quit smoking and never start again. And I am well aware of how crappy it is of me to say that. If that’s what it takes….

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