My dad died in 1984, at the age of 57. He didn't live to see any of his grandchildren. He died of COPD, or what had been known before then as emphysema. He had smoked since his teen years. My grandparents smoked as well. Both had emphysema, though lived much longer--my grandfather to 84, my grandmother, 79.
Perhaps my father's allergies, asthma, and childhood bouts of pneumonia
predisposed his lungs to weakness. Perhaps his workaholic nature wore
him down as he put in crazy-long hours in the early days of computers:
coffee and cigarettes and nothing but a candy bar from the machine for
dinner. These were computers that took up whole rooms, punch card
machines...He moved to IBM, selling computer systems to newspapers and
magazines in the early 70's, then to developing IBM products for
newspapers and magazines...working on the early printers...coffee and
cigarettes, long hours, long commute from Stamford to White Plains.
Frequent travel. Trips to Japan, England, France...
He barely made it to my college graduation and later that same year was
unable to climb the steps into the chapel where I was married. He sat in
the car while I was taking my vows. He lived from medication dose to
medication dose, from hospitalization to hospitalization, until he died.
I asked my father's doctor once whether, if I were prone to this same
illness, there were any careers choices I should avoid. I was a
teenager. He smiled wryly. It's hard to be a doctor of the irrevocably
gasping, dying. It's hard to be questioned by an unknowing, radiantly
"Don't be a toll taker on the highway, " he said.
On Saturday, April 20th, CA is sponsoring Breathe Deep Columbia--a Lungevity
Foundation 5 K Walk and Lung Awareness event. While this foundation
raises money to stop Lung Cancer, and not COPD, the words "Breathe Deep"
really spoke to me.
Now, April 20th is also CA Village Election Day. I'm going to be rather busy.
So, instead of walking, I'm making a donation to Jane Dembner's Best Team Ever! sponsoring Barbara
Kellner. I'm giving in memory of my grandparents, Byron Edward and
Hazel Cornell Jackson, and especially my dad, Byron Cornell Jackson, who
thought he couldn't be productive and support a family without his
coffee and cigarettes.
For all that he missed, and for all that I missed, I am giving.
Maybe you have a reason to walk, or to give? Remember, if you can breathe deeply, be grateful.