Someone's gotta speak at your wake

I said I wouldn’t write tonight. I kept my promise; by the time this will be posted, it will be morning. That’s fair, is it not? (In some fashion?)

I generally don’t write here when I’m troubled or upset. Partly because these moods pass, partly because I am ruled by those moods more than I care to admit, and partly because my natural reaction to ‘the blues’ is to retreat down deep into myself. Down, past verbose explanations and even sillier tears, to my little mental hiding place where no people, no words, can touch me.

What you can’t see is that I’m writing this in the dark. I have the mini-blinds open, and outside, I can see the rain sluicing off of our roof and running into the garden. Farther away, I can’t see the rain, but I can see the shimmering effect it has on the reflection from the neighbor’s streetlight. It’s raining hard enough that I can hear it over Jeff’s computer; in the master bedroom it is, probably, quite loud indeed.

Sound that will, I hope, soothe me to sleep.

I took Jeff to the doctor this morning. It was not bronchitis, as I expected; his lungs were clear. Kay, our nurse practitioner, asked Jeff when the coughing had started, and asked him to think back. Shortly before the coughing began, she asked, had he been exposed to anything that might have irritated his lungs?

The answer was an immediate and unqualified yes: we had quite a long holiday at my parents’ house for Christmas, and my parents are both heavy smokers. Jeff has been coughing consistently since then.

I’ve known for many years that I was sensitive to cigarette smoke, but prior to this year, Jeff had never been greatly affected by it. I don’t know what to do about this. I honestly don’t.

My parents enjoy the same freedoms as we do when it comes to our homes: those who pay the mortgage can do whatever they want under their own roof. But it’s become more apparent to me over the past few years that I simply can’t stay in the house with my parents for long periods of time. It’s not that I don’t love them. It’s that I find myself having trouble breathing normally when I stay with them for more than a day or two. They can’t smell the smoke, nor feel the effects, and they honestly don’t understand why I constantly find reasons to leave the house after having driven seven hours each way to visit.

There are some people who read domesticat who undoubtedly think me a silly, stupid, pretentious girl. To a degree, they’re right; I allow myself to lean on the crutch of detached observation when I think that what really needs to be said will probably hurt someone who reads what I write. So sometimes the really painful truths—the ones that are real, and universal, and say more about me than the glossy little thousand-word essays that show up here regularly—get glossed over in the name of peace.

Most of the time, that decision is the right one. Life’s too short to go around hurting folk willy-nilly, and someone’s gotta speak at your wake.

So I’ll say it this way.

I wish my parents didn’t smoke. I wish I knew a way to ask them—beg them, even—to please stop. I wish that when I was younger, I could have made them see that every winter, when we were all cooped up in the house together with the windows shut, I got sick every single Christmas break until I started taking Christmas road trips that got me out of the house.

I wish I had found the courage this past Christmas to tell my mother what I really want for Christmas next year: for them to stop smoking. I’ve had that wish sitting in reserve every year since I was a teenager, and every time I’ve tried to say something about it to her, I couldn’t get the words out. I’d love to make them understand that they could buy me absolutely nothing next year, if they’d just quit, and I’d consider it the best Christmas present they’d ever given me.

But now it’s affected Jeff too, and now we have to say something, and we need to give them some kind of an explanation as to why we just can’t stay in the house very long when we next visit. As family, I owe them this explanation, but I know that I’m too cowardly to give it.

I’ve asked Jeff to do it—how lousy and childish is that?

Geof reminds me regularly that I can’t just wait for “sometime” to roll around where parents and family are concerned. My parents won’t be around forever, and to claim that my father is in good health is to ignore everything that’s happened over the past two years. (See also: aortic aneurysm the size of a human fist.)

I wish there was a way to say it without having to actually say it. I wish I knew how to make them see that I’m not trying to be a bitchy, interfering daughter, but that in fact I want them healthy and in my life for as many years as life and fate allow. We don’t always get along; in fact, we drive each other crazy whenever we’re around each other.

But death is permanent. To live with the knowledge of what may well take your parents away from you, and to watch it make your spouse ill because you went home for Christmas…it frustrates me, angers me, and saddens me all at once. I don’t have good words, thoughtful words, or really even coherent words on the matter. I just have my words.

I guess they’ll have to do.


I used to feel like you do and I had no idea what to do. Finally my dad had to go in for a triple bypass and was told by the doctors to quit or die. Recently he's also had an experimental pacemaker put in. Let's hope you can help your parents before it gets to that.