IONE L. (zaneygraylady) - 7/16/2007 4:39 PM ET
That was a beautiful story and I'm sure your Nana can hear it.
|Sometimes when my life gets too complicated or busy to handle, I want to light a cigarette. The slow puffs from the wrapped-up tobacco and the nicotine filling my lungs help me to calm down and forget, just for a second, about the paper I have due at 9 a.m. or the important event I have to cover for my college newspaper. Resisting the walk to the corner store and buying a pack of cigarettes for almost $5 can be a challenge, but I try my hardest. Itís even harder when I go out with friends from home, where there is a Turkey Hill convenient mart every couple of blocks. But somewhere between reaching for one when I stress out and when my sinuses kick in to tell me they hate the smoke, I think of my Nana and where cigarettes took her. It is then that I throw away my pack or give it to a smoker friend, because her death has changed my whole world.
I was too young to remember when I bothered Nana about smoking. From a reliable source, my Pop, Nana began smoking at 14 years old. Iím not sure what tempted her to try it; maybe it was the lack of knowledge about the damage caused by cigarettes to the body or maybe the stresses of her life during the Great Depression, but she tried it and never stopped. Pop said she didnít stop even when she was pregnant with my mother or my Aunt Renee. Cigarettes began as a popular, sexy form of expression but when the addiction started, itís hard to stop Ė the point of nicotine.
Nanaís house didnít retain the heavy cigarette scent even though she smoked inside. The aging brown couch and matching arm chair were clean and odor-free, minus the corner seat my Pop always sat it, which was sunken-in from continual usage. All shelves, end tables and electronics were never dusty, and her sheets on the bed were in tip-top shape. Maybe I was used to the smell of cigarettes or maybe when I was around, she kept the cigarette under the table so the second-hand smoke would not fill my innocent lungs. She didnít do this when I was playing under the table like I did sometimes because of my short stature. The kitchen table was never cluttered with papers or mail, and the floor was spotless, so I usually sat in my little hideaway with the Lincoln Logs I left at Nanaís house. However, there were ashtrays around: one in her bedroom, two in the T.V. room, and one in the kitchen with a few spares in the closet. They were never completely filled with cigarettes because Nana cleaned them out regularly. The only non-smoking room in the house was the good living room with the nice white sofa set, white curtains and clean, white carpet. This room was only used for special guests or during holidays.
She did also smoke in the car, the restaurant and especially over two of her sistersí houses. Aunt Josie and Aunt Bea were smokers also, and you could see them at family functions going outside every couple of hours to give into the habit. I can remember the large boxes that might have 10 or more packs in it sitting in the closet or on a shelf. However, I canít remember the brand she smoked. Nana with her cigarettes was a common thing that I didnít pay enough attention. No one really did for the same reason.
My memory was more concerned remembering all the fun times. On Friday nights Nana, Aunt Josie, Aunt Bea, my mother and I went to dinner or bought Long John Silverís and brought it to someoneís house. We watched Wheel of Fortune and the Pennsylvania lottery every time I visited, and I loved scratching her instant-lotto tickets that she bought almost every day. I would regularly sleep over on weekends after we moved out of their house when I was 2 years old, and regularly we took naps together when I was younger. I would fall asleep to Nana praying the rosary and watching QVC. My mother has picked up on this trait of my Nana when she falls asleep at night now. I especially remember the traditional holiday cooking during Christmas with anise cookies, baked ziti and all the Italian and Polish foods.
At some point in my life, I remember becoming totally against smoking, drinking and drugs. I think it had to do with the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program I had to take in fifth grade, where the police officer taught me the negative effects of all of those drugs. According to the D.A.R.E. website, tobacco is considered a gateway drug, or a drug that usually leads to the usage of other more powerful drugs. I already knew smoking was bad but I wasnít really sure why up to this point, other than the bad smell the cigarettes created. From the program, I learned that risk of developing cancer is 10 times greater for smokers than for nonsmokers, and smoking causes 85 percent of all lung cancer deaths. I remember thinking that Nana was putting drugs into her body and I didnít want her to get hurt. I loved her too much and never wanted her out of my life. What would I do if she did die? I was too afraid to answer that question to myself, so I began to bother her to quit. Soon, I realized it was too hard for her to quit cold turkey like Pop had done a few years earlier, so I encouraged the Nicorette patch or gum. I bothered and pushed, but Nana wouldnít budge even when my immediate family tried persuading her.
Around this time I was about 12 years old, even though my schedule was more of a 25-year-old. I became so consumed with school, cheerleading, playing the flute and piano, practicing with my so-called ďband,Ē being in plays and everything else my little body could handle. There was not a weekend free for spending time with Nana, and my friends became more important on Friday nights. I also turned my obsession away from my Nana and towards boys. I had a boyfriend in both fifth and sixth grade, and my new fantasy boy was Zac Hanson from the group Hanson. Nana was put on the backburner and I didnít even realize it. At this point in my life, I thought Nana would be around for a long time. She was a young 65 year old and I had never really lost anyone close in my life, except my Aunt Bea in 1997. Aunt Bea died from pancreatic cancer, which was the first cancer-related death of my Nanaís siblings, and Aunt Beaís smoking probably did more hinder than help to her health.
During the summer of 1998, I spent my days riding bikes with my friends all around Plains, PA and we would stop at Nanaís house to swim in the pool. In that same summer, the fad of signing autograph books had started among my friends, and I wanted Nana to be the first to sign in my first one from Knobles Amusement Park I got on a recent trip. I thought it was cool for my family to sign so I could remember what they thought of me that summer when I read it years later. Nana wrote in it: ďBeth, be a good girl always. Listen to your mom and dad. Get a good job and make lots of money when you finish school to buy all the stuff you want. Hope you meet Hanson one day. Love, NanaĒ. I still think of this as the best advice I will ever receive.
Life still continued to busy as I entered seventh grade. I was closer to graduating middle school, which meant I was going to high school, and my body was shifting into more of a woman from puberty. What I do remember from the beginning of that school year was promising Nana I would have a sleepover with her sometime soon. Secretly, I thought I was getting too old for sleepovers with Nana. I also thought that my schedule would never let me because I had a play coming up soon, a flute recital and a cheerleading competition. Nana began to get the flu about September 1998, and it wouldnít go away. During the second week of October, she was sitting on the couch still sick and I was visiting on a Sunday. We just watched the normal television programs and talking like nothing was wrong, and what I didnít know was something was more serious than appeared.
The next two weeks were a blur. My mother informed me that Nanaís condition was so serious that she had to be hospitalized. Later in the first week, she said they were going to Philadelphia soon to talk to other doctors and get more advanced medical help for her condition I knew nothing about. Mom insisted I continue worrying about my work and everything else because nothing was wrong. She said everything would be fine and the doctors were just being cautious. I was convinced it was just serious flu since Nana was up in age. My mother was once worried when I had the flu that turned into pneumonia. Maybe Nana had pneumonia, I thought.
On October 20, 1998, Mom came home around 7 p.m. looking tired, which was the usual for the past two weeks. She visited Nana every night after work, or she told me she did, and I wasnít allowed but I never received a reason for why I couldnít. As she began to sit down and help my brother and sister with homework, like she always did, the phone rang. Any time the phone rang in my house those two weeks, Mom always jumped from nervousness, and this night was no exception. She was afraid of a specific phone call she was about to receive. It was my Uncle Tom and his voice seemed to be shaking as he asked for Mom. This scared me. After I saw her reaction and her quickness to grab her jacket and purse, I followed her. Something was terribly wrong and my family had lied to me. My mind was racing. I couldnít lose Nana. She couldnít leave me. I insisted I come with her and even though Mom told me no, I followed her to the van through my tears.
As we rode in the van to wherever Nana could be, I made Mom tell me the truth about what was happening. She was reluctant at first, but then she told me as she cried, ďNana has lung cancer and sheís dying.Ē Just seeing those words on paper makes my eyes tear up and my face droop. Mom told me that two weeks ago, Nana was told she had lung cancer and does not have long to live. At first there was hope that treatment in Philadelphia might help. However, this cancer spread quickly and she had no time for treatment. My family put her in a hospice in downtown Wilkes-Barre for her to be comfortable. Mom told me she wanted me to know, but Nana insisted I never did. Nana didnít want me to see her in this terrible condition. I cried that I didnít care, but Mom told me Nanaís condition worsened each day and she was beginning to say strange things and not recognize anyone in the room. As we neared the hospice, I prayed to God she didnít die yet. I wanted to see her and tell her I love her. All I wanted was one more chance since I will not get another one again.
Unfortunately, as we walked through the hallway towards her room, my Aunt Barb came out crying. Nana died. I just hugged my relatives and cried at first, but then I went into a shock. My feelings seemed to have left me, but I wanted them back desperately. I wanted to mourn my dead Nana. As I walked into her room, her mouth was open and her eyes shut. Her expression was more in awe and surprise than the peaceful departing expression movies and television usually show, but she still didnít look dead. No noises came from a heart monitor or other machines; just her motionless body that I wanted to sit up, hug me and tell me she was alright. Pop didnít cry that day when I saw him. He was more concerned with how I felt and how his daughters were doing. I know my Popís heart is still breaking every day. I didnít cry about her death until it set into me eight years later.
I was so young when she died. I can barely remember her, and it hurts to know that. Even pictures donít help to create a mental image as best as they used to. Not a day goes by that I wish she was here to talk to me about life. I want to tell her about my current boy problem or my career. I want to learn about her past and have her help me with my future. I wanted her here when I graduated middle school, high school and when I will graduate college. I want her here when I move to New York for my job and when I get married, if I ever do. From the advice she told me eight years ago, I know she wished she could stay here on Earth to see me grow. Unfortunately, God wanted her sooner than she wanted to leave. Pop told me once what Nana said before her diagnosis: ďShe said if she got better this time, she would stop smoking. She never got better.Ē When I see a cigarette lying on the ground, in the stores or in someoneís hand, it reminds me of what took away one of the most important people in my life. I canít completely blame the cigarettes because it was her choice to put it into her body, but it is also a constant reminder of what I should not be doing.
There are many things in my life that have happened after she died, and I know it was her. I know that I picked up on my love for Juicy Fruit gum and praying to the Virgin Mary from her. When I was in a crisis and I had no one to turn to, I felt her presence with me. I know that as every day passes by, she is watching and protecting my every step. As I make some life-changing decisions, I can feel her gentle push towards an answer. When the lyrics to ďAngelĒ by Sarah McLaughlin cascade into my ears, I think about Nana. Even though she left me in her physical form, maybe the purpose for her death was to be my guardian angel and speak to me in my heart rather than to my ears, because her memory will always be with me.
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