i remember clearly the last day that he was able to go outside to smoke. It was a beautiful cool Saturday morning in November just before Thanksgiving. I took Ronnie outside to an enclosed smoking area, and placed his wheelchair in front of a large window. The sun was shining directly into the window, enabling him to feel it’s warmth. He smoked and talked and laughed. I sat beside my uncle Ronnie, enjoying the specialness of the moment.
When at last I took him back in the building to his room, the nurses and I knew this was it. He was getting weaker and in more and more pain. The decision was made that he needed to go to bed to stay.
His last week began.
I know he understood the consequences of smoking. I know he had been told that lung cancer was a possible result of decades of breathing in the toxins in cigarettes. I don’t know if he did not care, or if he refused to mentally acknowledge that it could be reality for him.
Whatever his thinking, a diagnosis of lung cancer was not enough to make him stop smoking. Nope. He smoked through his entire illness, up until about a week before his death when he was too sick to smoke.
I had such mixed emotions when he bought cigarettes on one of our first Walmart trips. Part of me wanted to yell at him for continuing a nasty habit that was going to be the cause of his death. Another part of me wanted to just acquiesce to the fact that his man did not have long to live and deserved to live his last days doing what made him happy.
Well, stuffing the former urges into my heart, I did the latter. I even bought cigarettes for him once he was too sick to by them for himself. I never thought I would do that.
There are no regrets in what I did or didn’t do here. He needed to be as happy and satisfied as possible, and smoking helped accomplish that. I would do it again.
The doctors at the VA in Albuquerque decided that, considering the gravity of Ronnie’s health, and the decisions I had made regarding his treatment, the hospice unit would be an appropriate placement for him. I agreed.
So here I go again. Once again completing the paperwork, talking to the nurses, meeting the chaplain, and on and on.
My emotions at this point were just whirling. I was feeling a great deal of grief, because I knew my uncle’s life as he had been living it was over. I felt guilty because I was the one who made the decisions that took him from his home. I felt grateful and thankful because things had worked out so that I could be close to him. I felt some anger at Ronnie because his decision to smoke all his life had resulted in his body being consumed with cancer. Yes, I felt a complete range of emotions with clear reasons that I could articulate about each one.
Having been down this path though has helped me put whatever I am feeling into perspective. I am not the person in the midst of this crisis. Ronnie is. My feelings are secondary to his situation. He is the person who is ill, facing pain and death. My life will go on. His will not.