Learning how to quit smoking was difficult for me. Chances are, if you’re reading this article, it’s difficult for you as well. I tried all the methods of quitting: the gum, Wellbutrin, patches, hypnotherapy, a half-dozen other gimmicks. The worst of them curbed my need for a cigarette for two hours; the best, a couple months. I always came back to cigarettes though. It had worked its way into my psyche as a psychological reward and I felt like I’d never be happy again every time I quit. Take the carrot away from the donkey and see what happens.
Emphysema and Oxygen Tanks
My father smoked two packs a day from sixteen years old to forty. I remember the day he quit. I was eleven, it was January 1st and there was a Hitchcock marathon on TV. My mom told us to stay out of Dad’s way because he just quit smoking and it was very hard to do. We did stay out of his way and now, almost at his 63rd birthday, he still doesn’t smoke.
His father, on the other hand, is a different story. A lifelong, unrepentant smoker, my grandfather died an agonizingly slow death because of it. He never bothered to quit smoking. It started with the symptoms I already had. Shortness of breath, sweating, fast pulse, yellowed fingers. I saw these on him but, like anyone young, I dismissed it.
Until, of course, he was diagnosed with emphysema. Listening to him breathe was like listening to an accordion filled with mayonnaise. His couldn’t make it up the stairs and grocery shopping became a daylong event.
Still, he didn’t quit. He’d sneak off and drive to a corner store and buy a pack of Marlboro Reds every day, although he only took two or three puffs of each cigarette before a coughing fit overtook him. After these fits he sometimes spit out a gob of brown goo that made my gorge rise.
Stroke and Slipping
My grandfather owned a successful shop for thirty years and was super savvy. He was a wheeler and dealer, and although he didn’t break the law, he did often bend it. I respected him the same way I respected a good grifter. But that part of my grandfather disappeared after a stroke paralyzed half his body and took away his speech. From there, he went from his own home to a nursing home, where his slim body wasted away. The amusing con man was gone.
After a year of biweekly visits, my father called me to tell me my grandfather was dying. All of us needed to say goodbye. One at a time we arrived, but by the time I did, he was unconscious and wouldn’t wake. His death was expected, but I still surprised myself when I didn’t cry. My father left the room for a few minutes and there we were, in a nursing home that looked like a nice motel room. Just me, him and a steady beep of some machine. Then I did something unplanned and morbid.
My Odd Method of Quitting Smoking
I raised my phone and before my father came back, took a picture of my grandpa. His toothless mouth hung open, his eyes were half-lidded by foggy and his skin paper-thin. It is NOT how you’d want to remember a loved one. But I took the picture anyway.
I knew how to quit smoking that day, and whenever I wanted a cigarette, I took out my phone and went straight to that picture. I stared at it and forced myself to remember everything. That’s not an easy thing to do, making yourself relieve a painful memory. In fact, it’s downright masochistic.
But two years later and I still am not smoking. As horrific as his death was, it made me decide that the same wouldn’t happen to me.