Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 1 Million Likes and My Dad will Quit Smoking.

IMG_1700In an earlier post I shared some of the things I was angry about since this dance with the Big C began last fall.  Mostly bat-shit crazy, Mad Hatter things that have been overwhelming and downright mystifying.  The bubbling brew of oozing gooey undisguised and unrestrained emotions.  My psychological backpack is already jam-packed, yet I continue to gather more of these sour candies with each passing day.  It’s been a real slice and I am grateful to everyone who is on the road with me.  I’m especially grateful to those with large hearts and even larger compassionate muscles who haven’t judged.  Just walked the mile in my moccasins.

One of the big things I have wrestled with in this messy muddy life I lead is that there is just no way to sanitize these emotions. I wish I could.  But the truth is, they are there.  Maybe they always were and E’s cancer just brought them roaring to the surface. Demanding that I take note.  So I have.  And the thing is, I can’t paint a pretty picture.  Won’t even try.  All my life I have been referred to as “such a nice person.”  Well, there isn’t anything nice about this.  None of it.  So if you will indulge me one last purge, one final rage, one more dump about anger, then I think I’m done here.

Warning: Some of you may want to quit reading at this point.  No hard feelings. This isn’t for everyone.  I get that. You can move on and read the blogs about flour-free recipes or how to make a tee shirt from toilet paper.

There is one colossal thing that I’ve been livid about for years.  It trumps all those other things I’ve been mad about.  Makes them seem almost trivial.  Not even deep enough to be superficial. It’s the Big Kahuna of piss-offs.  I intentionally left it out of my first rant because it’s been such a sensitive thorn in my side.  And believe it or not, I was still trying to play nice in that post.  But since this is the final puke-up, here goes.

E smoked.

Not casually.  Not after dinner.  Nor while on vacation.  Not like those rare birds who bum smokes at parties but never indulge otherwise. It wasn’t a bad habit he picked up late at night while playing in bands.  E was a hard-core smoker from the time his was nine years old.  He chain smoked. Tons. It was the first thing he did when he got up in the morning and the last thing at night.  If he couldn’t sleep he got up and had a cigarette. It comforted him in ways I never could.  It was his best friend. An extension of his yellow nicotine stained fingers.

No one knows with 100 percent certainty that smoking was the cause of his disease. Even the doctors who treated him, and the nurses who cared for him, left the door open for other possible explanations.  Cancer does strike randomly.  Nonsmokers get lung cancer.  Health nuts, who only eat organic foods and run ten miles a day, get stomach cancer.  People who wear big floppy hats and cover themselves in gobs of suntan lotion get skin cancer.  We know this to be true.  Stress and inflammation are often at the heart of many diseases, from head to heel.  I get this.

But here’s the two thousand pound elephant in the room.  E stuck a carcinogenic substance in his mouth for 45 years, every day, all day.  He has mouth cancer. Mathematical equations aside, odds are cigarette smoking most likely caused this thing.

And I’m mad as hell about that.

Before our daughter was born I begged and pleaded with E to quit.  Once M was here, I tried every manipulative trick in the book.  Of course, intellectually I knew this had to be his decision. He had to hold his own come to Jesus meeting.  I had no control over this.  I understood addiction. Having grown up with an alcoholic father and personally battled with uncontrollable sugar cravings my entire life, I knew what misery looked like.  I’d grovel and drag myself through the mud just for an O’Henry Bar. I know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night needing to feed.  I will always be a sugar addict, whether I eat the stuff or not.  I’ve also smoked.  I know how hard it is to quit. I bawled like a baby for two weeks solid the last, and final, time I quit.  It was pathetic.  Not one of my more graceful and exemplary times.

Because I knew intimately how difficult quitting smoking could be, I exercised as much compassion and understanding as was possible with E. But I’m only human after all.  And I have my own crap to deal with. There was always this underlying resentment about him not quitting.  I often viewed it as defiance.  Not something he couldn’t do.  But wouldn’t.

There were a couple of occasions over the past 20 years where E attempted to quit.  His longest smoke-free period was about four months.  Most of his efforts were futile though.  When it came to quitting, the best he could commit to was “someday.”

Over time, my protests and admonishments ebbed and flowed in volume and frequency.  I also had a comrade, a buddy, a conscientious objector who shared my concerns.  I went from wanting to shield my daughter from a swath of cigarette fumes to having her join me on the protest line.  M and I were a united front on this issue.

At times we were passive aggressive in our objections and disapproval.  Never really coming out and saying, “You’re an asshole for treating this so lightly,” but implying it just the same, in our offhanded comments.  These ran the gambit from the descriptive, “The garage looks like a butt factory” to the succinct, “you reek.”  His habit was bringing out the worst in us.  We were evil twins.

But once E’s mouth cancer was confirmed, no one dared to say, “I told you so.”  We knew there was a good possibility something like this could happen. He was playing a risky game with much at stake.  Sad thing is, E knew it too.  That was the frustrating part.  Just like quitting  might happen “someday” so could getting cancer.

It’s a peculiar thing how love supersedes everything at times like these. Instead of thinking, “I knew this was going to happen.” All I could think about was losing him.  Nothing else mattered.  The cause was irrelevant.

Having said all that, I’m still angry.  At E for not quitting before it came to this.  At his doctor, for not ever suggesting he should quit.  At myself, for not being more persuasive, not fighting hard enough.  At God, for not answering all those millions of prayers.

Pointless self-flagellation.  I know.

One last thing.  All over social media sites, but Facebook in particular, there have been these images of kids holding signs that read something like, “My dad says that if I get 1 million ‘likes’ he’ll quit smoking.”  I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry the first time I saw one of these posts.  For the most part these are scams called “Like Farming”, which can generate tons of money for the owners of those phony pages.  Scams or the real deal aside, I found them disturbing.  Because M and I know the truth.  It will take more than 1 million “likes” to make someone’s dad quit smoking. No matter how much they love you. It just doesn’t work that way. Nothing’s that simple.

I’m angry about that too.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter. What Were You Thinking?

E before he quit smoking.

E before he quit smoking.

I’m not a mind reader.  I don’t have X-ray vision. No telepathic abilities that I’m aware of.  I’m definitely not a clairvoyant and the last time I checked I don’t have ESP.   But on occasion I do have an acute sixth sense.  Like Spider Man.  Sometimes I just know something’s up.

Such was the case the night we went to visit a gravely ill friend at the hospital.

After two decades together I thought E and I shared everything.  Our thoughts.  Feelings.  Fears.  But I learned that with this cancer thing, that wasn’t true.  Fact is, no one really knows for sure what’s going on inside another person’s head.  Nor do we know the things kept tucked away in timorous hearts.  Our interior worlds are ours alone. We share what we share.  Give what we give. Reveal only what’s comfortable or safe.  We’re transparent at times.  But more often than not, opaque.  The proverbial window into a person’s soul is often dirty.  Foggy.  Obscured. Dark and scary.

We rode up the hospital elevator to the seventh floor in easy silence. Each in our own private world. Elevators have this affect on us. I watched attentively as the red digital numbers over the doors changed.  Floor by floor.  Thankfully no one else joined us on our ride upward. I wasn’t in the mood for company. A fleeting thought of our sick friend crossed my mind.  Followed by an unsettling twitch of anxiety in the pit of my stomach.  I took a gulp of air and let it out with flapping lips.  I sounded like a horse snorting.

Just before the doors swung open, I glanced over at E.  There was something about his expression that concerned me. Did it bother him to be back in a hospital?  Was he looking down the road to the day he’d have to return?  Was he afraid?

The doors opened.  We stepped out into the bright glaring lights of the corridor.  A startling contrast from the dimly lit elevator car with its hypnotic hum.  The steel box that confined and contained our emotions.

Boom.  Reality hit.  Raw.  Intense.  Chilly.  I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“How do you feel?” I blurted out.

“I’m fine,” he auto-responded.

“No, how do you really feel?” I persisted.

“I’m tired,” he exhaled fully, releasing weeks of held emotions.  “And depressed.  I don’t know if I’m tired because I’m depressed.  Or depressed because I’m so tired.”

“I understand,” I said.

Finally some truth.  A place to start.

For the first time in a month, E fully understood that he wasn’t alone.  He had me.  No matter what.  Although the cancer was inside his body, the journey was ours.  We were in this together.  The good.  The bad.  And the ugly.  We were a shameless spaghetti western.  Clint Eastwood, this movie belonged to us.

The next day I sat down at my computer and wrote this poem.

The Truth About This Thing Called Cancer

Yesterday when we got off the elevator at the 7th floor

And we were heading towards room 721

To visit our friend who was back in the hospital

Having a blood transfusion

In preparation for surgery the next day

His third in nine months.
His body was covered in scars

From years of cuts and mends

Repairs and retribution

A missing foot

An ulcer on the other

Now in peril.
But this isn’t about him.
I asked you how you were feeling

Really feeling

No fake bullshit

No more keeping secrets.

 

I’m a big girl

I can hear the word cancer

The Big C

Without wanting to dive

Into the river of terror.
I’m your love

And you are mine

We’ll do this together.
So you confessed.
You said that even though

You laugh and joke

Put on your happy face

There are times that you feel tired

And depressed.
You sleep

Because you are tired

Which makes you depressed

So you sleep

To make the depression

Go away.

 

You can’t tell

The cause

From the effect.
I told you that I understood.
But the truth is

I only understand

Half of the equation.

 

I don’t know cancer

But I know depression

And the desire to sleep it away.
I know love

And the power it wields

The healing it contains

For both of us
I told you right from the start

That all I ever wanted

Was for you to

Tell me the truth.
And that goes for this thing too.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 101 Things I Regret.

My heart is full of regrets but it is also full of love.

When I was younger. “So much younger than today,” as the Beatles sang in Help, I boasted that I didn’t regret anything.  “It’s pointless, a huge time-waster that accomplishes nothing,” I declared self-assuredly.  “These are all the things that have made me who I am today. Or I did the very best I could with what I knew then,” my much younger self proclaimed with bold bravado. Like a war hero decorated in medals.  I thought I had it all figured out back then. I was so wise.  “But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured.  Now I find I’ve changed my mind,” and I’ve realized I do have regrets.

101 just for starters.

Regrets are different from mistakes.  True, you can learn from them.  Both inform and create the person you are thus far.

But for me there’s a big difference.  Inherent in every mistake is another opportunity.  To fix things.  To do better next time.  To get it right.  There’s built in resolve.  Doggedness.  Determination.  There’s the possibility of a second chance.  Ultimately a happy ending if you play your cards right.  A new and improved you may emerge.

None of this comes into play with regrets.  These are the things you can’t fix.  The one timers.  There isn’t a second chance.  No opportunity to do better next time.  You can’t repair the damage.  There’s a certain sadness to regret.  Sorrow.  Melancholy.  Mournfulness.  These are the residual feelings that linger and haunt.  So final.  Permanent. What’s done is done.  The best you can do is learn something of value and move on.  I don’t dwell.  But I don’t brush regret under the rug either.  I acknowledge and own. Take full responsibility.  Grateful for the refiners fire.  Pray for wisdom.

Now there are some things on this list that I may be able to scratch off one day. There’s still time to learn how to pickle, for example, even though I’ve missed my opportunity to learn this autumnal skill from Ma.  I may even learn how to swim, but that means I have to muster the courage to put on a bathing suit.  So for now they are on the list, amongst the items that I won’t ever be able to change, take back, do over, nor make go away.

Here’s the big kicker.  I think it’s okay to have regrets.  To feel remorse about something I did or said.  Although I can’t change the past, my regrets act as a barometer and guide for the things I do now.  The decisions I make.  The path that I follow.  They remind me that I am only human after all.  They humble me.  I seek grace.  Forgiveness.  Move forward with a far gentler hand and quieter step.

So here they are.  In no particular order.  Unedited.  From my regretful heart to yours.

1. Hurting anyone, even if it was unintentional.
2. Complaining and whining rather than helping and changing.
3. Not respecting The Old Man’s right to choose what he put into his body. He was diabetic not an idiot.
4. Being impatient with my children when they were young and my parents when they were elderly.
5. Not saying yes more often.
6. Hurting or humiliating someone with unkind words, especially those most dear to me.
7. Taking dance lessons instead of piano lessons when I was given the choice.
8. Ever starting to dye my hair.
9. Squeezing pimples on my face when I was a teenager.
10. Taking my oldest daughter to see Purple Rain when she was six.
11. Giving up my teaching career.  Summer’s off would be nice about now.
12. Sleeping with men who didn’t give a crap about me, even when I knew better.
13. Smoking, especially in front of my two oldest kids.
14. Gossiping about anyone.
15. Criticizing people just because it’s so easy.
16. Not appreciating my youth when I had it.
17. Not going to Europe after University.
18. Not saving or doing any financial planning.
19. Not practicing my guitar, my flute, my clarinet.
20. Criticizing The Old Man for eating too much sugar then over indulging myself.
21. Being rude.
22. Not mending fences with one of my brothers after Ma died.
23. Not being with my parents to hold their hands when they died, especially Ma.
24. Being a Groupie instead of the leader of the band.
25. Waiting 20 years to get a divorce.
26. Waiting 20 years to marry E.
27. Not taking my son to sporting events when he was a kid.
28. All the times the words “I’m sorry” got stuck in my throat.
29. Letting my ego and pride get in the way.
30. All the nights I lost sleep over things that didn’t matter.
31. All the times I was small and petty instead of large and magnanimous.
32. Holding grudges far too long.
33. For speaking before thinking.
34. Over thinking things that in the end were really quite simple.
35. All the opportunities I deliberately ignored.
36. Not doing what was right regardless of how uncomfortable it made me feel.
37. Not playing fair.
38. Not going to social events when I said I would.
39. Breaking promises, especially to my kids.
40. Not playing more games with my kids.
41. Not listening.
42. Being a smart aleck and thinking I was so clever and witty when I wasn’t.
43. Bragging and being boastful.
44. Not grabbing on harder to all the small beautiful things in life.
45. Going to bed angry and waking up angrier.
46. Living a timid life.
47. Let fear rule far too often.
48. Not letting go of resentment, especially towards my ex-husband.
49. The years spent watching useless television.
50. The time and energy spent thinking about Jennifer Aniston’s hair.
51. Not speaking up in defense of someone because I was afraid.
52. Not learning to swim.
53. Never having asked for a raise.
54. Raising my voice at my kids, especially when they were little.
55. Saying no to all the nice boys who asked me to dance in hopes that a bad boy would.
56. That I never learned how to make pickles from Ma.
57. The first time I got drunk on Ruby Rouge when I was sixteen.
58. All the money I spent at McDonald’s on those Quarter Pounder with Cheese meals.
59. Not spending enough time with my grand daughter.
60. Not taking Andy to another vet for a second opinion sooner.
61. Being selfish and self-centered.
62.Wanting my own way even when I knew it wasn’t good for me.
63. Blaming my bad moods on hormones.
64. Letting good people slip away from my life because I was too lazy to work at keeping them.
65. Not showing up more in the lives of the people I love.
66. All the excessive sun tanning I did before 40.
67. Not letting The Old Man teach me how to speak Finnish.
68. Not going to see Mumford and Sons at the Vogue.
69. Not taking better care of my feet.
70. Eating when I wasn’t hungry.
71. All the years I wore high heels with pointy toes to work.
72. Not getting Ma back home before she died.
73. Not spending more time with The Old Man when he was in “the home.”
74. The horrible fight I had with my ex-husband in front of our daughter when she was six.
75. Not saving for my kids college and university education.
76. Being ashamed and embarrassed by what The Old Man did for a living.
77. Not walking out of Eyes Wide Shut. A total waste of 159 minutes.
78. Not watching hockey on Saturday nights with The Old Man.
79. Not focusing on one thing and getting good at it.
80. Not paying attention in class, especially the last two years of high school.
81. All the years I didn’t even trying to see The Old Man’s point of view.
82. Pretending the panhandlers were invisible.
83. Not putting my hand up and asking why.
84. Trying out for things in high school that interested my friends instead of the things that interested me.
85. Holding back my smile in my wedding photos because I was self-conscious in front of the camera.
86. Losing it shamefully the Thursday before our wedding because the forecast called for more rain on our day.
87. Crying all those times when I was actually angry.
88. Not asking that guy if he was married before accepting his invitation to dinner.
89. Causing my children to worry about me.
90. Not taking better care of my knees and feet.
91. Interrupting.
92. Spending time cleaning my house when I could have been spending time with my kids.
93. Ever wearing horizontal stripes.
94. Ever wearing palazzo pants and platform shoes.
95. Eating liver.
96. Not resisting the fateful caramel that destroyed my fragile back molar permanently.
97. Every wearing barefoot running shoes on concrete sidewalks.
98. Not being a better mother to my oldest daughter when she was a teenager.
99. All the days I complained about the weather as if that could change things.
100. Not being involved in my kids’ schools and not attending any PAC meetings. Three kids and not even one.
101. Ever taking off the rose colored glasses.

So there you have it. 101 things I regret. There are also many things I don’t regret. Opening my heart to love. Being vulnerable.  Tender hearted. Having three beautiful kids. Marrying E. Having the courage to tell the stories of my life with as much raw honesty as possible in the hope that they will help at least one other person feel less alone.

And most importantly, I absolutely do not regret being The Breadman’s Daughter.