By Kimberly Landenberg
So here I am again on top of a ladder wielding a paintbrush. After distractions, procrastination, burnout, bailout, hours of labor and some much-appreciated aid, I will get this room done, and it’s going to look gorgeous. It has taken a ridiculous amount of time — and number of coats of paint — but looking on the bright side, I’m excited about how it will look. Ever since the majority of the Kilz was applied last year, it has looked so bright already.
It’s amazing when I think about what it once was.
I’m working on my grandma’s house. Three years ago, in September 2013, grandma had to be moved to the nursing home when it became apparent she needed continual care. The following spring, she passed away. She was only 74.
For my entire life, grandma lived next door, and we were close. “The Path” between the two houses was always well-trodden and continued to be as I became the only grandchild left nearby. She was often in her chair in the living room when I’d come in, and I’d sit down in the one next to hers and we’d chat as a cartoon or crime drama played out on TV. And a million other memories… She was a wonderful person, and I loved her very much.
But it could be hard. The smoke was stifling. As you walked through the door, it permeated every piece of clothing and your hair, invading your mouth and nose. She was a smoker, and the habit held a dominant place in her life; it was her smell, and it was in the food she made. Along with all the great memories, the smoke is a part of our memory of her.
My grandpa died in 1997, of lung cancer. But she just couldn’t shake the habit. As time went on, it gradually became harder for her to do things. Maybe because I was so close, I didn’t always realize the change, but soon the short walk to our house would leave her wheezing for air. Little things in the house went undone and clutter accumulated; I’d do what I could to help her out, but she could be difficult too. And the tobacco coated everything.
How would it have been if my grandma didn’t smoke? I often think of that. She was stubborn and self-sufficient, healthy except for her habit. She might still be here with us.
After her death, we got to work cleaning up the house. The clutter was hauled out (her objection all the while ringing in our heads: “We might need that. You never know…”), the blinds were taken down and light allowed to shine through, and every wall, every appliance and piece of furniture, every nook and cranny had to be scrubbed — so much scrubbing. Singlehandedly I attacked the walls. The dark brown-orange tobacco dripped down them as I sprayed them. The difference between washed and unwashed was shocking.
It may sound strange, but I think all those hours wiping down those walls helped me to cope a little bit. I was wiping away all traces of that terrible thing that, in the end, killed my grandma. For whatever reason, she just couldn’t get rid of it, but I would for her.
I don’t know what it’s like to be addicted like that. In a way that I wouldn’t recommend, her “do as I say, not as I do” convinced me I never wanted to go there. So it may sound hollow for me to say, “Just quit,” as I don’t know all that that entails. But I can tell you about my grandma. I can tell you what was on those walls, and what’s most likely on your lungs. I can tell you how we tried to soothe her as she desperately gasped for air. You can say, “I don’t smoke that much” or “I don’t smoke in the house.” That’s not the point. Subtly or drastically, it takes its toll.
Like darkened lungs or tobacco streaking down white walls, will your children’s and grandchildren’s memories of you be tainted by your habit? While that cough or smell might become endearing by association, be fair to your children and grandchildren; seek out unclouded memories. They would like to create something bright and beautiful along with you, not after you’re gone.
Miss you, grandma.