The Gift of Air: When “as easy as breathing” isn’t.


My mom has COPD. Lung issues such as this, directly linked to smoking, seem to be prevalent in my mother’s mother’s side of the family. Not content to learn from the the mistakes of others ,each generation of women have been smokers, myself included. I do not currently smoke, but I have a collective eight year’s worth of it in my lifetime. My mother continues to smoke, despite her COPD. She says it’s “all she has left”. I would like to remind her that it is NOT all ‘she has left’. She has adult daughters, grandchildren, and many things she could still do. She likes to remind me that the doctors have told her that even if she had quit five years ago, it wouldn’t help her condition. I like to think to myself, but I don’t tell her this, that I don’t really believe that. Also,  she seems to have enough energy to go outside on her porch to smoke several times a day and night, then proceeds to immediately need to use her nebulizer, and she certainly isn’t making things easier on herself by continuing. But my mother is stubborn to a fault and will never allow anyone to tell her what to do. Even a mild suggestion is usually met with defensiveness. Cross the line, and she will pretty much tell you that if you don’t like what she’s doing, you can just get lost. Even though I know she loves me, and she knows I love her, that’s the way she is.

It’s difficult watching her spend most of her days either on the sofa, or in bed now. She always has her oxygen hose on. She gave up her car, and I do her shopping and light cleaning. She doesn’t go anywhere now. She is 69. Today I plan to go to her house, do her shopping, put her stuff away and visit for a bit. I would really love to scrub the floors, vacuum, dust, etc., but she always stops me either due to the fumes in the air from the cleaners I might use, or the dust the vacuum kicks up. I have explained that our vacuum has a HEPA filter on it and doesn’t re-release dust back into the air. She doesn’t believe it. I can’t clean her commode for her with anything other than water or a chunk of bar soap, I guess,  because of bleach fumes. Her front loading clothes washer has a rubber gasket on it that collects a mildew smell. I have to use peroxide on that, bleach smells will choke her. I cannot wear any perfume, hair gels, body or hand lotion, etc to mom’s because she will ask what I have on that’s making it hard for her to breathe. I know she has become very sensitive to smell and fumes, but I also know that her condition itself is making it hard to breathe, and how can my hand lotion be an issue but cigarettes be seemingly just fine? I try not to stress over this stuff, though, because time with my mom may be all too short.

In the end, it won’t matter whether I got to dust her apartment or vacuum it enough. It’s just a bit frustrating. I guess I am just sad to see her like this.

Last night, a wind chime that had belonged to my sister Karen got bumped by my lowering of the blinds. The bell on the bottom fell off. It’s a brass bell, engraved with ‘good luck’. I took it as a bad omen and called my mom first thing this morning. It’s silly, I guess- but there’s always a generalized worry for her now. Acceptance has been hard for her most of all, which is easy to forget. I wished she had never accepted it. I wished she had quit smoking ten years ago, when she first found out she had a problem. Things would be better now. I wish she had fought it!

But, what can I do? I can only take care of her and love her and accept her as she is, even if I don’t like all of what she’s doing.

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