I’ve written plenty about Dad’s longtime smoking habit. But this morning on the subway I heard an older gentleman with a smoker’s cough that sounded so much like my dad’s. It was eerie. One might think that all smoker’s coughs are the same, but they are not. Dad’s raspy, hoarse cough was as much a part of him as his five-o’-clock shadow and his green eyes which could spark with humor or anger.
As a child, I don’t remember having an opinion on Dad’s smoking habit. It was just something he did on a regular basis and still quite common in the 1970’s. (Even my mom was known to take a puff or two on an Eve or Carlton cigarette from time to time!) As I got older, and the smoking habit fell out of public favor, I began to despise Dad’s habit as dirty and disgusting. Sometimes, hating your parents’ actions can be a good thing; I’ve never had an interest in smoking. I’m sure my lungs love me for that.
But it’s funny that I could probably pick out my dad’s distinctive smoker’s cough from a crowd before I could pick out his voice. It also makes me think about the last months of his life, long after he smoked his last cigarette, when he would try to cough up the phlegm that was strangling him but he was too weak to do so. It seems like such a simple thing, coughing. Yet there was nothing we could do to help him be more comfortable. My mom kept asking the doctors if there was some type of machine that could just remove all of that junk from his mouth, throat and lungs. The doctors and nurses would just smile sadly and shake their heads.
There were no quick-and-easy fixes for my dad by that point. Just that cough that lingered, haunting him and us to his death.