I wrote this post four years ago. I purposely republish it each year on February 19 as a way to remember – and share – my sister’s story, and hopefully her story will offer a gentle nudge to those who may need it.
Today, February 19, is my sister’s birthday. Ellen. She would have been 66-years-young had she lived. We lost her way too early to that insidious C word; she was only 51 when she left us. Each year when the calendar page turns to February 19, I remember Ellen and how precious life is and how fleeting it can be.
She was five years older than me, we were numbers five and six of six children – yep, I’m the baby of the family. My brother is the oldest and the poor guy was saddled with five sisters. Ellen and I were the last two at home. When I think back I don’t remember us being especially close but I do remember we got along reasonably well and I’m thankful for that. I had a good secure childhood but my parents were of a different generation. As siblings, we weren’t raised to openly express affection for each other. The six of us were born to a staunch German father who ruled the roost. My mother was young and naive when she married my father; it took her 30+ years before she found herself, but that’s another story.
Ellen started smoking in high school, when she was 16, and she never stopped. Although she successfully hid the fact from our parents, I knew. I hadn’t seen Ellen for a number of years before she passed away. I should have been better about that. But we all get caught up in the busyness of living and when you travel different paths in life, it just seems to compound the distance.
Ellen died as a result of throat cancer. She smoked cigarettes for 35 years and she was a bartender at a time when smoking was very much allowed in public places. I think she lived her life engulfed in smoke.
Sometimes, life hands us moments that are beyond comprehension. My sister passed away on the same night we were hosting a college send-off party for our son. The emotions of that moment, so many years ago, were overwhelming and still today they are just below the surface.
I rarely use this blog as a soap box, but my sister didn’t have to die so young. If you’re a smoker, stop. Just stop. And yes, I know that’s easy for me to say because I’m not a smoker, but when I first met Abi he was. Thirty-five plus years ago it was a much more accepted practice to walk around with a cigarette between your fingers. Hell, remember the Marlboro Man?
Six years into our lives together, when I got pregnant, Abi knew it was time to stop. And he did. Cold turkey. He’s like that – determined. The statistics are there, read them, and then stop. Just stop.
What a touching tribute Patti. Your sister Ellen is very lucky to have you.
Brenda Howard recently posted…Low Cost
Thank you, Brenda.
Sad story Patti. My dad was another who stopped cold turkey – wasn’t about his health though, the latest in a bunch of tax increases on cigarettes in Canada got him pissed off. He wasn’t going to be handing his money to the government anymore. So he stopped.
Maybe having the government tax the hell of of cigarettes is the way to go.
Frank recently posted…Feb 28, 2016 Newsletter â Complications, Catching up on a month of Crazy Travelâ¦and on reaffirming old feelings
Whatever it takes, Frank, whatever it takes. I’m glad your dad kicked the habit.
It’s okay to step up on that soap box with such an important message. Three out of four of my children’s grandparents died of lung problems due to smoking. A terrible way to go. And even more terrible for the children and grandchildren they never knew or watch grow up.
When I met my husband, he did smoke a little, but I wouldn’t let him smoke in my apartment. I made him go out on the balcony. He quit, and I know it has saved his life. Now they can tell if you carry a gene that makes you more likely to develop lung cancer. Guess who has that gene?
It is a terrible addiction to conquer, so glad your husband (and Abi) fought the battle and came out of the smoke!
Some messages need to be repeated, repeated and repeated so I love that you re-post and re-post your sister’s poignant loving story each year 😀
Linda ~ Journey Jottings recently posted…Mondayitis… When the Holiday is Over
Thank you, Linda.
Ironic to read this and see my comment up above, Patti. As it is a wonderfully beautiful tribute to your sister AND reminder to those about the ills of smoking. In this same moment tonight realizing that one year ago I had a “we” in my life. But, he didn’t smoke…at least not when I was home…you know those sneaky Golden Retrievers. All my love to you and Abi this year as it was last year and never stop spreading the word my dear! 🙂
Mike recently posted…Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, Washington
“But, he didn’t smoke…at least not when I was home…you know those sneaky Golden Retrievers.” This made me laugh, Mike. 😉
Hi Patti. I am glad you took the time to remember your sister and spread the word about tobacco and cancer. Three out of four of my kids grandparents died of tobacco related illness. All too young.
My husband smoked when I met him. A little. I wouldn’t let him smoke around me. He had to go out on the balcony, by himself if he needed to partake. Pretty soon he didn’t need to.
I don’t think I ever knew that – or if I did I wasn’t remembering. Thank you for sharing your story.
I think your reposting this helps keep your sister’s memory alive and maybe someone new might see it and decide to give quitting smoking a try. Peace.
Suzanne Fluhr recently posted…Going Gypsy: One Couple’s Adventure from Empty Nest to No Nest at All – a Boomeresque Book Review
Thanks, Suzanne. I hope you’re right and that Ellen’s story will make someone stop and think.
Thanks for posting, Patti. Half of my family smoked/smokes. Growing up in a house with people who lit up a combined 6 packs a day made for a smoked filled living environment. It took my mom 4 tries to kick the habit, but she and my sister did it. My brother still smokes and my dad has passed. When I see us all dealing with respiratory issues, I remember that smoke filled house and am glad I swore never to smoke. If your rant/tribute to your sister gets even one person not to smoke or to quit, it is well worth sharing her story!
Thank you for commenting, Debby. I almost didn’t republish the post this year (it makes me sad) but then I reminded myself of why I do it. To share Ellen’s story and maybe touch a life or two.
So sorry to hear this Patti, what a sad story. I also used to smoke as a teenager but wouldn’t touch cigarettes now, you’re right to condemn the practice. I know it’s hard to quit but there’s so much help on offer today that there’s no excuse not to try, hopefully smoking will become a thing of the past in the not-to-distant future.
Amy recently posted…Cycling and Stomach Aches on Four Thousand Islands
I’m so glad you kicked the habit Amy!
That was so well said. We all have stories, siblings, family who have gone through or who are currently immersed in tragedy. You put the words together so beautifully as a tribute to your sister. Bless you my friend.
Thank you Diane, I know your family has struggled with health issues as well and I hope only the best for you and yours.
Thank you for sharing this. It filled me with tears and joy for the love of your beautiful sis and your family. It has also made me look at the relationship with my sis as well.
Always remember the joy. This is a beautiful pic of Ellen.
Thank you so much for your kind words, Eden.
Thank you so much for sharing Ellen and your love for her with us, Patti! We are terribly sorry that she lost her life so young and you, your beautiful sister. This is a wonderful tribute to her and sending you, Abi and your son Right and Perfect health blessings always ! 🙂
Mike recently posted…Samantha & Ed: An Unexpected Journey
Thank you, Mike. Thanks for thinking of us and wishing us well and for your continued friendship.
Patti, thank you for sharing your raw emotion about your sister today. My husband is a lung doctor. He’s actually a physician/scientist, currently concentrating in translational research—that is, he conducts clinical trials to try to bring knowledge from the basic research laboratory ‘bench to the bedside’, for lung cancer and mesothelioma sufferers. He is so upset when he sees people smoking. Yes, some people who never smoked get lung cancer, but the vast majority of lung cancers are caused by smoking. Our son is a project manager for another researcher who is studying tobacco addiction. What they have learned is that there is a genetic basis to tobacco addiction. Some people can become very addicted after smoking just 15-20 cigarettes. The early intervention in elementary schools is working in that the percentage of people in the population who smoke is shrinking. I wish this had happened soon enough for your sister to have benefited,
Suzanne Fluhr recently posted…Say What??? Southeast Asia Signs
Odd thing is – As much as Ellen was a lifelong smoker I am just the opposite. I get in a room with even a trace of cigarette smoke and my respiratory system goes in to full alert; 0 to 60 to full scale bronchial melt down. Thanks for sharing your husband’s research and it’s good to know early education is working.
What a wonderful tribute to your beautiful sister. As a very grateful ex-smoker I agree, it’s tough to quit but absolutely worth it. I hope someone reading this will attempt to quit thanks to this. My boyfriend used Chantix to quit. It was tough, but he made it. I am thinking of you today as you remember your sister and thank you for sharing her with us.
Sarah recently posted…His moment: Tyrhone’s first flight
Thank you Sarah. Ellen was a very strong-minded woman, I just wish she had been in the frame of mind to stop smoking. I’m SO glad both you and your boyfriend stopped, life is just too precious.
Patti, I’m sorry for the loss of your sister Ellen. And, I agree people should STOP SMOKING.
Thank you Julie. She was a senior when we were in 8th grade so most likely you knew her w-a-y back in the days of DCHS, it’s just hard to remember everyone.
I am so glad I stopped to read this post. Thank you for sharing this powerful moment. Thank you for sharing stories about you. I love learning about my friend. Hugs.
I’m glad you stopped to read as well, thank you. Funny how we’re so close but don’t know nearly enough stories – hugs right back at ya!
I’m very sorry that you lost your sister, especially so young. This is such a lovely tribute to her — telling us about her and sending an important message. Perhaps you will have inspired some people to quit today. Thank you.
Cathy Sweeney recently posted…Bay Area Getaway at the Napa River Inn
Thank you Cathy – I would love it if my sister’s story reaches out to someone trying to quit the habit. She always marched to her own drum, I wish she’d been able to kick the habit.
What a beautiful tribute to your beautiful sister! I used to smoke. Quitting is HARD but you can’t live as a smoker, not really. You’re always thinking about that next cigarette and being active is a challenge when you smoke. I’m so glad I quit (I was very young but it was already catching up with me).
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Thank you Kim. You’re so active and fit it’s hard to imagine you ever smoked. And I hadn’t thought about it that way – that you can’t really live as a smoker but you make a great point.