I wanted to take a few minutes and write a post this week that is both a bit personal, and emotional for me, but also a bit of a PSA. I’ll warn you, it’s not heavily photography related (there is a portion that is that I’ll get to toward the end) and it’s going to be a bit lengthy, but I hope you’ll stick through it with me. I’m not writing this because I want to be depressing or because I’m looking for sympathy. I’m writing this in hope that I can make a difference for someone out there.
My grandfather passed away this past Saturday after nearly 14 years of battling with COPD. For those who don’t know, COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, and in a nutshell, it made it harder and harder for him to breathe over the years. He was a heavy smoker for many years and quit probably 20 or 25 years ago, along with my grandmother. This is a PSA for two reasons. First off, if you smoke, I’m begging you to please at least consider quitting. I watched my grandfather’s health decline slowly over the last 14 years. If anyone in the family was sick, especially with a cold, we couldn’t visit him. We had a scare about five or six years ago where he ended up with a cold that turned into pneumonia and he ended up in the hospital. He almost died then. My grandmother even called us and told us that if we wanted to see him, we should go up ASAP. He surprised everyone when he pulled through and got better. As the doctors said, “he was one tough turkey.” Things only got harder from there though.
I am glad for the fact that we went up to spend Easter with my grandparents this year. I don’t know why, but something told me we really should make sure to be there. We normally go up for Thanksgiving every year, and this past year someone in the family was sick, so we couldn’t go. My grandfather was always a tech savvy guy. You’d be hard pressed to find another 86 year old as tech savvy as he was. One thing he absolutely enjoyed doing more than anything was playing games and listening to music on his computer. He used to play World of Warcraft, build up his characters, then sell them on Ebay so he could buy things for his tractor – another thing he loved. He also had a Facebook account that he was active on.
I hadn’t realized that he had been unable to get to his office, which was downstairs, in months, making it impossible for him to use his computer. When we were up for Easter, my dad and I moved all of his electronics upstairs and set them up for him. He lit up immediately. I could see a change in his energy as soon as he saw his computer again. I remember being a kid and watching my grandpa play various games on both his computer and, back in the day, his Super Nintendo. There was King’s Quest, Super Mario Brothers, Zelda and Secret of Mana, just to name a few. A few years back, I found out that he had sold his Super Nintendo. I knew how much he loved playing those games, so I bought him a Wii for Christmas, along with a points card so he could download some of his old games. Every time we went up after that, we worked a bit on getting further along in one of the newer Zelda games. When we left Easter weekend, I promised him that I would help him finish the game the next time we were up, which was supposed to be in June. I knew he wasn’t well, but I guess I had hoped that having his computer again would turn him around a bit. I either didn’t realize he was as bad as he was or I was being optimistic. I’m still not sure which. I know this much – When I go back up next month, I’m brining his Wii home with me and I’m going to finish the game for him.
I’m sad that he’s gone. I’ve had a tough time over the last week. I’m going to miss him a lot. I’m also glad that he’s not suffering anymore. COPD is not pretty. He had been on oxygen all that time and had reached a point some years ago where he couldn’t leave the house anymore. He risked getting sick being around others and he also just couldn’t get enough air if he moved around too much. Had it not been for the COPD which was caused by smoking, he was in good health otherwise and may still be here today. Thanks to technology, we were fortunate to be able to stream my brother’s wedding two years ago so that he could watch it online, but he couldn’t travel to be there to see me graduate from college or to see my brother graduate from boot camp. Now, unfortunately, he won’t be here to see his great-granddaughter who will be arriving in August either. I know there are plenty of other smoking related illnesses that people hear about all the time, but I’m writing from experience on this one. I would hate to see anyone else have to suffer with this disorder and I would hate for anyone else to have to watch their loved one suffer through it just as much.
One of the first things I did after I found out about his passing was start searching for a photo of my grandfather and I together. You would think that as someone who does photography as part of their living, I would have a recent photo somewhere. The sad part is, I don’t. When my brother graduated from boot camp, we went up to visit my grandparents while he was home. We took a family photo and guess what – I’m not in it because I was taking it. Last summer, my brother was home and we took a trip up to visit for the day. My mom really wanted me to get a photo of my brother with my grandfather and a three generation photo of the two of them and my dad. As I’m sure you can guess, we didn’t get a photo of me with my grandfather.
The only recent photo that I was able to find with my grandfather is one that my mom took on her cell phone three years ago of the two of us playing Mario on his Wii. I think this was the same weekend I bought it for him. While I love this picture for a number of different reasons, I’ve also been pretty upset that I don’t have a good photo of the two of us.
I know there are lots of posts out there about moms making sure to get in the photos with their kids and families. I think the same thing applies to any family member who takes photos. At no point did it occur to me that I should get someone to take a photo or toss my camera on a tripod and setup the timer for a family photo. I think the last family photo we took with everyone in it, including me, was back in 2003 or somewhere around there. I can’t urge you enough to make sure that if you’re the go to photo person in your family, make sure you get in the photos occasionally too. I don’t really like being in front of the camera, but I do treasure my photos, especially those of my family. I’ll always have these great photos of my dad and brother with my grandfather, but I can’t go back and get one with me in it.
If you’ve stuck through this post with me, thanks for reading. I hope that it will make a difference for someone out there, whether you decide to quit smoking, convince a loved one to quit, or you just start getting in more family photos.