Today, my late grandfather would be 92 years old, according to his son/my father. He had a rough life, though I barely knew him. I was maybe twelve when he died, and for the last seven years or so of his life, he was an invalid. Still, I do remember him, and I usually take a post-Thanksgiving dinner nap in “his” chair, which my grandmother has held onto almost three decades later.
I hear stories about him, even now, though he didn’t tell me many of those stories himself during life. I know that he had lied about his age during the mid 1940’s so that he could join the Navy and the fight in the Pacific in the last days of World War II. He never told me any of that. I wish I had found out about it when he was still in decent health, so that I could have asked him questions about the experience, but I never got that chance.
He was robbed of his health by bad habits and addiction. Just like his son, he was a longtime chain smoker, and an alcoholic. I didn’t know that until my half-sister told me many years after his passing. The booze and cigarettes took a heavy toll on his body, killing him shortly after he had reached his sixties.
The age at my grandfather’s passing troubles me, because my dad is 67, and he has severe COPD, or lung disease for those unfamiliar with the term. I worry about him every day. Just as his own father was dependent on alcohol, my dad is dependent on his cigarettes. He has awful coughing spells, and once he catches his breath, he lights up a cigarette to settle his nerves after nearly passing out. It’s frightening, to say the least. My mom and sister, who both still live with him, as do I, refuse to ride in the car with him driving, because he loses his breath behind the wheel and could potentially cause an accident. I don’t like him driving, either, but when he’s determined to go somewhere without a driver, there’s no talking him out of it.
It doesn’t help that he takes medicine that makes him drowsy all day. He uses oxygen and a C-PAP at night to keep him breathing in his sleep after dark, but he doesn’t have that benefit when he sleeps in the daytime. It’s another thing to worry about.
I never fathered children, and it’s not something I’ve ever longed to do. With the legacy of addiction passed down three generations, can you blame me? What I hadn’t mentioned is that I, too, battle with addiction. I take Xanax every night for my schizoaffective disorder. I can’t sleep without it. If I miss one dose, it screws up my whole week. It’s a problem when I run out or misplace a new bottle, which I did last month. My insurance only allows new prescriptions or refills every 28 days, so when I lost a bottle and ran out of the previous refill, I went through withdrawal. And that was the first night without it. I guess that’s what my grandfather felt like without a drink, or my dad without a cigarette. It was scary. And if addiction is passed down the generations, I definitely wouldn’t want to pass that down to a child. I wouldn’t wish my bad genes on an enemy, much less an offspring.