My Grief Lives in My Lungs

Grief lives in my lungs.  My lungs temper my grief – keep me upright, keep me alive, keep breathing…putting one foot in front of the other.  Grief lives in my lungs.

I had quit smoking in the months before my dad died.  I had tried so many times to quit smoking and this time seemed to be working.  Oh sure, I had cravings, but I was managing them. 

My mother called, “Come quick. It’s an emergency.”  Part of me knew.  I stopped breathing.

And then, I went tearing down the hill after putting shoes on.  Normally I would have gone barefoot. I don’t know why the shoes. In case we had to go to the hospital? Part of me knew.

I was breathing hard by the time I got to the house. Shallow, unsatisfying breaths.  My father dead on the floor.  I quickly knelt and started chest compressions, went to blow air in his mouth.  Cold.  He was cold.

I stopped breathing.  Holding my breath.  Letting the realization take hold. 

My father is dead.

My daddy has died.

But it wasn’t real yet.

I sat there until I could breathe normally.  Looking at his peaceful expression.  How he just looked like he was sleeping — there on the bathroom floor.

I call 911.  My voice and breath steady. 

I called my brother.

The EMTs showed up and rushed into the house.  I started breathing heavy again as I raced with them to the back room.  Maybe I was wrong, maybe they could do something.

But no.

He was dead.

My father is dead.

My daddy has died.

Now it was real.

My chest hurt, like a punch.

They made their phone calls.  State troopers showed up.  The body can’t leave until the police give their okay when death happens at home.

We were asked questions.  Where were we?  Had he been sick?  What medicines did he take?

I said, “No, he’s 77.  Been a little foggy lately.”

More phone calls. 

I went outside.  Desperate for a cigarette.  My breathing jagged and shallow.  My mind numb.  Not letting anything in yet.  Not air.  Not grief.  Like I was sucker punched.

Asked the EMTS if they smoked.  Asked the state troopers.


Nicotine addiction is awful. The psychological component is worse.  I needed a cigarette.

The funeral home people showed up in their black suits and calm demeanors.

They took the gurney in the house.  They came back to the living room with my father on the gurney. 

Talking to my mother.  My father there between the large window and the fireplace.  I went over to him, ignoring all the voices behind me, I touched his chest.  Cold.  Even the fabric was cold.  My father shouldn’t be cold.  I stopped breathing again.

My father is dead.

My daddy has died.

Breathe, Connie, Breathe.

They put him the hearse.  And my father left the hill for the last time. 

I can’t remember my last words to him.  I’d been there earlier.  Maybe, “See ya later”.  I don’t know.  Maybe I hadn’t been there earlier, but certainly the day before.  What did I say?

Shallow breathing.

Afraid to let it in. Let the enormity of it all in. 


I sat down and thought.  Oh my god. I have to tell my son before word gets out.

My son and my father had an epic love story. 

My breathing stopped again.

How could I? How could I tell him?

I dialed his number and he answered the phone 500 miles away.

I took a deep breath.

“Punkin, I have very bad news.”


“Your grandfather is dead.”

Sudden intake of breath.  His.

Then.  “He was my hero.”

Me.  Sudden intake of breath.

“Mine, too, Punkin, mine too.”

After I got off the phone, I went and bought cigarettes.  Then I made coffee though it was late. When I was young, my dad always smelled of coffee, cigarettes, and English Leather.  I sniffed the bottle of aftershave he left.  I tried to smoke.  Couldn’t inhale.  My breath shallow.

I couldn’t breathe properly for days.  But eventually, I took deep breaths on the cigarettes.

At the church, I took even breaths…still shallow.  Don’t let it all in.

The open casket.

My son’s sorrow.  My sorrow.

The drive to the cemetery.

And then, four young Marines standing sentry to give my dad his last salute.

My breath stopped again.  Time stopped.

Oh, what that salute would mean to him.  Was he aware?  Watching? Would he have held his breath or taken it as his due?  It was.  His due.

I walked to my seat at the canopy.  Breathing hard, but not deep.

Oxygen starved, sleep-deprived, unsteady on my feet.

My father is dead.

My daddy has died.

It was weeks.  Months….before I could breathe deeply. 

Even now, I catch myself – breathing shallow – when I remember.

Wanting a cigarette. So I can breathe deep.

Grief lives in my lungs.

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