Hey, Europeans. Please Don't Let Cigarettes Kill You Like They Did My Parents.


Ten years ago I got a phone call my 62-year-old mother was in the hospital. She'd suffered a massive coronary and collapsed in a parking garage; she’d gone out there alone for a cigarette break. Rushing from Seattle to Denver, I learned her heart had stopped beating for ten minutes before paramedics got it started again.

The cause of her heart attack? The cigarette in her hand. Or, more accurately, the lifelong, two-pack-a-day smoking habit I'd tried to get her to quit for my entire life.

After running every test available, the doctors declared her brain dead. Four days after she collapsed, I had to ask to have my mother taken off life support.

Six years ago, I got a phone call my 71-year-old father was in the hospital. He hadn't had a heart attack, but his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, brought on by his lifelong, two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, had gotten dramatically worse.

I raced to Denver, and my brother and I sat with my father in the hospital while he fought to breathe. At one point, he opened his eyes, looked at me and said, "Am I dying?"

What a question to have to answer. The answer was "yes," but I only said, "You're very sick. Just focus on getting better." He didn’t speak again.


Both my parents started smoking in their teen years. Both tried to quit many, many, many times. My dad even managed to quit at one point for nine months. But my mom couldn't manage it, and my dad couldn't make it stick while living in a house with another smoker. Quitting cigarettes after decades of smoking is a bitch. Trust me, the longer you wait, the worse it is.

So both of my parents smoked themselves into painful, unpleasant, and entirely unnecessary early deaths.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately because there are a lot of smokers here in Europe, including a lot of really cool people I've met and like a great deal.

I'd like to be able to take them back in time with me, so they could see me hold my mother’s hand while her life support was switched off.

Or to watch my dad's breaths get farther and farther apart as his horrifying attempts to make his ruined lungs work finally failed and he stopped breathing.

Not fun memories to carry for the rest of my life.

But I can't take them back in time. So I'll just post here instead and hope that by sharing this my parents' deaths won't have been completely in vain.