I can still remember him sitting in his favorite pew at the front of our community church. He would arrive at the sanctuary at least twenty minutes before the service even started just to get that spot. On his way up to the altar, the pastor would smile and look fondly at my grandfather resting peacefully in his pew.
The church was shaped like a hexagon; we even called the altar “the honeycomb” because of the ornate lighting design hanging above. Because of the shape of the sanctuary, there was one row—the second row in the room—that extended slightly past the row in front. This allowed for an extra foot of space, which, to my grandfather, meant a chance to stretch out his one leg and a place for his oxygen tank to call home.
My grandfather had suffered from emphysema for as long as I can remember. He never complained about having to wheel along his tank or having to wear tubing across his nose. In fact, I can never remember him complaining about anything related to his lung disease. He never gave up hope or the chance to be with his family. His emphysema was just a part of his life.
Every memory I have with him comes along with the soundtrack of oxygen concentrating and rushing through the tubes, breathing life into my grandfather. Every movie watched, every board game played, every cookie baked, every coloring book completed came with the gentle bleating of air and staggered breaths.
I was only eight when I asked my grandfather what the tube was for. I think he was surprised it had taken me so long to ask as he had his answer ready before I even finished the question. “To have more time with you,” he said without skipping a beat. Not surprisingly, I didn’t really understand. What impact did a tube have on my time with my grandpa? But fast forward thirteen years, and those six simple words mean so much more to me.
My grandfather was not going to let a disease stop him from living the life he wanted. He was not going to give up his favorite things—his daughter and his grandchildren—without a fight. He would not give up looking for options.
When my grandfather was fighting for his life, he didn’t have the medical advancements that we do today. Supplemental oxygen and medications were his only options. I remember telling my mother about cellular therapy when I began working at the Lung Health Institute; her first words were: “I wish my Daddio could be here. He would do it in a heartbeat.”
My grandfather passed away eight years ago, but there is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish he were here. As a thirteen-year-old, I didn’t realize the impact that my grandfather had on my life. I didn’t realize that I would never get the chance to spend the day on my grandfather’s lap or that he wouldn’t be able to teach me how to color within the lines for the fiftieth time. But even then, I realized that one day I wanted to be just like him. I wanted to love something so much that I would do anything to be with it. For my grandfather, that was his family.
Even now, when I walk into my childhood church, I see my grandfather sitting in his favorite spot. When I close my eyes, I hear the sound of his oxygen concentrator softly bleating. And for a moment, it doesn’t feel like he is gone.
If you or a loved one is living with a chronic lung disease like emphysema, you may have more options than you realize. Contact the Lung Health Institute to learn how you may be able to breathe easier at 888-745-6697.