This past week, I have learned that too many people I know or have know of – are dying of cigarettes.
Yes. That's right. Not lung cancer. Or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – COPD. Those are symptoms.
"Mary's life ended all too soon. The cause of death was cigarettes, which first addicted her at 14. In lieu of flowers, contributions to the crushing of the tobacco industry would be greatly appreciated-whether in dollars to the Non-Smokers' Rights Association, or by persuading someone you know, in Mary's name, to quit now."
Dr. Mary Barrie was an extraordinary person. An educator, years ahead of her time, specializing in Andragogy, the art and science of teaching adults. My husband enormously enjoyed teaching at the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Education under Mary Barrie's watch, when she was its Director from 1994 to 2005.
If you're addicted, as I am, to CBC:Radio One and Andy Barrie, who anchors the morning show. If you wake up with Andy, as I have, for so many years, I cannot remember. (Long before I started waking up with my husband.) If you have missed Andy desperately, as I have, since last November when he took an "indefinite leave" for "family matters" – you know that Dr. Mary Barrie was Andy's wife of 40 years.
She was 64 years old.
At close to 3 a.m. this morning, I was crying at this computer as I read a blog new to me called Life as a hospice patient, written by Judi Chamberlin, a pioneering activist in the psychiatric survivor movement.
"I believe that until people labeled as 'mentally ill' have the same rights as others, we will continue to be marginalized and discriminated against," she states in her Blogger profile.
Judi has COPD but she is not a candidate for a lung transplant. In her first blog post, Trying to make sense of it all, on December 4, 2008, she wrote, knowing that she doesn't "have a very long life expectancy," she hoped to see Barack Obama inaugurated and to be around for the Super Bowl. "After that, I'll set another goal," she said.
Judi is 64 years old.
Last week, I received a note from a woman, a family friend, who found me though this blog. I had not heard from her for many years. She is a friend of my mother's. Brilliant, charismatic. A dynamo. When I was a kid, I babysat for her three children, now grown, with kids of their own.
Superbly accomplished. Anything she tries, she masters. With pizzazz! You never forget her. She's a force. Funny. Fabulous. I adore her.
"I've had two bouts of lung cancer (clean at the moment) and suffer terribly with my emphysema... Mind you, some days I can manage and others simply cannot breathe. That's a trial. However, I AM STILL HERE," she said her in note.
And finally, during a call this morning to my mother who is wintering in Florida and I knew would not yet know of Dr. Mary Barrie's death, she informed me of yet another amazing man I had known, a smoker, who had died recently after battling lung cancer.
I was a smoker. My husband quit 20 years ago. Addictions don't often appear here in "Coming Out Crazy," but they should. Often, addictions are highly complex and comorbid – linked to deeper psychological trauma and pain.
Timing is everything. Who knew nicotine was a highly addictive drug 50 years ago? Toxic. Poisonous. Deadly.
Alcohol is highly addictive, too. The founders of Alcoholic Anonymous knew that back in the 1930s.
Food can be highly addictive. I know. I'm an addict.
The pleasure pathway in the brain is the same for nicotine, alcohol, food – even sex.
We are human. I don't judge anyone. But I applaud the bravery, the integrity, the honesty, the audacity and the leadership of the late Dr. Mary Barrie and her family for stating boldly in her obituary, that the cause of her death was cigarettes.
Graciously and generously, they are giving all of us a unique opportunity to take action – to become activists. By either supporting the Non Smokers' Rights Association, or by helping someone to quit smoking, we can join in honouring and memorializing Dr. Mary Barrie's wonderful life and legacy.
We may make a difference for the Greater Good.
We may help each other choose to "Say yes, to life."
And, finally... Andy, Jess and Wrigley and those grieving with you – please accept my profound sympathy.