Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shame by Karen

My mom is dying. She's older, but not yet elderly. A long-time smoker, she is going in one of the most obvious ways possible, COPD. That’s like emphysema, but a newer, fancier term for it. Doctors argue that it is different, but to the layperson, it isn’t. You still die because your lungs are progressively clogged up with gunk that keeps you from delivering sufficient oxygen to your organs to sustain life.

The worst part of the disease is probably the embarrassment. For smokers affected with it, it is understood that they do this to themselves. There is no way around it. Whilst she claims others shame her with their waving hands and disgusted looks, smokers are really a self-loathing bunch. My mom now lights up in secret, but I can smell it on her, in her new car and in her house, which we had deeply cleaned of nicotine grease a year and a half ago. That was when she had her first critical incident, which lead to a hospitalisation that involved intubation.

Compounding her recovery, inasmuch as one recovers with COPD, is that embarrassment factor. My mother refuses to wear oxygen in public, or even around family unless absolutely necessary. This means that this past year, when she could have been stabilising, extending and improving her future life and weaning herself off oxygen, she has gone without until she can’t breath. Each time her stats drop low, it kills off cells in her organs, especially in her lungs. But her humiliation is so pervasive that she cannot make a different choice. She cannot make the connection.

You know what will ultimately cause my mother’s death? Embarrassment. This experience has brought me to a whole new level of understanding the term, to die of embarrassment.


  1. Thank you for sharing this piece with Trifecta. As another child of someone suffering from COPD, I think you've captured that experience perfectly. Shame, embarrassment, and regret. It's not a beautiful way to go. Thank you for this. I hope we'll see you back next week.

  2. I understand this, this shame of not being able to conquer something that's killing you. And that shame really does come from within and it's often accompanied by a kind of fuck you rebelliousness. You locked down those feeling in this piece.