Smoke’s No Joke: A Requiem for My Nana


Kathryn Coffey

A while back, one of my professors had something written on her board. It said a strong message on her attitude toward smoking, especially if that smoker happens to be a singer. It mentions how smoking is ridiculous, and that singers shouldn’t be smoking in the first place. And what’s more, she didn’t want to have the conversation with her students about the issue. She had to have those conversations with a couple of her students already, and it was hard to have them in the first place.

Upon seeing this board, I immediately agreed with it. If there’s a singer who smokes, it’s an oxymoron personified. I don’t care if so-and-so looks cool while taking a drag off the cigarette (and this is coming from a Beatles fan, mind you), singers should not be smoking under any circumstance. It could do so much damage to your voice.  

As much as I say kudos to my professor, if I were in that position, I would always be far from ready to have that conversation with people I care about. For starters, I’m not the most confrontational person ever. And I know from my ever-continuing nail-biting experience, addiction can be a difficult habit to break. But even so, I would have to have that conversation to help that smoker out in the long run.

Furthermore, smoking is very stupid, but I believe it to be, for a few more reasons than she mentioned.   

There is someone I would like you to know. And she is my Nana. She’s the person who always seemed to understand me the most. We would go bumming—church hopping on Holy Thursdays were always the best adventures—, tell stories, and have a lot of fun together. She always made the best cupcakes in the world, and she introduced me to Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese. She loved her family dearly but had to pay the ultimate price for her smoking habit.    

It all started with her singing voice. According to my family members, Nana sang in choir throughout her life. However, over the years, smoking took her singing voice away. So, for all the time I knew her, while she could still sing on key, it would also sound a tad raspy and not really strong. But then it got a lot worse.  

Around five years ago, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She started to wear wigs and lose her hair. Over time, she was starting to lose her ability to walk to the point where all she could do was lay down in a makeshift bedroom set up in the den.

And then on October 4, she went to be with her sister in heaven. I’ll always remember that day for a number of reasons, among them: it was my uncle’s birthday; it was a Friday; I was at school when it happened; my mom was the first person who broke the news to my brother and me; it was a feast day of St. Francis, and she had a statue of him in her garden; and more importantly, it served as a reminder of why I detest smoking with a passion.

I knew smoking is dangerous, and I remember trying to tell her that as a young girl. Sometimes, I wondered what it would be like if I had been more persistent. Sure, like I mentioned before, addictions can be hard to overcome. Even so, I still felt like I should’ve done more. Then maybe, just maybe, she would still be alive.     

There are not enough words that describe my anger toward this issue. I don’t like smoking. At all. And I have a fair reason to. Smoking doesn’t just kill a singing voice. Smoking kills people, period.

If you’ve read some of my articles, you may have expected a more light-hearted tone coming from me. After all, isn’t it not fun to read some funny commentary about everyday problems? Well, as much as I would have liked to make a light-hearted piece, I can’t bring myself to do that here. Five years without my Nana is too many. And I hope to God that doesn’t happen to anyone else I know.   

I can’t stress this enough. Please. Don’t. Smoke.