Groundskeeper Dave

By Shamus Posted Monday Oct 28, 2019

Filed under: Personal 74 comments

There’s a gag from the early seasons of the Simpsons where Groundskeeper Willie – needing to enter the school vents for reasons that aren’t worth getting into – goes to the lunch lady, tears off his shirt, and orders her to, “Grease me up woman!”. Without his shirt we can see the cantankerous but otherwise unassuming groundskeeper is absolutely ripped.

This joke always reminded me of my stepfather Dave, and vice-versa. In 1985, I was distracted from my programming by a steady thumping sound coming from just outside. I looked out the window to see Dave, shirtless, axe in hand, vigorously slamming away at a low tree stump. He’d accidentally grazed it with the mower one too many times, and he’d decided to get rid of it. I’d known him since 1983, but it wasn’t until this moment that I realized how fit my stepdad was.

Dave died yesterday, in the early hours of Sunday morning, after a long battle with emphysema. He was 68.

It took me a long time to figure out why his decline was so scary to me. My biological father died in 2000. My grandmother helped raise me, and she died about that same time. While upsetting, neither of those deaths filled me with the existential dread I felt whenever I saw Dave in his sickbed. Eventually I realized it was because I always thought of him as invincible. It always seemed like my father Jim had one foot in the grave since his stroke in 1971. Grandma was already old when I met her. But Dave is the first person that I’ve known in the prime of their life, who has since died of old age. More than anything else, this drove home just how fast the clock is running.

He was a hard worker and a man of few words. He was a machinist at the steel mill, and he took his work seriously. For over a decade he worked rotating shifts. For a couple of weeks he’d work daylight. Then his schedule would switch to afternoon shift for a few weeks. Then he’d work midnight. Then back to daylight again. He never complained in front of us kids. If he had Sunday morning off, he’d always make it to church. Even if he was currently living on midnight time and he’d just finished a double shift, he’d still be there on Sunday. He worked when he was sick. He worked when he needed sleep. He worked when his back was hurting. He worked, and then he’d come home and take care of the house and his other duties.

He was not one for displaying affection. Or emotion of any kind. I think he only said he loved me once in our 37 years together, but he showed it on a regular basis. He worried about his kids often. Once I moved out, he’d come around the house to fix something I couldn’t, or give us money when my family got into trouble. In 1999, he saw Heather struggling to stuff our two kids and the groceries into the compact car we owned at the time, so he bought us a station wagon. Nobody even asked him for help. He just did it.

I watched the years heartlessly grind this superman down to a frail grandfather. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen.

A week ago I sat at his bedside and read him the bit from my blog / book, where I talked about the positive influence he had on my life. I thanked him for the hard work and let him know he did a good job. He gripped my hand and gave me a firm nod, which counts as an emotional outburst by Dave standards.

I know we were lucky. 68 isn’t a bad age, and it’s pretty good for a guy who worked in a steel mill and smoked for 40 years. He kept his wits until the final weeks, when the morphine made him distant and drowsy. We got to say goodbye.

You can’t ever say that losing a parent is easy, but this is probably about as gentle as death gets.

The Smoke Out

It would drive me BONKERS when I'd see a large floor ashtray like this one, surrounded by butts. Dude! It's RIGHT THERE. Just drop it in, you complete barbarian!
It would drive me BONKERS when I'd see a large floor ashtray like this one, surrounded by butts. Dude! It's RIGHT THERE. Just drop it in, you complete barbarian!

When I met Dave, the world was full of cigarettes in a way that you just can’t see from watching Mad Men. The gutters of every street corner were peppered with orange butts. Same goes for the stoop of every building and anywhere else people might stand for more than 30 seconds. Every table and every countertop in every public place had at least one ashtray. Every public space had a drifting haze that circulated at head height. Every poster or handbill hanging indoors was eventually stained yellow or brown. The paint on the walls needed to be refreshed every few years to hide the jaundice discoloration. The ashy odor of cigarettes permeated clothing, carpets, cars, drapes, blankets, and people’s breath. It felt like everyone was always smoking all the time. Cigarettes were everywhere.

Over the last 37 years – in the time it took Dave to go from Groundskeeper Willie levels of fitness to a man who no longer had the strength to breathe – all of that vanished. It’s been weeks since the last time I saw someone with a cigarette in their hand and I haven’t seen an ashtray in years.

I’ll always wonder how much longer he could have lived if he hadn’t smoked, but there’s comfort in knowing this self-inflicted plague is nearly over.



From The Archives:

74 thoughts on “Groundskeeper Dave

  1. Zaxares says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, Shamus. :( He sounds a little bit like my own father; quite work-driven, and seemingly always unsure of how to show love and affection for others outside of “being the provider”. (A fact which ultimately drove a wedge between him and my mother, but that’s another story.) In any case, I just wanted to say that I think your final goodbye to Dave, telling him how much he meant to you and how you appreciate what he did, is probably the best thing you could have done for him. It reminds me of how, earlier in my youth, my Dad bailed me out of a very serious situation, and after it, I hugged him tight and told him that I was so grateful for him and his help. He didn’t seem to know how to respond to that and just hugged me back awkwardly, but I could see in his eyes how moved he was.

    So, my sympathies to you and your family, but I think you can take some comfort in knowing that I think Dave left knowing full well how much he meant to all of you.

    And yes, $%^& smoking! I only hope that the recent enthusiasm for vaping doesn’t turn into a similar health crisis down the road when we still know so little about the long-term effects of it.

    1. Lino says:

      And yes, $%^& smoking!

      I’m honestly amazed at the strides that we’ve made worldwide to remove this idiotic habit. A semi-recent example I can think of is when I was doing my Bachelor’s degree 4-5 years ago (in Bulgaria). The university itself is quite old, and while it’s been renovated many times (and it looks quite modern), you can still find some signs in the hallways saying “NO SMOKING IN THE HALLWAYS. FINE: 200 BGN” (about 113$), and I always thought to myself “What sort of anarchist do you have to be to smoke in the hallways of a university!?!? Were there some sort of protests where people smoked inside the building that led to imposing this rule?”
      So one day I asked one of our Assistants who looked to be in her late 20s – early 30s, and she told us that while she was a student in the 90s, it was completely normal to see people smoking in the hallways. Then, the government introduced a law prohibiting it, and it took a lot of work to enforce it.
      Just one generation later, and to me smoking in the uni building is unthinkable! Some years ago, they passed a law that prohibits smoking inside restaurants, cafes and bars (unless your establishment is specifically for smokers or they have tables outside where people can smoke). Nowadays, I’ve never seen anyone smoking inside a cafe, restaurant or bar (you can still see it sometimes in nightclubs, although it’s quite rare)!
      When my three-year-old sister grows up, the idea of smoking inside such and establishment will probably seem like an exotic concept reserved only for old-time books and movies!

      1. Tizzy says:

        Your story is a helpful reminder that society can change its harmful habit with a bit of legislation and purposeful enforcement, however unlikely it seems at first.

        I’m about Shamus’s age, and I remember thinking smoking looked cool when I was a teenager. But turning the world into your personal ashtray felt very tacky, everywhere was overflowing with cigarette butts like Shamus describes, you could walk into a room and have your clothes permeated by the smell, and those turnoffs were enough to keep me from picking up the habit.

        1. Lino says:

          And like any change, it requires a lot of time. When I was at school, I never thought smoking was cool, and none of my smoking friends have ever made fun of me for not smoking, nor have they ever tried to get me into the habit.
          However, that wasn’t the case when my parents were growing up (they’re now in their 40s). Back then, you had to have a pretty good reason for turning down a cigarette, or face being ostracized from the group (thankfully, they never picked up smoking). I feel that most of the people from your generation became smokers just because of peer pressure.

          1. BlueHorus says:

            Peer pressure, or just the zeitgeist. For a long time, smoking was considered / argued to be harmless* as well as being heavily and intelligently advertised.

            Smoking on airplanes used to be allowed, which really blew my mind when I heard it. That is literally trapping people in a tube with your second-hand smoke and no escape.
            Quitting must have been damn-near impossible.

            *Which surprises me. Health concerns aside, I’d have thought ‘costs a lot’ and ‘makes you stink’ were both forms of harm…

            1. Dorenkosh says:

              On those non-health costs: I’m told smoking wasn’t very expensive, back in the day. Current taxes make up about half the price of a pack of cigarettes, and a friend’s father compared the cost of a pack of cigarettes to that of a pack of gum. Not nothing, but not a whole lot.

              As for stink, there’s a Bill Hicks routine about how if he quits smoking, he’ll get his sense of smell back, and “I live in New York. You think I WANT to smell things?” Once you’ve started, you probably don’t care as much about stink. Can’t notice it yourself.

              1. Lino says:

                Interestingly enough, I know a lot of long-time smokers who hate when a room smells of cigarettes, and they don’t smoke inside their apartment. I’ve always felt like telling them “So, you don’t like it when a room smells of cigarettes? Well, then why do you want your lungs to look like a coal plant?!”

                1. default_ex says:

                  I have been a smoker for a long time myself and don’t like the smell of smoke baked into walls and floors. In the air it doesn’t bother me at all but something happens when it solidifies on walls that makes the smell go from tobacco to that of an ash tray. Pretty sure that buildup has much worse health effects than second hand smoke, maybe even worse than first hand. Learned early on to mix my own cleaner to keep surfaces free of the buildup and in good condition. That or sit near my soldering area so it can clean out before it sticks to anything.

                  Always find it hilarious when people try to state how horrible my lungs and health must be. I don’t doubt the negative health effects. However the propaganda against smoking is full of a lot of flat out lies. The things they point out like reduced lung capacity, reduced endurance, brittle nails and all the oft repeated FUD. Well it’s exactly that, FUD, you get the same things if your a fat-lazy slob. Smoking will probably make those things worse but it’s not a normal thing for smokers to experience those unless they are living a lifestyle where they would experience those without smoking.

                  1. pseudonym says:

                    Well it’s exactly that, FUD, you get the same things if your a fat-lazy slob. Smoking will probably make those things worse but it’s not a normal thing for smokers to experience those unless they are living a lifestyle where they would experience those without smoking.

                    You are aware you are claiming this below the eulogy of someone who has experienced those things? Are you aware what your statement implies?

                2. Guest says:

                  That’s really not helpful and ignorant. There’s a massive difference between having a live cigarette, and feeling the effects, and walking into a room full of stale smoke, and there’s a particular urge to light up when you smell someone else smoking. You don’t smell or feel your lungs, and the damage you do is in support of a habit that is hard to break, one that a lot of people restrict through making themselves smoke outside. There’s a particular sort of giving up among smokers where they start smoking inside and just generally overindulge-it is good that people see that as a bad thing, it is the first step to quitting.

                  Awful thing to say, all you’d do if you lacked the sense to restrain yourself and said it, would be to let your mates know you had no understanding of the topic, and nothing worthwhile to say.

            2. Lisa says:

              When I was young, it was still the time of smoking in airplanes. Most had a smoking and non-smoking section. Not that it made much difference being in a cramped metal tube.
              However, even my young brain couldn’t quite comprehend the decision of one airline where smoking was on the right side of the aisle, and non-smoking was on the left …

              1. RichardW says:

                Forget general health concerns, I would’ve thought having an open flame on a freaking airliner is a serious potential safety hazard. It boggles the mind.

                1. PPX14 says:

                  That’s the crazy thing I find about it – and the provision that is made for it e.g. in the workplace. It seems like such a fire hazard!

    2. BlueHorus says:

      …I only hope that the recent enthusiasm for vaping doesn’t turn into a similar health crisis down the road when we still know so little about the long-term effects of it.

      It used to be you’d go outside a building and see a load of miserable adults clustered in a circle surrounded by a smell of old tobacco.
      Nowadays, you go outside and it’s a circle of chatty teenagers, surrounded by the smell of chemical doughnut-flavour.
      It’s weird.

      Still, doughnut- / pizza- / strawberry- / whatever-the-hell-that’s-supposed-to-be -flavoured smoke beats old tobacco, any day.

      Also, condolences to Shamus. It’s good that you got to say what you wanted to Dave (and be heard) before the end; that doesn’t always happen.

    3. Echo Tango says:

      $%^& smoking!

      I’m still waiting for society to move forward, where you can get your stimulants, buzzes, or highs with as few side-effects as possible. Nicotine itself isn’t carcinogenic[1], but traditional cigarettes are filled with many other cancer-causing chemicals; THC and CBD themselves aren’t very harmful, but the chemicals / solvents used in vapes might be causing illness[2]. We routinely get pharmaceuticals into our bodies with non-harmful methods[3], but it seems like anything used for recreation needs to have really out-dated or harmful delivery methods.

      [1] Although nicotine may aggravate existing cancers, or help other chemical processes that cause cancer.
      [2] See here
      [3] Inhalers for asthma; pills for vitamins or antibiotics; eye-drops for antibiotics, pupil-dilation, pupil contriction; etc.

      1. Syal says:

        eye-drops for antibiotics,

        Man, now I’m picturing eye drops for hallucinogens and it’s kind of great.

        But I think the harmful methods are probably part of the experience for people; the goal is sensory overload, so throw on as many weird sensations as you can.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          By that logic, everyone should be injecting Krokodil straight into their veins…

        2. Guest says:

          Nope! Its absolutely the sensation.

          Some people are going to like the flavor, or the motion of say, cigarettes more than a hypothetical safe vape, but people don’t smoke weed to feel the roughness in their throat, that’s not sensory overload-its something that limits how much you can do.

          There is a reason that harm reduction is always the medical first port of call with drug use. People don’t get shared needle infections to experience sensory overload, they get them because they don’t know better or don’t have better options

  2. Lino says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. I know what it’s like to watch someone’s state gradually deteriorate due the passage of time (a couple of years ago I saw it when I lost my grandmother). I’d like to say that you can at least have comfort in the fact that he passed away surrounded by the people he loved, and what you did for him must have truly meant the world for him.
    But it still doesn’t make your pain go away. So, try to take comfort in the good times you’ve had, and spend as much time as you can with the people you love (especially during such a trying time).

  3. Xander77 says:

    My father passed away a few months ago. 67, also a former smoker, but that was quite probably unrelated to the cancer that killed him.

    It was fast enough (less than 3 months from the moment he was diagnosed) that I’ve yet to process it. Definitely doesn’t feel like 67 was a good age, as far as that goes. Then again, he was fairly fit until the decease really hit its stride, and was still running errands around the town until the very last week.

    But much the same as you, I’m also looking for a reason. Something or someone to blame, to assure myself the same won’t happen to me.

  4. Sarfa says:

    Very sorry for your loss. Much symathy to you and your family Sheamus.

  5. thatSeniorGuy says:

    So sorry for your loss Shamus, I hope you and your family are doing okay.

  6. Fizban says:

    *bows head*

  7. Steve C says:

    Sorry for your loss Shamus.

  8. Tizzy says:

    Sorry for your loss, Shamus. I’ve experienced something very similar recently, so I understand firsthand that there’s simply nothing that can prepare you to see a physically strong person wasting away. The loss itself is the hardest, but seeing the person change this much first really compounds it.

  9. Florian says:

    My condolences.

    My father also died from a smoking related disease (lung cancer).

  10. MichaelG says:

    I think some of that smoking is regional. When I came out to California in 1982, it was already almost a smoke-free state. Coming from the northeast, it was a relief! No more enduring smoke-filled conference rooms for hours at work.

    But it doesn’t completely reassure me that the habit is dying out. To me, it just emphasizes how unstable culture is. Some other habit like vaping or marijuana can come up just as quickly. We’re a weird species.

    1. Lino says:

      I think a lot of people do it, because they have difficulties dealing with their emotions, and stress in general. A former colleague of my mom’s once gave me a really nice explanation to why he can’t quit smoking. The first times you smoke, it really does feel good. If you had been stressed out, it feels even better, because it soothes the nerves. After a while, however, tobacco doesn’t help you relax at all, and the only positive effect it has on you is to relieve the symptoms caused by its absence, and by then it’s too late. But even though you know that, you still have the urge to smoke every time you feel agitated, anxious, or in any other way indisposed, because your brain has tied smoking to the feeling of relief.*
      So, I think we humans will always be drawn to remedies that offer respite from the struggle with our own selves, no matter how harmful or ineffective those remedies actually are.

      *And yes, I know it’s a lot more complicated than that – there are a bunch of physiological and psychological factors I’m not mentioning, but I’m trying to keep this brief :D

      1. Joshua says:

        I’ve never gotten the “pleasures” of smoking. When I was in my 20s, almost all of my friends smoked (as Shamus and others said, it was pretty ubiquitous), and I occasionally smoked one with them to be social. All in all, I’ve probably smoked maybe 20-30 cigarettes in my life. Not once did I get any kind of experience out of it other than a small bit of flavor. If I have 1-2 drinks, I can get into a mild “buzz”, but at least I can identify and enjoy the experience. Never got anything like that from smoking, even smoking a couple of cigarettes back to back.

        1. Guest says:

          It needs to become a habit before you see why people can’t stop. I’m an ex smoket, going on 3 years. It took a lot of tries to quit, it would add stress, I’d get headaches and migraines, and eventually, something would go wrong and I’d say “fuck it” and break my streak.

          Very few people enjoy their first cigarette so much they’d be hooked, they just keep doing it often enough that they start buying their own and it becomes habit, and you start to crave clearing your head with a morning ciggie. At that point, you’re basically smoking to stay on top of withdrawl, and the cycle reinforces itself

      2. Mousazz says:

        I guess it also has to do a lot with the individual. I personally tried smoking when I was stressed or anxious, and I can’t really say that the sour, overwhelming taste in any way calmed me down. It only ever made me bit dizzy, made my vision spin – which, I admit, feels silly in a funny way, but not enough to take the edge off.

        Also, condolences for Shamus.

        1. Geebs says:

          Smoking is quite useful for helping the chronically sleep-deprived stay awake during a late shift, which is probably why it was so popular in shift workers and certainly the reason why I used to do it. I’ve probably made a few good calls at work that can be directly attributed to having gone out to have a quick smoke break and a moment to think things over.

          Of course, it was a terrible habit and might well still kill me even though I stopped at least five years ago, so there’s that.

          My condolences, Shamus. From what you’ve said, your stepdad was the sort of person who would have really appreciated being told that they did a good job.

  11. pseudonym says:

    I am sorry for your loss Shamus. My condolences.

    I hope you and your family can find comfort in each other’s presence and each other’s memories of Dave.

  12. Mintskittle says:

    Unfortunately, the scourge of cigarettes is alive and well in and around where I work. Several of our employees are prolific smokers. The sidewalk and gutter along the shop used to be littered with butts until we got a large plastic disposal thing for them to drop used cigarettes into. The new problem is Uber/Lyft drivers waiting for fairs from the nearby airport, so they park on our street, parking in red zones, blocking fire hydrants, blocking driveways, or just straight up double parking. They all seem to know each other and congregate at the end of the block, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, and all their trash ends up in the street.

  13. Leviathan902 says:

    I’m very sorry to hear of your loss Shamus. I’m glad though, that you had time to say good bye and that in Dave, you had a step-father worthy of praise, which seems to be rather the exception than the rule. My thoughts are with your family.

  14. Joshua says:

    It is certainly weird how much less I see smoking now than 20 years ago. Granted, it’s because I don’t go bar-hopping anymore, but apart from that so many people I knew would do it at work or in their apartments. These days, I don’t know of hardly anyone in my social circles that smokes.

    It’s also way more expensive these days too, from the various taxes. Twenty-five years ago, when I was working at a Revco (anyone remember those?), I think a pack of cigarettes was little over $1. Now, a quick Google search tells me the average is about $7, even though most other things I know are only about twice as expensive since that time.

    1. Ninety-Three says:

      It’s also way more expensive these days too, from the various taxes.

      Those vary wildly by location. A lot of flyover country has less than a dollar of cigarette taxes (plus $1 federal tax), New York State and Conneticut each have state taxes of $4.35 with no local taxes in most areas and Chicago marks them up by $8 after summing federal, state, county and city taxes.

      1. The Wind King says:

        And the Mob’s cut…

        It’s Chicago, of course the Crime Families are in on the taxes.

  15. Sabrdance (Matthew H) says:

    I’m sorry for your loss. Resquiescat in pace.

  16. GargamelLenoir says:

    Condolences Shamus. For what it’s worth it’s a very sweet post, I bet it would have garnered an understated approving nod from Dave!

    1. Patrick the Implacable says:

      Not really. Dave didn’t have much to say about much, himself especially. He probably would felt annoyed at the attention, uncomfortable at best. But whatever…..

  17. Baron Tanks says:

    Sorry for your loss and thank you for the tribute. Decent human beings just all around in your story. Condolences to you and your loved ones.

  18. shoeboxjeddy says:

    I recently made a trip to Vegas for a Bachelor party. If smoking ever starts to die down there, then it truly has been defeated. At this time though, it’s like nothing has changed at all. Our hotel was firmly non-smoking but the casino on the ground floor was yes smoking, all the time smoking. Note: you must walk through the casino level to enter the hotel every time. So no smoking… except for the entrance that everyone must walk through to enter or exit.

  19. Angie says:

    Shamus, I’m so sorry for your loss. :( My mother-in-law died of emphysema; all my empathy to your family.

    I’m a bit older than you, and remember the Smoking Era. I remember when a fancy ashtray was a perfectly normal gift to give to someone, like a Christmas present from your family to a couple who were family friends. We had several of them around the house. I’ve never smoked, and always thought it was a disgusting habit. My own mom smoked all her adult life, but quit when the cost of cigarettes went way up some years back. That price rise was the best thing to ever happen to this country, health-wise. I wish for your sake it’d happened 40 years ago.


  20. Cyranor says:

    My condolences Shamus. It’s never easy to lose a loved one, but as you stated in the blog it does sound like it was one of the better ways to go. I am very glad you got to say goodbye before the end. Best wishes to you and your family.

  21. 0451fan0451 says:

    I wish it was over. Vaping has given it new life.

  22. Groo the Wanderer says:

    There are never words at these times. I know when my Dad passed last year it was the same. Lots of people sorry to hear but it didn’t help. At least not then. Looking back though I realize it helped I just didn’t know it and it helps even today to know friends and family were “with me” in whatever way they could be.

    We are your online friends, acquaintances, fans and light stalkers and we feel for you. For me I remember the fun, funny and meaningful times still often and with fondness. I am sure you will do the same and I hope it brings you the comfort ir brings me with my Dad.

  23. Nullbuilder says:

    My condolences Shamus, Dave sounds like an amazing person.

  24. Aerik72 says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Shamus.

    My grandfather passed away earlier this year. I got to say goodbye, and see him for what I knew would be the last time. There were lots of things I meant to say, but they all flew out of my head when I was there looking at him. I realize now that I should have prepared as if I were giving a toast or an impromptu speech, and written some bullet points down on a notecard.

    For anybody else who might be seeing a loved one for the last time, that’s my advice: make some notes beforehand of what you want to say, because in the moment you’ll probably be emotional and have trouble remembering everything.

    1. Syal says:

      I’ll post this here I suppose; when my dad died I got a minute for final words, and I’ve spent the years since then wondering if they were good words or the worst possible thing to say.

      I highly endorse the notes approach.

    2. stomponator says:

      As always, when you tell somebody of a deceased relative you get at least one story in return. Here’s mine:
      My gandfather passed in spring. He survived some kind of stomache cancer in his 30s and the doctors did not expect him to grow older than 40. He was 91, when he left us. He could only ever eat very little at once (I believe half of his stomache had to be removed), so he was never exactly a paragon of fitness. But he was tall and wiry and one of the toughest people I have ever met, though in recent years we watched him wither away to practically nothing. Finally, his heart gave out and he died with my mother (his daughter in law) and me trying to revive him. Before he passed out in his living room, his final words were “Oh, well…”
      This did not come as a shock. In fact, I feel he tried to prepare us as best he could, without outright telling us “I am going to die soon”.

      I am sorry for your loss, Shamus.
      As others have already said, I know this probably means very little from a random internet person, but I have read your blog religiously for a couple of years and I still visit this site at least once per week, so for me it feels a little bit like I know you and your family.

  25. Paul Spooner says:

    A sobering event. My condolences (for whatever internet comfort is worth).
    My own father is getting frail, and he was always so strong. Mountain biking and rock climbing are in the past. Now he mostly tinkers with electronics. Scary, as you say, seeing so few years ahead to where we’re all headed.

  26. Liam says:

    Sorry to hear about your step father’s passing. It’s not easy to watch an otherwise healthy person fade away.

    I can draw parallels to my relationship with my uncle. After my parents divorced (I was 3) my uncle came to live with us for a few years. He was a Vietnam veteran and had a pretty rough time over there. It affected him in ways it would take him years to come to terms with. He was my father figure during those formative years and I leaned a lot from him. Like your stepfather he wasn’t forthcoming with love but he cared for us all greatly and helped my mum out a lot through some pretty dire times. In his later years he moved back to rural Australia to care for my grandmother until she passed away, and then lived by himself. He was by far the fittest and healthiest of the 5 siblings from my mum’s generation. A couple of years ago he had a major stroke and was confined to a wheelchair, paralysed down one side of his body. He said after that, if he had another stroke he wanted it to be a big one, as he didn’t want to fade away any more.

    12 months to the day after his first stroke, he got his wish, and passed away quickly from a massive coronary event.

    It affected me more than I realised and it took me a while to acknowledge that. I delivered his eulogy at his funeral service, and I really struggled with it.

    Now, 2 years later, his siblings (my mum, her sister and two brothers) have somewhat tried to live healthier, so I hope that it continues.

  27. baud says:

    Here even if smoking is forbidden inside all public buildings, bars and offices and the pack of cigarettes is way more expensive than before from government taxes, smoking is still there, just looking at the yellow butts on the streets and around office building exits and I’ve got colleagues, friends and family member who are still smoking.

    I had one grandfather who was a heavy smoker (he smoked even in bed!), who only stopped because it aggravated too much the health issues of one of my uncles. But even then we think it was a major cause in the cancer that killed him 20 years ago.

    I present you my condolences, for what it’s worth.

  28. paercebal says:

    My sincere condolences.

  29. stratigo says:

    Hey Shamus. My dad also died after a long struggle with cancer six months ago, so I understand how awful it is to watch someone you love go from whole and healthy and strong to frail and under constant need of your help and care. It is the hardest thing a person can go through and I am so sorry for your loss. Take some time off if you need it.

  30. Witness says:

    My condolences, and thanks for sharing this and your other personal experiences.

  31. RedClyde says:

    My condolences, Shamus.

  32. Armagrodden says:

    I’m very sorry for your loss, Shamus.

  33. Adamantyr says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Shamus. :(

    I lost my grandmother just last month, I went to her funeral a week or two ago. She was 90 years old and had dementia and they had just discovered pancreatic cancer, which metastasized to her spine and so pretty much finished her off. My mom and aunt were so strong… I saw my grandpa, a guy I had NEVER seen display strong emotion, fighting back tears as they buried her ashes.

    As for smoking, I was lucky that my parents didn’t smoke regularly, either of them. At one point when my dad lit up a cigar both me and my brother were like “WHAT are you DOING?!” Part of it was his brother, our uncle, was a chain smoker and so the stench of cigarettes was ingrained in our heads really as something foul and unpleasant. (My uncle passed away a few years ago. Not from smoking, he was struck by a car when he stopped to investigate an abandoned vehicle. The fact his health was severely compromised though definitely contributed to him not making it; he lingered a week or so in the hospital.)

  34. Tuck says:

    Hugs for all.

  35. Duoae says:

    I really sorry to hear of his passing and of your and your family’s loss, Shamus. Wishing you all the best and thinking of you in this time.

    Regarding smoking, I remember those times (okay, from the ’80s, not ’70s) but I don’t really remember it getting better until the early 2000s when the government in the country I was in banned indoor smoking areas and even placed limits on how close outdoor smoking areas could be to the entrances of the location.

    When I moved countries, I realised how much of a big step that was, culturally, for us to have taken. Now, in 2019, there are still a lot of people smoking here – they smoke with their coffee and will walk right next to you and light one up whilst you’re waiting at a bus stop or eating outside in a restaurant. Of course, the restauranteurs don’t care because they also, for a large part, don’t see the problem – in the same way that smokers don’t see the problem.

    Moving away from personal experiences, there are nowadays all these public clean-ups on beaches and public areas and, while the main focus has become plastics, a large proportion (if not the largest part) of the items cleaned from these places tends to be cigarette butts. I’m the same as you – it makes me mad at the fact that people just litter these things on the floor everywhere they go and they don’t see a problem. They don’t even register they’re doing it – it’s as subconscious as breathing is 90% of the time (I mean, breathing is mostly subconscious until you start focussing on it… and now probably everyone who just read this is focussing on their breathing ;) ).

  36. Asdasd says:

    This is a beautiful reflection on the everyday remarkableness of ordinary people. My condolences Shamus.

  37. Hector says:

    Shamus, I just wanted to send a note of condolence as with many others here. I’m sorry for your loss and hope you are OK.

  38. ccesarano says:

    It’s funny, I was born in 1985, so I never saw smoking as prevalent as it used to be, but I can look back on my high school days and remember one of the reasons my sister would go to Friendly’s all the time is because they were one of the last places with a smoking section.

    I also remember how sitting with her and her friends just smoking was not only making my nose run, but my asthma kick in. Her one friend told me to “tough it out”. I don’t even recall why I was there. She dragged me along to complain about our parents to her friends, and here I was discovering that she had lied yet again about how she quit smoking.

    My brother smokes, too. He’s older than both of us. He’s had an awful cough the last several years. I want to tell him to call the doctor’s, find out if his meager health insurance will cover a scan for lung cancer. He’s avoiding me for other reasons. My sister doesn’t seem as impacted by it, and she has married a smoker. As far as I can tell my eldest niece has no interest in smoking, thankfully. I’m the only one of us three that never picked the habit up. I’m worried that I’m going to lose my older brother over the next few years, all because of how stubborn he is and how desperately he clings to his vices. A friend of mine and I tried to “punish” him for smoking in the past. Whenever he wanted to go take a smoke break, we wouldn’t go. We wouldn’t keep him company. We wouldn’t swing by the convenience store when he asked because we knew he’d buy more cigarettes. It did not deter him.

    It’s not as common as it used to be, but there are still people out there who smoke. I’d love to say I don’t understand why they insist on doing it, but I’d have to then turn the question back on myself and ask why I have struggled for well over a decade to lose weight and get my eating in order. Of course, there’s a slight difference. Eating is something you must do to survive, even if my struggle is over-indulgence. But smoking is not something you have to do.

    I dunno. Seeing some of the comments and that last paragraph just had me thinking because, we’ve come a long way, but I think that also makes it hurt all the more when you have two siblings that ought to know better and still refuse to give it up.

    I’m sorry for your loss, Shamus. Dave sounds like a rare sort of model and upstanding man. I’m used to men of that generation in my life struggling to show emotion or affection, but it sounds like Dave made up for it with many of his actions.

  39. Galad says:

    I offer my condolences as well, Shamus. I find your stepfather’s story to be remarkably similar to that of my father, and I felt the loss acutely even if just for a few seconds. Chances are that, like my father did back in the day, Dave also drilled it into you how bad smoking is for your health, and that saved you from this vice.

  40. Taxi says:

    Sorry for your loss. I’ve never had any father figure in my life and have no clue what’s it like…

    While smoking is well, bad, I honestly despise alcohol more. As a taxi driver, on weekend nights I have to endure so many drunk, wasted passengers, it’s just stupid.

    If only there were so much campaigning against alcohol as there have been against tobacco.

    Personally, when I go to a grocery store and see the alcohol shelf not just closer to the entrance, but twice as large and way more packed than the non-alcoholic drinks shelf, it makes me sick every time.

  41. Nimrandir says:

    I also wanted to offer my condolences. You and your family have been in my thoughts.

  42. LCF says:

    All My sympathy.

  43. Smam says:

    This was a really affecting read, talking about watching your stepfather age and weaken really reminds me of the fear I feel when I see my own grandmother. I started to tear up about 3 quarters through the article, thank you for sharing your experiences, Shamus- I’m very sorry for your loss.

  44. Jeff says:

    This is Jeff, Dave’s cousin I Just got home from work and read your tribute (Grounds Keeper Dave) I wanted to share with you how I was impacted by Dave’s passing.
    At the church service so many memories were swirling in my head from the earlier years. The visions playing out in my head seemed like they were just made a short time ago but in reality it’s already been a life time. Two things that were said to me at the service that really hit home and affected me. Someone said that at some point Dave said that he wished that he had never smoked those things and the seconded thing was said to me by your mother Sharon she said that these were supposed to be the golden years for Dave but that cigarettes took them away from him. What Sharon said right there really struck me hard! I kept thinking to myself what Sharon had said and that if I didn’t quit this very well could happen to me and my golden years would be taken from me, well Friday morning I woke up and I have not had a cigarette as of yet! I know it’s only one day but that first day is a big one. I am weak and would welcome any prayers, I feel pretty confident and I really think this was meant to happen this way and that I have had my last cigarette. It feels right and somewhat symbolic I will always remember the day I had my last cigarette.
    I know Dave is at a better place and that someday we will all be reunited with everyone we love.
    Love you all

    1. Shamus says:

      Thanks for the kind words. I know quitting smoking is hard. Hang in there and remember the people that love you.

      Good luck Jeff!

    2. pseudonym says:

      Dear Jeff,

      Ever since my uncle died in his early fifties due tot the adverse effects of smoking, It always makes me very happy to read that someone wants to quit smoking. Even if they are complete strangers to me.

      Here are some are some tips from research on quitting smoking that have appeared in the newspapers over the past few years. I hope they will help you on your journey.

      1. Quitting smoking is hard. It is easier to not try and brave this on your own. Find a “quit-smoking” buddy with whom you can discuss your feelings, your cigarette-craving moments etc. You are not on your own, you have a loving family!
      2. Smoking is a habit. As such it is coupled with other habits. For example: if you smoked a cigarette in your favourite chair at the end of the day, then your brain is hard-wired to crave a cigarette every time you sit in the chair. Be aware of these associated habits and try to change them as well. For example eat a piece of fruit at the end of the day in the chair. Be creative. Your family can help you with this!
      3. Research has shown that people who quit smoking and were offered a reward in money, were more likely to persist. Reward yourself for each milestone. Much better than money is doing nice things with the family (I think). I am sure the “Jeff quit smoking family dinner at Jeff’s favorite restaurant” will be quite the event.
      4. Nicotine is an extremely addictive compound that interacts directly with the brain. This makes quitting very hard, especially if you started smoking in your teens, when the brain is still developing. Supplementing with nicotine pills in order to break your smoking habit is not a sign of weakness, and can really help if you find you need it.
      5. You will have by now build up a social network of people who smoke, because smoking people tend to cluster. This makes quitting hard as well. Especially is they are also a huge part of the habits (2.). This is a tough nut to crack, and how to crack it differs for each person. Your family and friends can help you with this as well!
      6. The chemicals in tobacco smoke stun the little moving hairs that clean out your lungs and airways. After you quit these will become active again and start doing a lot of overdue maintenance. You will cough up a lot of slime as a result of this. This is normal. Don’t worry (unless there is blood in it, then visit a doctor).

      The good news is that after a few weeks you will feel your long condition increase and the taste buds on your tongue will become more sensitive. You will taste food much better. The even more good news is that quitting smoking is always worth it. The health benefits kick in immediately and start getting better and better over time. Even now you have only quit for a few days your body is already recovering. You can make it to your golden years.

      Good luck!

  45. Mattias42 says:

    My condolences. Glad to hear you at least got to say your goodbyes.

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