Death Certificate Error

My mother, far right, on her 60th wedding anniversary

I found out something today that shocked the heck out of me, and after the horrendous shock of my grief after the death of my life mate/soul mate, I’m not very shockable any more.

My mother died of lung cancer four and a half years ago. Her cause of death surprised me a bit since she’d never been a smoker, but at 85, one is susceptible to many forms of cancer, so I mostly found it ironic that a woman who’d never even been around second hand smoke (except for my father’s very occasional cigars) should die in such a manner. However, as I found out today, her death certificate says that she’d contributed to her death because she’d been a smoker for thirty years.

What???? How is that possible? She’d never smoked as long as I knew her, so if she’d been a smoker for thirty years, she would have had to start puffing away a couple of years before she was even a glint in her parents’ eyes, found a way to sneak smokes before she could crawl, and keep up the habit while enduring the privations of growing up in a coal mining town.

I hope this mistake on her death certificate was simply that — a mistake — rather than someone’s agenda to prove that smoking causes lung cancer. My sister doesn’t want to take a chance on upsetting my father during his final years, so she’s waiting until after he’s gone to get the death certificate changed. Until then, it’s a wonder my mother isn’t haunting us. My mother was a very exact and truthful woman, who believed in choosing the right words. (I can’t tell you how often we argued with her about “almost exactly.” She insisted things were either almost or exactly, while we were just as insistent that there were gradations of almost.) And this error on her death certificate is a more grievous transgression than a simple misuse of words.

To be honest, I doubt she cares any more what her death certificate says, but it will be good for the rest of us when the record is set straight. It isn’t only smokers who die of lung cancer. Non-smokers die of the disease, too, and their deaths should not be dismissed because of errors on their death certificates. Nor should non-smokers smugly go on about their lives feeling secure in the belief that they will never get lung cancer. They can, and they do.

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2 Responses to “Death Certificate Error”

  1. Ms. Nine Says:

    What a terrible mistake to rectify. My thoughts and prayers are with you.


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