This story originally aired on June 29, 2019.
Sitting in an emergency room, trying to catch his breath, Paul Currington had one thought playing over and over in his mind: “Please, God, please don’t let my last thoughts on Earth be of my mother.”
They weren’t his last thoughts, especially of his mother.
Growing up, Currington’s mother smoked two to three packs a day — always enveloped in clouds of smoke. She had a volcanic temper, he says: “I would do anything to not have to go home so I wouldn’t have to show up in her crosshairs.”
But he couldn’t hide from the smoke. “What I hated most,” he told an audience at a live storytelling event earlier this month, “was I knew she was killing herself.”
Cancer took his mother’s voice, and soon after her life.
“In the month and a half it took her to die, my mother didn’t say a word,” Currington said. “It was the scariest, and strangely the calmest, month and a half of my life.”
He won every argument with his mom after that, he says. “Until that night in the ER, where her spirit rose up,” he said. “As I sat there gasping for breath I could smell those cigarettes, and I could hear her coughing, and I could hear all of those things that she used to say to me.”
In the decade that followed, Currington worked hard to avoid feeling that way again: he lifted weights, did cardio, ran a half marathon. And every time he was short of breath, the smoke and the voice returned.
Hear Currington share his story, including how meditation and a “bad air day” helped him discover something unexpected about the voice speaking to him all those years.
This story was featured in a live event co-produced by Sound Effect and the Seattle-based storytelling series Fresh Ground Stories. Listen to more stories from the event in this episode, and in future installments of Sound Effect.