For the love of a little girl I used to proudly push around in a stroller when I was an uncle of ten years old.
August 10th is the 10th anniversary of the death if my niece Cyndi Testa. At the age of 41, Cyndi died from lung cancer related to smoking. Last month Cyndi’s sister Ann came to visit me in San Francisco to commemorate the tenth anniversary of our shared experience. Her last visit ten years ago was in mourning. This visit was a celebration with a lot of introspection.
Immediately following Cyndi’s death I constructed a website in her honor on Yahoo’s GeoCities. Up until GeoCities shut down on October 26, 2009, my memorial for Cyndi was one of the most visited websites concerning smoking related deaths. I promised Ann I would reconstruct that site on Open Salon before the actual anniversary date arrives. In the past two weeks I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I have changed personally in the last ten years. The most dramatic personal change is my resolution to stop being an enabler to smokers! So before I reconstruct most of the material from the original site, I want to say this. On this page Cyndi’s maiden name appears instead of her married name.
Cyndi’s husband was an abusive smoker and his actions surrounding her death were reprehensible. As her biological family rallied around her it became more and more obvious that her husband loved his addiction more than he loved his wife. In the past ten years I have been unable to deny how, even as we pass more and more progressive smokefree legislation in the US, there is still an undeniable tobacco bias that always defers to the needs of smokers at the peril of public health. The industry has done a great job of manufacturing doubt, so that there is still a feeling among many, that smoking is more of a nuisance than a real health threat. Even though tobacco is responsible for more premature deaths than any other cause in the world, even though it wrecks families, causes unbearable heartaches, takes more than 5 million lives each year and even kills people who don’t smoke themselves, there is still this underlying idea that it’s just not a big deal!
My niece Cyndi left us with a profound insight just days before her death. She said: “If you want to help smokers, the most compassionate thing you can do is make it as difficult as possible for them to smoke!”
For my beautiful niece Cyndi who is still in our hearts and minds everyday, I reconstruct this dedication:
Everyone has the right to breathe clean air! In the modern world this is a truth that is many times seen as a declaration of war upon smokers. In the last fifty years we have all been the victims of a deceitful plot by the tobacco industry that has succeeded in convincing many people that smoking is a natural, desirable, healthy and even sexy habit. The most incredible result of fifty years of tobacco advertising is that we now call people who don't smoke, nonsmokers, as if smoking was some kind of God given natural human trait. We have come to treat people who don't smoke as "the enemy" of smokers. They are the bad people who have come to oppress the poor smoker and take away the smokers' personal rights.
With this website I hope to begin to reverse that misconception and restore the right to breathe clean air to every inhabitant of this earth.
DEDICATED TO MY NIECE
to honor her incredibly courageous, but unsuccessful fight against lung cancer.
December 29, 1958 - August 10, 2000
From every end comes a new beginning. May this be the beginning of a smokefree world!
FOR MY BELOVED NIECE CYNDI:
At exactly 9:27 a.m. on August 10, 2000
A light was extinguished
A heart ceased to beat
And a great tsunami washed upon a quiet shore
And other hearts began to break
The silence of the long and painful vigil
And the face of death in its disquieting beauty
Came to whisper its welcome, yet unwelcome message
“Now there is peace!”
“No longer is there pain!”
And in the forests and the jungles
The animals stopped in their tracks
And a great wind came to them all
With the news of the passing
“Your friend is everywhere!”
“She is love”
Now my heavy heart
Weighted with sadness and grief
Tugs at my mind with the question
And the answer washes over me
Like the great tsunami
“Now there is peace!”
“No longer is there pain!”
“She is love!”
The word most often used to describe this remarkable woman is the word accepting. Cyndi was so accepting of others that she collected an extended family that is as diverse as the population of this earth. She was friend to those who were down and out, defender of those who could not defend themselves, and advocate of the rights of all living things. She was mother to dogs and cats and reptiles and birds and anyone or anything who needed a home or food or healing. She was a courageous woman who fought a good fight without complaining. She was unselfish to the last moment of her short life. The biggest fear of her own death was that it would cause unbearable pain to those who loved her. To this we owe her laughter and respect. We need to take the energy of our grief and direct it to change our own lives for the better. We should take her lesson of unconditional love into our own hearts and spread it in a world that is painfully in need of exactly that.
My Website Constructed After My Father Died of Lung Cancer in 2001: