Smoking Vicki


Another person in my building died last night. Living in a building for seniors, I am increasingly less shocked, if no less sorrowed, by death. Is this a good thing?

I didn’t know Vicki well. Still don’t know her last name. My friends and I referred to her as Smoking Vicki … This to distinguish her from the other Vicki With the Little Dog. That’s the way we remember names in an 11-story building filled with people who joke about memory loss.

Smoking Vicki – who sat in her car to smoke — was someone I learned to look for. Someone I stopped to talk with. She had answers to my practical problems or questions: Where do I go to buy new tires? What time should I get to the courthouse to avoid waiting for hours to register my car? Where’s the closest UPS store? The cheapest carwash?

But I also gave her my book when I learned that her husband had died, too, years back. She read it, sitting in her car, smoking, and crying. Commiserating about the challenges of caring for complicated and difficult men as they made their way towards death, we laughed through our tears. We talked of picking up the pieces, of carrying on when the reason for carrying on had died.

Smoking Vicki was ready for a laugh, a story, a frustration. She was kind, thoughtful. There for those in need. She drove and sat in the emergency room with a resident after he’d fallen off his horse. Went to the store for Saltines or Fresca when stomach flu’s hit. Always aware of what was going on in the building and who needed what. No big deal. No flap. No hesitation. Ready to help with words and deeds.

Curious and intelligent, she listened with interest and one more question rather than waiting to reply. Still working on herself, she was usually reading when I’d approach her car window. And she’d look up, stop reading … welcoming and eager for conversation.

She’d lost 40+ pounds in this last year. Was up at 4 a.m. and off to the gym by 4:30 to get her treadmill time in while most of us were rolling over for that last sleep.

Smoking Vicki was always “coming up to the final day of smoking.” Tuesday is the day, she’d tell me. This is the year I’m going to beat this damned habit once and for all. But now, instead, the final day of smoking has come up on Vicki. The smoking struggle is over and done.

Having watched my mom struggle through her final year … maybe two, I’m getting better at standing back, finding a kind of peace underlying my tears … or is it resignation? I hear myself say, Better … kinder … for her for death to come so quickly. But for myself and even more for her friends like Carol (not Cleaning Carol but Blue Van Carol) and Ruby and all the others who called Vicki friend or mother or sister, the loss is – as loss must be – yet another break of the heart (as another grieving friend wrote recently).

We are resilient and fragile, courageous and frightened. We face loss, accept death even as we grieve it. And, hopefully, we are (on good days) a little stronger, a little more compassionate, a little more appreciative of our lives and our loves.

Rest in peace, Vicki. I will miss you, am grateful for having crossed paths with you.

17 thoughts on “Smoking Vicki

    1. Thank you, Mary. Who knew … until I did … that writing would be my best way to understand, to digest, to absorb, and assimilate?


  1. What a beautiful tribute! By the time I finished reading, I felt as if I had known her and certainly very much appreciated her.
    Much love to you, my beautiful writing friend.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. I’m so touched by your description of your friend Smokin’ Vicki. I would have loved to meet her too although in this beautiful declaration of her life, I feel as though I have. Thank you.


    1. Thanks so much for being my loyal reader and dear responder. Your caring support … from the very beginning of this writing life … has meant so much to me.


  3. You covered so much of who she was for many of us. i thank you for finding the words to explain my confusion, gratitude, and sorrow at her quick departure.


    1. Thank you for these generous words. Writing has become the way I chew on the events that happen, both in my inner and outer life. If my attempts to understand, find peace, or feel more deeply into my emotions can touch you and others, I am humbled and grateful.


  4. Joan, you’ve mentionned Smoking Vicki, and I think she was in the car one time we were walking to my car.So sad, but it seemed she lived life on her terms and helped others. Curious…die from lung problems from smoking?? Maybe not? Your writing was poignant and a lovely tribute…maybe print it out and post in the common room….


    1. Thank you, Cathy. Knowing that you are willing to read and respond to my posts is deeply gratifying. As one of my oldest long-distance friends, it is special to feel our continued understanding and empathy spanning through the miles and years.


  5. I LOVE that you have affectionate names for every resident in the building. I LOVE that you have described Smoking Vicki in such vivid terms, and most importantly, told her story. She now has a broader circle of friends, thanks to your beautiful writing. Nice to know you Vicki, better late than never.


    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts, Lisa. In an odd way, writing this blog makes Vicki more heart-felt real to me, too. I guess I just have to write my way into my life. I appreciate your taking the time to read and respond to my posts 🙂 .


  6. I didn’t know Vicki, but am still saddened that such a lovely person is no longer here to brighten someone’s day. She sounds so special, I am so sorry for your loss Joan.


  7. Thank you for reading and taking the time to respond to this sad post. As you and I have often talked about this, I am grateful for her having gone so quickly. Vicki will be missed by many people in this building, as well as her family.


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