Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

Illustration by Rachel Wada

First Person is a daily personal piece submitted by readers. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.

This week, First Person pays tribute to fatherhood.

In his life he had imparted a great deal of knowledge, but my father’s last lesson was his most fundamental. Dad had contracted pneumonia, a side-effect from the chemotherapy he was taking. His lungs were failing him. In the hospital room we gathered around his bed: my sister, my brother, my stepmother and I. By observing the nurses, we had learned how to operate the oxygen valves and apply the mask. When Dad started to gasp, he held out his hand to the person sitting closest, together we coached him to inhale and exhale.

Story continues below advertisement

Deep and slow, in through the nose and out through the mouth.

You might say that I have always struggled with good breathing, my speech blighted by a stutter for as long as I can remember. Nothing severe, but some words; some letters, some days can be problematic. Classified as a speech impediment, it is actually the result of poor oxygen exchange. I misjudge the amount of air required for a word and fumble the utterance. This tends to happen when I’m anxious, excited or sometimes just plain lazy.

For most of us, the first form of breath is a cry. The wail of a newborn represents the natural activation of the lungs, a primal encounter with oxygen outside of the womb. After this initial cry, breathing becomes automatic, a practice necessary to our existence. At birth, our breathing rate averages 30 to 60 times a minute. As adults, we breathe approximately 17,000 to 23,000 times a day. So often that we take it for granted.

During the palliative phase of his illness, my father became obsessed with breathing. After a lengthy hospital stay, Dad returned home, where medical staff installed an air bed and some oxygen equipment. The clear plastic tubes ran beneath his nose and connected to a concentrator on the floor. A pair of tanks were stored in the room down the hallway. Warning signs were taped to the front and back doors, cautioning the existence of oxygen in the house.

Throughout his last month, my father kept a handwritten journal, where he noted his thoughts and his memories. On the back page of this journal was a drawing of oxygen tanks. Four oblong shapes connected with a cord and punctuated by the words “300 PSI.” As a former airplane mechanic, Dad had worked with the gas. Here he described the process of refilling a tank.

“I should be on the lowest pressure bottle now.”

But even with the aid of oxygen, he struggled to breathe. The frequent gasping fits caused him acute anxiety so, in addition to opioids, Dad was treated with anti-anxiety medication. After each dose he would become talkative and engaging, a brief return to his former, healthier self. In the early morning hours, he composed long, elaborate text messages with updates on his breathing.

Story continues below advertisement

Shortness of breath or dyspnea, is both a cause and a symptom of anxiety-related disorders. Our mental health is directly influenced by our oxygen intake. In times of trauma or distress our breathing becomes accelerated, our breaths more shallow. The disorders that relate to anxiety can all be treated with good breathing. A more conscious approach such as yoga or meditation will help to realign the respiratory system.

As a runner, I had gained a minor understanding of my breathwork. Long distance running requires a paced aspiration, otherwise you’re likely to get a cramp. For these runs I eschew earphones, allowing me to pay more attention to the sounds of my breathing. Within my runs I incorporate one-minute sprints, which require a further balance of inhalation and exhalation. As my father’s health declined, I turned more often to running to try and mitigate my anxieties. I started waking up early on weekday mornings to encircle the park, seeking some peace in the sunrise.

The morning before I delivered my eulogy, I ran 10 kilometres around the streets of Morrisburg, Ont. The air was heavy and humid, by the end of the run my T-shirt was soaked with sweat. Foolishly, I believed that my stammer could be cured through exhaustion. It did not work of course. The podium was no less daunting, and the words in my eulogy were still a challenge to pronounce. The problem was my breathing.

My father breathed his last breath in the early hours of July 9, 2019. He had taught me a great many things in his life, and in his death I learned another vital lesson. I can’t claim to be proficient at breathing, but over the past few months I have applied a more conscious approach to consuming oxygen. Meditation, yoga, I’ve even dabbled in the Wim Hof method. I still stutter from time to time, although I have a better understanding of why it happens.

When I asked my sister how she was coping with Dad’s death, she said at times it was like having the wind knocked out of her. In grieving, I too had experienced moments of breathlessness. And life will, no doubt, continue to deal us blows. But as long as we are alive, breathing is the most important thing we are doing. When circumstances are truly dire, it is the only thing we can control. Sometimes we just need a little coaching.

Deep and slow, in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Story continues below advertisement

Kyle Carney lives in Lachine, Que.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies