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Ryan Bakken, Grand Forks Herald , Published September 23 2012

Ryan Bakken: Man's obituary speaks to harm of cigarettes

GRAND FORKS - When Al Zeidlik, 54, died nine days ago, he left a gift behind for others: his obituary.

The opening paragraph in the obituary that appeared in the Sept. 16 Herald noted that the Grand Forks man died “from smoking cigarettes.”

The obit’s last line quoted talk show comedian Johnny Carson’s words just before his death from smoking: “Damned cigarettes.”

Instead of a self-congratulatory laundry list of his greatness as a human being, like many obituaries become, Zeidlik took pains to send a message of his biggest flaw, with the hope that the living wouldn’t make the same mistake.

“He was embarrassed about not being able to quit smoking and he wanted people to know he was embarrassed,” said his brother, Tom Zeidlik, of Grand Forks.

Tom said his older brother must have tried to quit 1,000 times, failing at each attempt despite the knowledge of what the tobacco was doing to his health. He developed bronchitis, which grew into emphysema.

I’m not high-and-mighty about smoking. I understand the grip of nicotine. My life breaks down this way — 20 years of not smoking, 20 years of smoking and 20 years of not smoking again. I’d like to tell you that sheer willpower was why I was able to put aside the butts. That wouldn’t be the truth.

The real reason was that the chronic bronchitis and other physical discomfort were more painful than the nicotine withdrawal. For Al Zeidlik, the reverse was true.

“He tried the patch, the gum, hypnosis, everything. Nothing worked,” Tom said. “People would give him the stare that they thought he was a loser. He wasn’t. He was just so addicted he was unable to quit.

“But he was always open to people about why he was in the hospital.”

Al Zeidlik, who would get winded merely by standing up from his chair, spread the message of the harm of smoking by offering himself as Exhibit A.

He was a longtime volunteer firefighter in Manvel, N.D. When he no longer could do the physical parts of the job, he worked for the department as a dispatcher, a promoter and a website developer.

But maybe his biggest contribution will come from the grave, sending the reminder of the dire effects of tobacco.

“His hope was that nobody else would die like he did,” his brother said.