Four days before he died, Geoffrey Turner turned to his daughter and asked for his laptop.
Sarah Huiest knew that her father had made preparations for his death, including writing his own obituary — a way, she said, for the 66-year-old to tell his own story in his own words.
Huiest said she had not yet read it — but now, it was time.
“I have something I want to show you,” she said he told her.
Huiest said she thought it would be about “his world travels, work ventures and various accomplishments.”
She said she never expected this:
“I was an idiot who made the same stupid decision, day-after-day, multiple times per day. I was a smoker and even though I knew it may eventually kill me, I chose to deny the truth to myself. The pain and suffering I caused my family was not worth the perceived ‘satisfaction’ that really did nothing more than waste money, separate me from my family, and eventually destroyed my body.”
Huiest locked eyes on her father.
“I looked at him and said, ‘It’s so self-deprecating,’ ” she said in an email to The Washington Post. “He just shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘It’s all true.’ ”
Turner had smoked throughout his lifetime but never experienced serious health problems — not until he got a case of bronchitis that would not go away, his daughter said. Then, in November 2018, she said, Turner was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer — a diagnosis his doctor attributed to smoking.
That same month, he wrote his obit.
After an agonizing three months, Turner, 66, from Latham, New York, died Feb. 13. Days later, his self-written obituary appeared in the Albany Times Union.
Turner, who worked in the computer business, wrote that during his life, “I did many good things, helped lots of people, and even made a decent living.”
“At 66 years old, I lived a decent life, but there are so many events and milestones I will not be able to share with my loved ones,” he continued. “The moral of this story — don’t be an idiot. If you’re a smoker — quit — now — your life depends on it and those that you love depend upon your life.”
He listed his survivors — his wife, his children, his grandchildren and his brother, who he said was “five and a half years older than I am, and even though I never stood a chance, we competed at everything.”
Then he gave them a message, a mantra to live by: “Remember, life is good — don’t let it go up in smoke.”
Sarah Huiest, 36, from Rexford, New York, said that though she and her mother “cut out a few things that were too over-the-top for us” before printing the obit, no one expected it to be seen by so many people.
In fact, it has been shared widely across social media over the past week and has made headlines among national and international news organizations.
“I thought it would probably grab a few people’s attention and give them pause to rethink their own decisions,” Huiest said. “The day it was printed, someone took a picture of the obituary and shared it on Facebook. I thought that was going to be the biggest surprise out of this whole thing. No one, I’m sure even my father, ever expected it to get the attention it did. I suspect he is happy about it and it will likely cause some people to make better choices with their health.”
Public health experts say smoking is the No. 1 risk factor for lung cancer in the United States.
According to the American Lung Association, smoking is a main cause of certain types of lung cancer, contributing to 80 percent of lung cancer deaths in women and 90 percent in men in the United States. From 2005 to 2010, more than 130,000 Americans died of lung cancer that was attributable to smoking, the American Lung Association said.
Huiest said she is “incredibly proud” her father was so “honest and vulnerable” in his obit — and she thinks that that, in part, is what has resonated with readers.
“Smoking was not a major part of our lives growing up, and I definitely never thought him being a smoker would be this huge part of his legacy,” Huiest told The Washington Post. “I hope people will rethink the decisions they make. I hope they will hear his words about how much his family has suffered, what he is missing out on, and how much he regrets his daily decision to be a smoker.”