Every now and then, my husband and I take a little trip to a Northern California casino to satisfy our gambling urges. These are not big urges. They’re just “let’s go to the casino to have a nice dinner and play the slots” urges. The kind that are easily satisfied by 30 minutes at the penny machines. That’s all it takes to figure out if you’re having a winning night or destined to donate it all to the house. If I’m feeling really adventurous I might move up to the quarter slots.
Last week we drove up to a casino in Sonoma County and, as usual, separated as soon as we arrived, agreeing to meet back at the entrance in an hour.
After taking a little tour to determine which machines were “speaking” to me, I sat down at what looked like a great penny slot. I found myself beside an elderly woman who welcomed me with a smile and wished me luck – adding that she hoped I’d have better luck than she seemed to have so far that evening.
After a few minutes, my new companion leaned over to tell me the machine I had chosen was special. It was one of her husband’s favorites. The tone of her voice also told me she must have recently lost him. When I asked if he had passed away, she gave a little nod and said “Yes, three months ago.”
When I expressed my condolences and asked how long they had been married, this lovely old woman told me a story I just had to share.
She told me she had started dating her husband in 1951 and, after two years of courtship, became his wife – for 62 years. During that time, he was not only a wonderful husband but a good father to their four children. Then she told me about the day he passed away.
Her husband had been very sick for many months and was resting in the bedroom of the home they had purchased when they were newly married. She had asked her children to leave the room and told the hospice nurse to take a break. It was then that she took his hand in hers and whispered in his ear that it was OK for him to go; she would be all right.
She continued to hold his hand while she sang one of his favorite love songs from their wedding day, and he gazed into her eyes until she finished her serenade. She watched as his heartbeat slowed and his breathing become shallow. Then he squeezed her hand and simply let go.
After taking a deep breath, my new friend told me that all she had prayed for during her husband’s long illness was that he would experience a peaceful death. She knew he was getting weaker, she knew that he was dying, and her only wish was that he would leave this world without pain.
I was so captivated by her story that I almost forgot where we were. I no longer saw flashing lights and spinning wheels. I didn’t hear any of bells or buzzers. All I heard was the story this woman was telling me and the music in her voice as she shared it.
As we both came back to the reality around us, I asked if she visited the casino often since her husband had died. She said she was there every Friday afternoon and her children would often accompany her on these outings.
Then she leaned over very closely and whispered “I also come here another day of the week and sit in the same chair you’re in. I know my darling husband is there playing right along with me. He just has a different view.” And the smile on her face conveyed a sense of peace anyone would envy.
We all grieve and heal in our own way. For some, it’s a matter of forgetting all the pain. For others, it’s simply a case of continuing the little weekly habits.
A few minutes later a man appeared and asked, “Mom, are you ready to go?” She pulled herself to her feet and began to walk away, then turned back to wish me a pleasant evening and good luck. But I no longer needed luck. I had already hit the jackpot when I met The Casino Lady.