"Mixed feelings, like mixed drinks, are a confusion to the soul."
Playing cards after dinner with my dad has become a nightly ritual. Sweetie leaves the table to read, Dad finishes a bowl of ice cream, the dog and cats get their treats and I shuffle the cards.
The game is Gin Rummy - we think. It may just be rummy; or maybe just gin. Mainly it's deal out cards, make runs, match suits and try to go get rid of all your cards before the other person. It fills the hour that it takes Dad to drink his coffee before heading back to his room.
We sit at the kitchen table where we eat most of our meals. The table is too big for the space so I feel cramped. It is on the other side of the oven, so I feel hot. We do not play a lively, cut-throat game of cards, throwing down insults or dares. It's more like we're playing a championship round of Texas Hold 'em in a sterile room in Vegas. There is very little conversation. One would think this is because we are concentrating on our cards. The truth is we've run out of things to say.
I'm not very comfortable with silence. It always feels heavy to me - oppressive. I've known the time silence at the kitchen table was a sword delicately aimed to do the most damage. To fill up the void, I usually jabber away about something ... anything. I've found, however, that talking during these card games is nothing more than an exercise frustration. Dad feigns hearing loss but I'm pretty sure he can hear most of what I say. He chooses not to respond. My words trail off and mingle with the after-dinner smells.
Why do I continue this ritual you might ask. Good question! He spends most of his days in the solitary pursuit of filling in empty spaces in a book. Not much conversation going on there! He won't get up and go back to his room early even though he could probably fall easily to sleep. For years his habit has been to sit at the table after dinner. I believe changing the habit would require more energy than he has. So I guess I sit with him because I don't like seeing him look so sad.
Last night I told him I'd play cards with him if he'd smile and act just a little but glad that I'm there.
"Do you really think I have anything to be happy about?" he asked.
"Well, yes, I do." And that's not being Pollyanna-ish. I don't expect him to guffaw and slap his leg and two-step around the table and be crazy. It's just that his dour and gloomy outlook on life is wearing me down.
Actually, this proved to be kind of an aha moment for me. Another realization that Dad is just plain tired of living. His vision is skewed. Not from macular degeneration. He simply can't see beyond the kitchen table.
We played a few more rounds. Dad was winning. In fact he was skunking me. I could blame it on the thoughts that were spinning in my head, but the truth is he was getting all the aces, I was getting deuces! So I said to him, "You know Dad, you could just stop eating and hurry this process along." I don't consider this a good option, but it is an option.
Without skipping a beat, he throws down his last card, and says, "Why would I do that? I'm not unhappy."
Huh? Did I hear right? It's no wonder I'm a little bit stressed. Is he just messing with me? Is he happy or not? Unhappy or not? Does he even know? The more I think about it, I realize he really has no idea what he's feeling. He is caught between living and dying. He's tired of living but for all his bravado not ready to die either. The things he has to anticipate have dwindled down to an occasional lunch out, a country ham biscuit, and playing Rummy. So, like a fairy Godmother granting his every wish, I sit at the table and deal the cards.
Wishing you a hand full of aces,