Sunday, July 4, 2010


I never liked playing chess. It always seemed like a very cruel game to me.
But then I’m a very noncompetitive person. I couldn’t seem to get my head
around the idea that the goal of the game was to defeat your opponent, and
yet at the same time playing was supposed to be fun. And too, some of the
friends I knew who played took the game very seriously. The press was not
encouraging either, presenting stories of world chess masters with minds like
computers that no one else could hope to understand. I smiled to myself when
they created a machine with enough computing power that could finally
defeat the world’s best players. Friends used to tell me how they loved the
game because it was a metaphor for life. I thought it was more like war. What
I hated most of all was how when the end came there were no options other
then toppling the king. Checkmate. All roads out were blocked. All bridges
destroyed. All doors slammed shut. You were trapped like a rat and had to
concede defeat. That’s how the game is played.
But now I find myself part of a real life chess game and the metaphor has come
back to haunt me. My father is living in a nursing home. Putting him there was
like finally giving up the fight and admitting defeat. It was checkmate all over
again. That’s what happens when all your options fail, all alternatives shrivel
up, and you’re left with no other choice. I find life, like chess, sometimes is a cruel game. Poor Dad had been failing for years. Every since Mom died he had continued
living alone and doing his best to get by. But the onset of dementia and physical
infirmities put him at risk. He was either going to leave the stove on and burn
the house down, or he was going to have an auto accident and kill someone.
As each week passed the pawns fell one after the other. He lost track of time.
He became incontinent. He didn’t eat. He fell in the kitchen and we had to
call the EMT’s. He went to the hospital and then rehab and then we brought
him home. The VA provided some in-home care to help with bathing and
cooking and shopping. We had meals on wheels and Dad just stacked the
unopened meals in the fridge. He could not learn to take his medications.
He passed out and could not get out of bed. We had to call the ambulance
again. Now the knights and bishops were being eliminated. The progress of the dementia
was slow but unfaltering. He tried smoking and burned his clothes. The
state finally took away his driver’s license. There goes the queen. He
collapsed again and went to the hospital. For a while they had him on death
watch. He was comatose, but he revived and the question was what to do
now? He couldn’t return home. That was out of the question. Check.
His needs were beyond what his family could provide. Check again. He
needed nursing care throughout the day. He needed a safe environment. He
needed help with simple daily tasks. He couldn’t dress himself. His needs were
so great he didn’t even qualify for assisted living. They discharged him to
the Veteran’s Home. And that was checkmate. Nowhere else to go. No
other options. No new ideas. No hope of recovery. The king is defeated.
As I said, chess and life can both be very cruel. And right now I’m not
enjoying the game.