God, games, and good sense of humour. All three are central themes in Janet’s long life story. All three helped her roll through eight decades of family problems, money struggles, and losses of loved ones.

Janet says her dad was a problem drinker and gambler. He lost his wife, his house and his business “due to his drinking and going to the races.” Janet’s first husband drank too much too. He was away a lot and liked to gamble, making it more difficult for her to raise their five children.

At 24, Janet had a spiritual awakening that made her see and approach the world differently, despite her many hardships with money and the men in her life. “I felt my heart was so full of love for all.” 

Janet found creative ways to share her joy with others. She once hosted a “fun night” for people of different denominations in her neighbourhood. 

“All that was required to join was a can of food, a good clean joke and a brown paper hat that was decorated in whatever way you liked. We played bingo and other games, and two people won the cans of food. We proved a point that night, that all people can show love for one another no matter what they believe.”

Janet’s positive attitude and playful spirit also helped her endure a sometimes stormy life with her second husband, before and during his untimely illness and death. As a large family (now six children) with limited funds, they had often entertained themselves with board games and by putting on skits in their living room. 

Janet took a similar game-playing approach to coping with life with her third husband, who wasn’t always easy to get along with. 

“We used to go on bus trips to Reno. That was fun. I won a few jackpots. One time I won $5,000.”

When he too passed away, Janet became solitary. Her kids urged her “to go play crib and get out of the house.” 

It was while playing crib that she met Tony, a genuinely happy and lively man who loved to tango and took her on a romantic cruise that included fine food, dancing, and a flash of fun playing slots at the on-board casino. 

“Words could never describe how we loved each other. We were always hugging and kissing and holding hands. We always seemed to have a permanent smile on our faces everywhere we went.”

Tony’s death left a big hole in Janet’s life.

“After my fourth husband died, I went a few times to play slots. I was lonely and would talk to the people on either side of me. I didn’t know what to do with my time. I can understand why people go there when they lost a husband or wife and are lonely.”

But, ultimately, she says, casinos are no place to hang out. It’s always the same people. And it’s depressing.

“I never heard any happy stories from the casino,” Janet explains. “And I never saw a happy face. One time a guy beside me won a jackpot. I watched him sit there and put all the money back in the machine. He said he’d just come from church but now had to leave because he was broke. He said he’d lost his car and house too. People are never satisfied if they win the jackpot. They just keep going for more and more and more.”

These days Janet sticks to crib at the local seniors centre.

“It only costs a dollar to play,” she laughs.

The seniors centre is where she met her current crib partner and housemate, Hans, who lost his wife around the same time she lost Tony. They live together but aren’t married.

“I think we were both lonely,” says Janet. “Hans will never get over losing his wife and I will never get over losing Tony. We keep their photos on a wall in our home. Hans is a very kind person and again I say we are both lucky to have each other’s company.”

To think about – or discuss with a friend

  • In what ways might gambling promote social relationships?
  • What impacts might gambling have on family life? On family members? 
  • How might going to the casino help deal with loneliness? How might it not help or even make it worse?
  • What advice would you give a senior who is thinking about taking up gambling?