The Most Beautiful Distraction.

By t_robertson

November 12, 2020


76 days ago

It was 2017 and we had just received the news, "It's back. The Cancer has spread." My wife, Katie, being the best wife a guy could ever ask for got in the car as we left our appointment with the Oncologist. She was devastated but defiant. And she wanted to inject our dour mood with a bit of levity and excitement. "I know I'm enabling this, but damn it we're getting you that pinball machine you've always wanted. You need something to be happy about."  The next week we drove up to Fridley, Minnesota and purchased my first machine, Star Wars. I loved everything about it (and still do). The lights, the rapid fire speed, the video clips, the theme. The pin may have it's shortcomings but who doesn't love this theme? The days and weeks after that moment of bringing the machine home was a blur. Katie would endure a double masectomy and countless chemo and radiation treatments. Our kids at the time were both in diapers at ages 1 and 3. I was working full time. Needless to say there was a LOT going on in our lives. This solitary Stern beauty stayed warm in my basement each night. Star Wars was my nightly confidant to all the chaos swirling in our lives. The asteroid field scene was my daily reality. Every blue moon, my wife would play pinball with me after the kids went to bed. What a nice surprise. 

Fast forward through six years of relative peace, of being free from the nightmare that is The Big C, it came back again. And this time it meant business. Now the disease was everywhere: lungs, brain, eye, bones, you name it. In January of this year, we took a trip to Las Vegas and went to the Pinball Hall of Fame. It was my third time to this mecca, but her first. She loved every minute (and hour) we were there. Weak and walking slow now, she was an 90-year old woman in a 40-year old's body. Her eyes, lighting up with every machine she played. 

Because our kids were older now, we needed to make plans for me to take over and become the solo parent and school chaffeur possibly someday. We had to move to get the kids into the school district and closer to their/our friends. So we started designing the dream home we've always talked about over candlelit dinners and beach vacations and ever-extending roadtrips. "Let's put an arcade in!", Katie said. We both are like kids at heart. She loves a good Ms. Pacman cocktail table and I love a good Medieval Madness CGC remake. Match made in heaven. What was once my lonely little pinball machine could now blossom into the more well rounded collection I always dreamed of. Today I'm proud of the collection I get to play every night: Medieval Madness, Jurassic premium, Revenge from Mars, Meteor, Theatre of Magic and, of course, Star Wars. And I'm so thankful that I have the coolest wife ever. Or should I say, had. Katie passed away on Valentine's Day 2020. Now just the three of us, we moved into this new home two months later,  Katie was as excited as I am for this arcade space in the basement. It has become my refuge from the grief and exhaustion of being a single Dad. It's not church, but it's my church. And each one of these machines is a most beautiful distraction for me. Thanks for reading. When I meet fellow pinball players and collectors, I wonder: how is pinball a beautiful distraction for you?

P.S. Here's a picture of Katie playing pinball. I just realized she's playing Indiana Jones. Funny, it's the same machine I've been on Pinside looking to buy lately. And on its left, what else, but Star Wars. 

Story photos

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Comments

58 days ago

Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing. Not everyone gets to have someone in their life that shares the same passions. I'm sure you count yourself blessed to have had the time you did.

57 days ago

Having a soulmate that shares your passion is priceless. I am so happy for you that you were able to enjoy it with your partner. Positive thoughts and vibes your way!

57 days ago

Thank you for sharing and sorry for your lose. Katie will always be with you in spirit and I am sure you see her in your little ones every day.

57 days ago

Wow an emotional story for sure but what a great shared experience you all have in the machines. It’s great to have a companion who loves you like that and one you can return the love too. PM me your wife name as I lost family to tdreaded C word and it would be my honor to make a donation on her name next year. 2020 stated even earlier to be a terrible year for your family. Thanks for sharing.

57 days ago

So sorry for your loss, but what a great way to remember her. I use pinball to escape the madness too - my wife supports my hobby (obsession?), but neither she nor my daughter care to play. :(

57 days ago

Heartbreaking and beautiful story at the same time.
I'm sorry for your loss.
I can't imagine what Katie, you and your children had to go through..
Happy that you had a shared hobby with her.

Pinball was and is my beautiful distraction too, ever since I've gotten ptsd due to a car crash (as a 20 year old) that was a close one for my father and I. If we would have been hit by the other car a few inches to the left or just half a second earlier, I wouldn't be here to type this. It has been 5 years and when I feel bad (most of the time), I play pinball and it makes me forget about everything.

57 days ago

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing your story. Definitely a reminder to appreciate the time we do have with our loved ones.

56 days ago

I am so very sorry for your loss.

56 days ago

This story is hard to read...let alone live through it like you did. I cannot even imagine. It's a good reminder to take it one day at a time and be thankful for the things that REALLY matter (spoiler alert - chipping and pooled NIB playfields is not one of them). I'm truly sorry for your loss and wish you and your family peace of mind.

56 days ago

Thank you for sharing your moving story. I visited Pinside to track down some technical advice and ended up in an entirely different state of mind and with tears in my eyes. Spouses who enable us to enjoy our passions are special and rare. I'm glad you and your kids have a basement sanctuary that honors Katie. Stay strong and flip on!

56 days ago

Thanks for sharing this story, I can relate very much to it, my wife passed in 2018 of brain cancer. and we also shared a passion for pinball (amongst other things). Stay strong and hang in there! It might seem impossible at times, but it will be moments during the years ahead when you think "I am actually doing okay at times", but that is not the time for it now. Cherish her memories, and do thing in her honour..play pinball and keep hanging on to the things which makes you get out of bed in the morning <3

If there is anything, feel free to send me a PM.

56 days ago

I'm truly sorry for your loss and it's hard to reply with words that feel adequate but I just wanted to thank you for sharing and hoping you're feeling the support from all of us. Stay strong and know you are in our hearts.

55 days ago

Thank you for sharing

55 days ago

Thanks for sharing your story. Brought tears to my eyes.

My wife just found out she has in situ ductile carcinoma in her right breast. We are hoping it is just in situ and that there isn't an invasive component. We won't know for sure until after surgery, though.

Your story hit a bit close to home for us right now. Sorry for your loss.

55 days ago

Beautiful story.
She would be happy for you enjoying your passion.
Sounds like a great woman.
You will see her again one day up above.
Thanks for sharing your story.

55 days ago

Very sorry for your loss. She sounds wonderful. I agree that pinball is a great distraction, taking me to a happy place when I play. I hope your kids have fond memories when they play as well.

55 days ago

Thank you for sharing. Please come visit if you are ever down this way.

53 days ago

So sorry for your loss, but so happy you were both able to enjoy the pinball love. Great to have those memories to cherish.

52 days ago

So sorry for your loss. It must be comforting knowing that she still with you in sprite in your happy place.

52 days ago

Thank you for sharing your story

52 days ago

I’m truly sorry for your loss. Katie sounds like she was a very special person who brought a lot of joy to your and your childrens’ lives. It reminds me to cherish my time with my wife and son because it doesn’t last forever. I hope your kids are doing ok. Pinball is such a fantastic escape and also a way to connect with people. Keep building your already awesome collection. Thanks so much for sharing.

51 days ago

Truly sorry for your loss as well, and Katie sounds like she was a beautiful woman, mother and individual. As I began reading, I thought the cancer was yours. Even in that moment, she wanted a Star Wars pin for you, and wanted to alleviate your stress and upset. What a damn trooper and fantastic woman you have (had) there. It is absolutely awesome that she was able to enjoy the hobby with you, and actually envelop herself in it as a relief from her tremendous stress as well.

I too lost someone very, very close to me from renal cell cancer just last July, and it still hurts. And have endured several other deaths of friends and family in the last few years. Pinball is definitely something that distracts me, keeps me busy and becomes at least a slight mental break from whatever else is going on in the world.

God bless you, and give you strength as you raise your two children and continue on in this journey. I am again truly sorry for your loss.

50 days ago

Finished reading this with a giant lump in my throat. Glad you got to enjoy the time you had together. Thanks for sharing your story.

50 days ago

Thank you for your story and sorry for your loss. May you and your family find some peace and joy during these holidays and into next year.

50 days ago

Great story, so very sorry for your loss. You have some great memories of playing together that will be with you forever.

49 days ago

Sorry to hear about your loss of a special woman! She has made pinball have a deeper meaning for you than most of us because it will also remind you of her.

For me, from a distraction perspective, I guess it's a distraction from reality, or an escape into another world... nothing as profound as yours of course.

49 days ago

Sorry to hear about your loss . . . Cancer F$%$#% sucks. I lost my wife to cancer at 44 years too and know how hard it can be. I was able to do an Ignite talk in Boulder about it, resetting after loss, and igniting my "career" in pinball . . . . Google "Greg Maring pinball" . Best of luck!

49 days ago

So sorry for your loss. Thanks so much for sharing a beautiful story. The arcade is a fitting tribute.

48 days ago

Thank you for sharing your story. So sorry to hear about the tragic loss of Katie, wife and Mom. It sounds like you made so many great memories that you and your kids will take with you in remembrance. A few of us pinballers here work in the field of cancer research and its stories like yours that continue to motivate us to work hard and passionately each day. Stay strong (and get the Indiana Jones)!

47 days ago

Thank you for sharing your story bro.. A true story never died, remains in our mind 4 ever...
"love never dies" BSDracula

47 days ago

Thoughts with you all. Enjoy your machines and remember the enjoyment they bought you together.

47 days ago

Dear T...what a devastating, beautiful, piece of writing. Thank you so much for sharing.

Of course, Katie is still with all of you - and always will be. One day, you'll all play pinball together again in that perfect arcade in the sky.

46 days ago

A beautiful but of course very tragic story..... thanks for sharing. The title is right to the point.... people need distraction from their pain and worries and a pinball machine is one that offers this in a good and clean, family way. Please keep these good memories on top in your heart.

46 days ago

Thanks for sharing.
I was diagnosed with cancer in 2018 and my machine (GOT Premium) was a great life line for me. After my treatment even walking 100m would leave me exhausted. So standing was a good distraction as well as therapy, getting me up and moving and engaging my brain. It’s hard to imagine that one game would be exhausting at the start.

I’m fully recovered and scans are all clear. I brought another machine (The Hobbit Black Arrow NIB) to celebrate beating cancer and an EM to keep me entertained while my wife was off for 6 months with Doctors Without Borders (MSF)

I’m sure that won’t be the end of the collection - I would thoroughly recommend pinball as a great distraction for anyone going through that sort of life drama.

45 days ago

A tragically beautiful story and I'm sorry for your loss. Celebrating Katie's life and love is the best thing you can do to honor her. I'm glad pinball and video games offered some solace to both of you during some hard times and always know you have the support of the pinball community for when times feel hard. A conversation can do wonders.

44 days ago

It’s not church but it’s my church.

Amen brother. Amen.

Thank you for sharing.

44 days ago

I am so sorry for your loss... Your beautiful wife is smiling from heaven every time you play a game....

41 days ago

Thank you for sharing. Condolences.

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