When Nightmares Come to Visit

Halloween was my favorite non-Christmas holiday for a long time. I loved decorating my room for it, actually had boxes of Halloween decorations. It was spooky and fun: a night to pretend to be someone other than yourself, and imagining that ghouls and goblins really are around the corner. I was living with my parents, going to Cal State… when I found out that not all Halloween Nightmares end.

I did not celebrate Halloween (other than handing out candy) from the time I was 24 until I was about 38. One year, during that time, I went over to my brother’s house to hand out candy while he and his wife took the boys out trick or treating. That first night started a tradition, a way of raising a toast…

You see… my mother, she who loved the very dry and sometimes tasteless British sense of humor died on Halloween.

That particular Halloween Nightmare— you don’t ever shake. You learn to live with it, but it’s always there. I can’t remember parts of that day– I must have blacked out while picking up a chair and throwing it at a window in the hospital. I remember many friends who helped, who made phone calls and came by the house to hold my hand while I made phone calls. I also remember going to the airport to secure the flights for my sister in Missouri and my brother who at the time was in Arizona.

My friend Jackie drove me. It was a good thing she was there, because I remember wanting to punch Raggedy Ann in the face. Yes, a lady at the ticket counter, dressed as Raggedy Ann gave your good old Wynelda Ann a temper overload. Jackie quietly stepped between us, defused the situation.

When we returned to the house, it was just getting dark. Trick or Treaters were starting to swarm the streets. The neighborhood that I loved, the holiday that I adored… suddenly was way too much. As a group came up, the kids just starting to come up the drive, I told the grown ups “no Candy.”

“No candy? What’s wrong with you?!!” It was someone I knew, someone I’d known since childhood. He probably meant it in a joking matter, but I couldn’t…

“Mom just died.”

I don’t know how he did it. But there were no trick or treaters that night. None.

My soul sister came in from Reno, spent that first Halloween night with me.

After that, I couldn’t get into the spirit of dressing up, of decorating. Halloween lost its appeal for me. Slowly, the boxes of decorations disappeared.

Then came the toast. It was quite a few years after Mom had died. I was watching the house and handing out candy for my brother, Charlie. They came home, and were separating out the candy. “Hey, a Butterfinger! That was mom’s favorite candy bar!” Soon came to find out, she would con me, my dad and Charlie into buying her just one candy bar… sometimes on the same day. She was diabetic, so if we had known… well. If we had known then what we know now, we would have bought her a bag of full size bars.

SItting there, on their living room floor, Charlie, Beth and I held a toast with Butterfingers, to Mom. It’s a ritual, a tradition now. Even when all I did for Halloween was hand out candy, I always made sure that I had a Butterfinger. Sometimes alone, sometimes with family.

And the tradition spread through parts of the family.

After all that, I’m here to tell you… Sometimes nightmares come to visit, and they don’t leave. But you can learn to live with them… and start enjoying what you once loved.

Because I have a child now. He’s 9 years old. I’ve dressed him up and taken him trick or treating, but haven’t decorated beyond the general fall decorations that my dad has. That changed this year. Princeling wanted to decorate. Please mom! Please!

Love the dollar store. Love it! Halloween items were a true BOGO, and we got a bunch. Mostly stuff he chose– a mummy hand, a skull candelabra centerpiece, signs for the yard, big spider and webbing… I tried to steer him away from outright demons and ghouls, because my dad… but he had fun!

But then there’s my 2 items. That’s right. My. Two. Items. I actually found 2 things that I thought were cute. And then they needed to be mine. And they were BOGO, so how could I not? They are black and purple and witchy and sparkly and they had to be mine. I’ve started up my decorating again… Last night, we watched the Dreamworks Scary/Spooky collections on Netflix and laughed our butts off.

This morning, I’ll go over to my neice’s house and raise the toast with Princeling, the niece and her family. We’ll probably also have the toast again tonight with Pappa.

It’s hard to learn to live with your nightmare. Hard to learn to walk everyday with it.

I plan to dance with it tonight. I think Mom would like that

My wish for you is that you give yourself time to learn the steps. It isn’t easy, it isn’t nice.

Living with grief is of like trick or treaters. Sometimes you’ll get a ghoul, and sometimes it will be a princess. But you always have the power to decide which candy you’ll feed your nightmare.

And there will come a time, either soon or in the distant future, where you can dance with your nightmare and celebrate the one you’ve lost. It takes a while.It takes a lot of ugly, messy tears before you can get to the point where you can remember them with joy and not want to ball.

But you’ll get there.

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