Tag Archives: Halloween

Ghosts in the Machine

2014-10-08 06.45.57

Ghosts in the Machine

I have tried, in years past, to get the house decorated and ready both for fall and for Halloween when the calendar moved to October.  This year, for whatever reason, I’m behind.

For the record, when my wife was still around, she had an amazing decorative sense.  She would find the most unique things to put around the house.  We have a sign proclaiming this our haunted house and our name is embroidered into it.  There are the aforementioned ghosts, metal trick-or-treat bags that have room for a candle and make shadows on the wall.

I honestly don’t have the decorator’s touch.  I wish I did sometimes, but there’s no changing that.

So imagine my surprise when I came home and found ghosts in the house.

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Okay, not real ghosts, but my sons had found the candles we bought years ago when we lived in another state.  They had miraculously survived the hot, sweltering trip from Texas to California.  Our cups, hanging above the sink, were replaced with Jack-o-lantern cups.  The boys had found pieces of our decorations put away in our pantry and decided to put them out.

IN the last couple years I went from embracing my wife’s vision to making one of our own.  It’s a hodgepodge, I grant you. It’s not all the same.  The sign remains on the door.  The ghosts, the metal candle holders, all those things are here.  But where we would avoid fake spiderwebs and other things in years past I’ve gone with putting them out.

Last year the front of our house had a mass of webs with a giant fake spider in them.  Andrea hated spiders so we wouldn’t even have a cute one on there.  Our staircase is covered with them.  Smaller plastic spiders, costing not more than a couple bucks, are all over them.

The month always had a rough connotation for me since the day before Halloween was Andrea’s birthday.  I had an annual love/hate relationship with that day because I either got it completely right or completely wrong.  There was no in-between.  Now we just celebrate the day like it’s a day for all of us.

I think because we took the sad connotation of that day away the kids still have the ability to look so forward to Halloween.  One son wants to get a wig and play “Heatmiser” from the Christmas cartoons.  They’re already mapping out their route to trick-or-treat.

It’s a tribute to the resiliency of kids, I suppose, that they know this could be a sad time.  Fall was their Mom’s and my favorite time of year.  We’d get all goofy and silly.  Their Mom would wear a big fuzzy sweater of overalls (they were popular when my girls were little, she had foregone them later) and we’d go to the pumpkin patch.  Now that I’m their only parent we sometimes go to the theme-park like places.  Other times we simply buy the pumpkins at the grocery store and make a night of carving them.

Like so many other things, we could have let this holiday bring us down.  Instead, it’s like every other holiday at every other house.

The ghosts don’t haunt us . . . they just become part of our home.

A good kind of tired

Tonight’s only picture . . .

I’m going to do something that may shock, bother, or possibly even anger a few people.

I’m going to say this Halloween was better than most of the ones in the last few years with my wife.

I know, I know, that sounds horrible, awful, mean-spirited and sadly pathetic.  Doesn’t change the fact that it’s really true.

To explain this, you have to understand what the last few years were like in our house.  My wife had gotten ill.  Not deathly ill, but . . . sick.  The illnesses came with weight gain which caused other problems which caused more issues.  The depression, the pain in her knees, the weight . . . all of those things had an effect not just on her but on all of us.  It was a daily struggle.  Andrea had to take an insane amount of pain medication just to be able to walk – the soft cushioning in her knees had been torn and the bones were literally rubbing against each other.  That, in turn, made her very lethargic.  That made her move less, which exacerbated the weight gain.

So what is Halloween?  It’s walking around and handing out candy and being mobile.  That’s not something my wife was in the last 2-3 years of her life.  Add to that the fact her job – a pharmacist – had her on her feet all day, no break, every day, and she was in a miserable amount of pain.  That pain, mixed with the narcotics, drove her deeper into despair.  It made her sad.  It made her dark.  The light – that shiny, sparkly, twinkle that was there showing so much life – had dimmed in her eyes.

So why would I tell you all these horrible things?  Well . . . first, you should realize that the light was coming back.  The depression was being managed, both by her attitude and through medication.  We’d gotten on a weight-loss plan because the liver and other medical problems were being handled.  She’d started swimming, which had far less impact on her body.  No, it wasn’t perfect, but the embers were glowing in her pupils again.

But holidays – things like Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas – those were hard.  She refused photos.  She couldn’t stand long enough to help cook and decorate.  She still had amazing ideas but even implementing them fell on my shoulders most the time and I was already doing the basic daily chores.

That’s not to say she was helpless, she still picked up the kids while on disability.  She went to the school, did health checks, all of that.  But her activity level was just so low…  Months before she passed she had become isolated.  She was embarrassed, almost reclusive.  I covertly got a friend to come visit and her spirits rose.

But the kids, though they don’t realize it, were missing a lot.  I didn’t see that until last night.

Hannah had three friends over.  They made their own costumes.  They got everything together.  I raced home late and got pizzas for all of us, the home decorated, pumpkins carved and lit . . . it’s been a hard week for me and the kids.  Much as we treat the 30th – Andrea’s birthday – like it’s not as affecting, we know it is.  But you know what, that’s okay.  It’s okay to be close to friends, or grow close to someone and still be attached to this amazing woman.  She was there for half of my life . . . that’s a big chunk of time, emotion and experience rolled together.

We don’t live without her . . . we live with living without her.  That’s the big thing.

So tonight . . . we had the home all dressed up.  Abbi had on a pink tu-tu with a sweatshirt (she thought I hadn’t noticed) and answered the door handing out candy.  One of the kids’ dads and I went out with this massive group – six kids – and walked probably a mile or more getting candy.  We had cheap pizza.  We drank root-beer.  One of the dads talked about how hard it is to find like-minded people: people who know the same movies, music, Monty Python and Spinal Tap and can quote the Dead Parrot sketch from scratch.

We talked until late and then took the visitors home.  It was after 10 when the little ones finally went to bed . . . and I sat to write.  It was then I realized . . . the kids had a great Halloween.  Not a good one – which the last few years had been: walking our small neighborhood, getting some candy and then sitting alone in the house.  My kids all shared an experience with friends.  Abbi talked college and growing up with myself and other adults.

It’s a hard thing to come to terms with the fact that some things might be better after losing your spouse.  But when you have only a single picture from the morning . . . because you were running crazy all day, it’s a good kind of tired.  The kids went to bed . . . exhausted . . . smiling.

The lights, you see, may have left Andrea’s eyes . . . but I saw it there . . . in every single one of the kids tonight.


Bouncin’ Back

Bouncin’ Back by Robert Cray from the LP Midnight Stroll

About a year ago . . . maybe a little less . . . I posted the above song and said that I couldn’t see the events in the song happening at that time.  If memory serves (and it’s been decreasingly subservient lately) I didn’t think I could ever see things improving to that point.  It was a fairly bleak outlook on things, I have to admit.  But the thing about grief and loss is that you never really know how you’re going to handle it.  I wasn’t putting on a brave face, if I had been I’d have jumped into the waters again and started seeing people and acting like life was normal.  I was smart enough then to say I wasn’t going to put myself through that kind of psychological labyrinth.

But now, after hearing the song again . . . first time in a long while . . . I realized things are truly getting there.  No, I’m not perfect, but then I never was so it’s not like I had far to go.  I’ve managed to stop the last bastions of mail from coming.  The solicitations for Creighton University’s Pharmacy School have stopped when I inadvertently made the young student trying to raise money cry.  “She’s no longer with us,” was my line.  Not sure why people who can be so smart can be so thick.  “Can you tell me where she’s moved to, just for our records?”
“No, miss, you don’t understand.  She’s no longer with us.  She passed away.  Andrea died nearly two years ago now.”

In my head – and this is how warped I am . . . and how far I’ve come . . . I wasn’t crying or sad.  I just had a massive urge to quote Monty Python: “this is a late parrot.  Ceases to be.  Not pining but passed on.  Bereft of life moves on to join the choir invisible. ”  But after having – for god knows how many times – to explain what happened and the girl not getting the hint that I was not only disinterested in going through this yet again I had started to lose patience.  Yes, Andrea went there.  No, I didn’t want to give money.  No, it’s best if you take our name off the list.

After we moved into the house and I set up the pictures, shelves, all our life together in this new space, the kids and I had found a box full of stuff from when Andrea was a kid.  Paintings, which I knew she’d made but hadn’t realized we’d obtained, were in a box full of High School memorobilia.  At the kids’ behest I had put them up on the dresser in my bedroom.  That, by the way, was a hard phrase to utter in those first months – my bedroom, not our bedroom.  Now it rolls off the tongue without pause or consternation.

In the last six to eight months I’ve changed things around.  New pictures have entered the wall space.  I took down the paintings because . . . well, to be honest . . . they held no special place for me.  I didn’t know her when they were made.  She never gave me an indication she’d ever had an artistic bent, other than writing.  I had pictures of my own I wanted to put up – not family portraits or other things, but my own photography and memories.

Fall Picture . . . my favorite time of year

I came to the realization this last few months that while I spent half my life with this woman I have only seen half of that life.  So if I want to go out of town and see a friend or what have you . . . I should do it.  My kids are amazing and I care for them and love them more than anyone.  But . . . I have about 9 years left and then the house is empty.  So as the song says, I took the picture off my dresser.  Took the name off the mailbox.

The influence is there.  I have confidence and maturity from this amazing woman that I would never have had without meeting her.  I am not trying to forget her or push her aside.  It’s more like the analogy of this blog . . . she’s stopped, her book in the series is over.  Like a major character in a Joss Whedon film her story line has ended but is referred to and influencing the rest of the characters throughout their actions and movements from here.

As Cray aptly put it – I have the urge to sing again.  I saw a friend a week ago and confounded myself with the desire to actually dance.  (I didn’t.  I may have rhythm but I have two left feet.  It wouldn’t have been a pretty sight)

Fall – through most my life – was my favorite time.  The colors on the trees and the bite in the air are things that give me both a nostalgia for my childhood and the start of the seasons that bring my whole family and friends together.  Last year all I could think about was the fact that Andrea – in those big, fuzzy brown sweaters – wouldn’t be there to sidle up next to me and seek warmth and as me to hold her.  When we dated I used to take walks with her and feel the leaves crunching under our feet.

But this weekend, with a major number of leaves and the first cold day . . . I didn’t think about Andrea.  Not that way.  We piled up the leaves so the kids could jump in the piles with their cousin.  We opened the windows and let the cool air in.

The kids in the leaves

We just felt like it was Fall and Halloween and . . . wonderful.  I hadn’t realized how much I was enjoying myself until the end of the night – and it didn’t make me sad.  It made me very happy.  One of those things that I’d lost . . . one of the things Andrea had taken, the Fall season and the love of the time was back.  I’d finally taken it back.

Like the Strong Persuader says . . . I’m finally bouncin’ back.

Crazy is the New Normal

Halloween came and went. We had a myriad of offers to come to houses and visit family to get together with the kids and go Trick-or-Treating. Hannah was invited to a friend’s house, and it was someone she’d gone trick-or-treating with before so I agreed, as long as her homework was completed for the day.

We got invitations from others as well, to join them, to make sure the kids were OK, whole nine yards. I appreciated every one, but there was just something about the night that I felt needed to be ours, not shared with another family, even if it was relatives or friends.

With Andrea’s birthday simply a day before it, we needed just to be together, best we could, and embrace the fact that this was our lives from now on. It was fine to dwell on the past and think
about Andrea on Sunday. Monday needed to be about us, what we were doing from now on. So we went out on our own, the four of us. Hannah never goes out with friends and I thought it was a good point for her to have something that was just for her.

So we wandered our new neighborhood. I put out the candy bowl on the driveway, the jack-o-lanterns lighting the way up to the cauldron filled with candy, set atop a stand and pedestal Andrea had gotten from some decorator place. My worry was less that we’d run out of candy and more that the bucket and stand would be taken.

That’s a worry I’ve had for awhile and it stems from something absolutely bizarre and amazing from when we were in Omaha. My father owned a pharmacy in my hometown, a small place, but it had more than just the pharmacy counter. He sold the staples, toilet paper, perfume, and even gift items. At one point, Andrea had seen this Shamrock, a St. Patrick’s Day wooden sign, nothing huge, but very cute and it fit with the decor of the little house where we lived. Every St. Patty’s Day we hung that sign up on the door to our house.

On this one particular week, I had come home for lunch. It was the rarest of homes we owned nearby my work so I could actually come home during the day, so I was there to say ‘hi’, wolf down some food and head home. We heard footsteps coming up the steps, though we weren’t expecting anyone. I figured it was the mailman, as we had an actual mail slot with a little secret panel next to the door where our mail was deposited. At times, a package too big would get set by the door, just like any other place.

But I walked up, figuring I’d say hello or see if I had to sign anything, and our front door started to open, but I didn’t see anyone there. I walked up to the window of the door, looked out, and there was this crazy woman, hunched over, gripping the four-leafed-clover looking straight up at my face. The thing is, my favorite part wasn’t the catching her, it was the look of cognition in her face the moment she realized she’d been caught trying to steal something. It’s like when the coyote sticks his foot below the line of the dust cloud and realizes he’s just hanging in midair, waiting to fall. That wide-eyed look.

She let go, tripped on her way down the stairs – which were steep, and then had to run down the steep concrete steps down to 50th street. Her boyfriend or brother or husband, whoever, was waiting in the car and as I opened the door they peeled out. I was so flabbergasted I didn’t know what to say or do. Andrea, on the other hand, was laughing uncontrollably. She had this giggle – kind of like my older brother Mike – where it was almost a nervous laugh at first, with that huge smile of hers and you couldn’t help but laugh without even knowing what you were laughing about.

I added new locks to the doors then, and since that time, I’ve kept that Shamrock. It’s a little out of date, but we always put it out, I mean, why not? It’s our way of thumbing our nose at whoever that was, the leprechauns, the Irish gods that might have conspired to give the clover to a woman/wife/scavenger hunt.

These are the things I kept from before. There are just too many things about Andrea that define how we act, what we do, all of it. It’s not that we’re trying to forget her, that would be the most horrific thing I can imagine. No, we’re just having to keep moving forward. We don’t want to, and there are days that it feels like for every step forward we take we’ve gone two back, making negative progress.

But move we have to. I never thought we’d be on our feet the whole time. I didn’t think it would be easy. Hell, it was hard before we lost her, I would be a fool to think it’s easier without her.

But signs and pieces creep forward with us. We were goofing around out on the streets Halloween night and Abbi started screwing around with the boys and for a few seconds I heard her . . . the nervous laugh, the giggle that made us all laugh. It was Abbi doing it, but she’d gotten that piece, the mischievous twinkle and big smile, it’s there. Sometimes I might think it’s too much to bear, that I can’t see Andrea in them because it just hurts too much. Her birthday was that day. Halloween was something else.

More than anything, we just walked. Abbi bemoaned the fact that she wasn’t invited to a party with anyone, unaware of the fact that I might never have allowed it anyway. It was the first event since she’d left we’d managed to do just ourselves. We’re walking the road, very slowly.

We’re a little farther down the trail, a few pages into the story. Not so far, though, that we still can’t look back and see where we came from, or re-read the pages that led us here. It’s all still in sight.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

Abbi, Noah and Sam ready to head out the door.