Not-So-Happy Halloween 2016


November 1, 2016 — I hit publish on the 2016 OTIS Halloween Season Blog at 7:19 am on September 16.

Two hours earlier, I learned that my mother passed away in the night.

This year of 2016 that has become a meme due to all the A-list celebrity deaths also took my mother. Now that stupid meme is a personal one for me.

In hindsight, her death was expected I guess. She’d been sick for years and gradually getting worse. But I wasn’t expecting it. Not even a little bit.

I hit publish numbly that morning. My parents live about 500 miles from me, so I couldn’t just rush back there as soon as I heard the news. Plus, we had loose ends to tie up here. My kid’s school, our jobs. And there was no reason to be there right away. She wasn’t waiting for me. And I’d see my dad and brothers soon enough.

So in a way, I had nothing else to do but hit publish that morning. I wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t going to do anything. Mourn. Hurt. Wreck my eldest kid’s innocence as soon as she got back from school.

But I hit publish on the Halloween Season Blog for a very specific reason: I knew that I would eventually need to hide there. On the blog. Among my Halloween decorations. In the Halloween Season.

Certainly, I didn’t feel like writing at all. But that wasn’t an issue. I had enough content locked and loaded that all I’d have to do was press publish every day. And I could do that for weeks if I had to. And I did have to. I was 12 articles in before I published something I actually wrote in the moment. It was the Depressed by Halloween Décor post. Obviously, there was more to that article than what was in it.

That first week of the OTIS Halloween Season was a terrible one. The only real seasonal moment we had involved a bottle of gin and two Boris Karloff movies. Now you know that backstory. And why it took me over a month to write about it.

And then there was my book debut. Mom never got a chance to read A Season with the Witch. It didn’t even cross my mind to let her read the unpublished draft or to overnight ship her one of my advance copies. Why would it? She did visit me during that Salem October, though, right there in a black 19th century house on Essex Street. She couldn’t explore Salem due to her lack of mobility, but she could hang out with me in the house, head to a restaurant a couple blocks away, and catch a glimpse of what the project was about. Keep in mind that this was the woman who helped me put together my first book at age 6 or 7 by stapling two pieces of thin gray cardboard (notepad backs) around the pages of a story I had written and illustrated about a dog and a boy who get separated, look everywhere for each other, and then climb the same tree to meet among the boughs.

We returned home to New England about a week later. It was time to not so much put pieces together as to stop kicking them across the floor in anguish. And we started celebrating Halloween. It was easier back in New England, 500 miles away, where we’d carved out our own life. Mom loved autumn a lot, but she wasn’t a Halloween head, although she would sometimes send me a Halloween care package or have a pumpkin waiting for me to carve on my visit. She would have loved to see the girl’s Halloween costumes this year. So that distance of Halloween and New England helped a lot over the next few weeks.

As a guy obsessed with death to the point that he’s always visiting sites related to it and writing about it, I always wondered how a real, personal death would affect that. I haven’t had anyone close to me die in decades, if really at all. My grandparents were all gone before I’d even left high school.

Now here I was surrounded by cardboard coffins, when a real coffin was wedged firmly in this season. To see human remains adorn porches when I’d so freshly seen the last remnants of my mother with my own eyes. And I’ve visited hundreds and hundreds of graveyards, but never one under these circumstances.

Hell, the day I returned to New England was the day I went and saw the corpse flower.

And you know what I discovered? The two were separate for me. The trappings of death that had always fascinated me weren’t offensive to me during my time of mourning. I read a funeral joke two days after her funeral, and I found it funny. I had no problem decorating the home with death on our return. It was just two different things. I don’t know if that’s right or healthy or not, but that’s how it went for me. I’m still kind of figuring it out.

I hope you don’t think the 2016 season was a sham because of this information. All the experiences I chronicled were real and real joyful. The ones I wrote about before the news were obviously untainted by my mood. Even the ones after are genuine. Our day trip to Manhattan to see the Psycho House, the Beetle House, and some Washington Irving sites is probably my fondest memory of this season and probably others. I really did love The Sleepy Hollow Experience at Old Sturbridge Village. My trips to Salem were a great time.

But mom’s death was a part of my season as much as anything else. More than anything else.

And don’t get me wrong. It did affect it. The black and orange were faded. I turned down every appearance save one for the new book. Didn’t even try to pitch articles to media outlets to get the news out. I just took whatever came in. We also cancelled a lot of our personal Halloween plans.

But I’m through the worst of it, I think. Probably why I’m able to write this now. But a big part of me thinks that’s not true. Because next come Thanksgiving and Christmas. And those are holidays where Mom is an inextricable memory. They’re going to be rough.

Anyway, thanks for reading this piece to the end. I’m sorry to be a bummer. But writing for you during the season helped me a lot. All the great notes and reviews about the new book helped me a lot. Interacting with other people celebrating a Halloween Season helped a lot.

And next year I hope the Grim Reaper will just stay a Halloween costume.



30 comments:

  1. So sorry for your loss. I'm sure your mom is as proud of you and the new book she didn't get to read as she was back when she helped you create your first book at 6 or 7. The thing about people we love is that they're always with us in one way or another. I hope that you and your family find peace in the happy memories.

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  2. Deepest condolences. Losing a parent is...a process. And yes, the holidays ahead will be difficult. But along with the sorrow will be many happy and fond memories. Revel in those.

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  3. I read this as a positive affirmation of your mother's life. October has been a little sad for me for years because of my mother's death, 20 years ago. So sorry for your loss, I've been through it myself. As a minister, death is always present in my life, as I say goodbye to many people. Be sad, remember the good times, and know that God will continue to bless you with a loving family.

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  4. Words are poor things at a time like this, but please accept my condolences.

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  5. You're not a bummer at all, my friend. You're a solid guy who keeps his word and proudly declares his love and loss for his own mother for all the world to see. If your mom raised a guy as awesome as you, then she must have been an A Number One Gal herself.

    Sending healing bonds of love.

    Bry

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  6. You're not a bummer. Love and strength to you.

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  8. I'm so sorry for your loss.

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  9. It's not a bummer. Condolences to you, am so sorry for your loss. The reason I read your blog, especially the Halloween season posts, is because your writing is so real. Thanks for this season and all the ones before. Your book is awesome, by the way mate, with and without vodka 😉


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  10. I am sorry for your loss. Yet as a mother (this mother is a mother to all she follows and friends and interacts with here in cyberland) I am very proud of you for the way you have chosen to get through it. The holidays will be tough and I say weave a little bit of you mother into your writings through them. It will be a way to honor her and get you through this.. "first without". Love to you from here...and again I am so sorry for your loss.

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  11. I can't think of a better tribute than what I just read. It's the celebration of a life well lived that we often leave out..or it gets smothered by our grief. Being someone like yourself, who is in tune with the mortal musings of this thing called death, I was so taken with what I just finished reading. It seemed perfect and we all send you our deepest condolences and we are so very sorry for your loss. How very proud your mom must have been of all that you do, the adventures, the footwork, the climatic misgivings...the need to understand and relate that to us....all of us, who will never fully get over our fear and fascination of this thing called death. God bless your dear mother. Joey, Diane and Jess
    The Haunted Barn Movie Museum

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  12. I'm sorry for your loss and happy for your memories.

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  13. Sorry about your loss, JW. While I do not know how it feels to lose a parent, I can definitely understand the sentiments expressed in your post. Anybody who reads OTIS no doubt feels a strong connection to you, whether because of your humor, your weirdness, your obsessions or something I do not see. For me, it is all three. I can tell you are a good man, good husband and dad and I have read your posts and your books and I have seen many of the sites you write about, either before or after reading your words. Since you are the great guy I know you are, I can tell how great your mother was because all of this humor, charm and weirdness had to come from a really, really cool source. God bless you, man. I am so sorry you are in pain. Frank D (Francisco Guayabal on FB)

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  14. Heartfelt condolences, J. My guess is that she'd be glad you came back and found your way into the season - she would not want you to be miserable. Especially during the season you enjoy most.

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  15. Thank you for writing about this. I had just finished shedding a few tears tonight for both of my parents who died too young. I celebrated The Day of the Dead and them by eating a bowl of popcorn (I used to share that every Friday with my mom) and watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding (my dad probably saw it 5 times in the theater). It doesn't get easier, but the smallest memories get more beautiful every year. I hope you find beauty in your memories too.

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  16. Sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing. Not everyone can talk about personal stuff in public ways.

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  17. So sorry for your loss. I know what you are going through as my mom passed away just four days before your mom.

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  18. A mother's love can never be replaced,only passed on to next generation.

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  19. Really sorry man. No easy way around these kind of things. Just keep moving. Time heals...eventually.

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  20. Terribly sorry for your loss. Not a bummer of an article but a moving one. Obviously by the amount of responses your other followers feel the same way. My best to your and your family please accept all of our condolences.

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  21. Your writing brings so many of us some much needed levity and joy every day. Thank you for that. I'm sorry that you had to go through such a difficult time during a season that you love so much. I hope that doing this blog brought you a sense of normalcy and peace. It doesn't get easier, but it will hurt less and less over time. Take care of yourself and your family.

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  22. Words seem hollow at a time like this, but know that you have the sympathy of countless friends you have never met. For me, and i'm sure many others, your blog has been like a daily letter from home for several years now. Your loss is our loss too. You have our deepest sympathy and respect. Halloween is not at all at odds with heartbreak: it is a means of getting through it. Each year we are all holding hands in the dark. Condolences to you all.

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  23. There are just no words I can imagine that could possibly be fitting condolences for the pain you must be feeling. This is such awful news, and I'm so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family.

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  24. My heartfelt respects for you, your family and your Mom. May she rest in peace.

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  25. I'm so very sorry for your loss.

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  26. Condolences on your loss. It was my first season following your Halloween posts and I thought they were great. I'm sure your mom would agree. Rest in peace.

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  27. Thank-you for your words, JW. Isn't it amazing how from the tragic can bloom something so beautiful. Life's a trip. Love your stories, keep up the good work.

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  28. I'm sorry for your loss, and thankful for you sharing the impressions and emotions. It makes reading a strangers' blog more like connecting to a friend, and relates to my own life. I'm touched, and you helped.

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  29. J.W. I'm SO sorry for your loss. I just read this, so I'm sorry to send the late condolences. As much as I love the Halloween season myself, the fall and the transition into the holiday season is always a rough one for me. My maternal grandma who I was very close with died Oct. 19, 2004. My grandfather her husband died November 19th, I didn't know him because he died young before he lived to see any grandchildren. My other grandmother's birthday was October 30th, and my husband's aunt who he was very close with died three years ago two days before Thanksgiving. And don't even get me started on Christmas with my grandma (the close one gone and how our birthdays were a day apart in December).

    So I know how you feel but I admire that you shared this very personal loss with myself and your other loyal readers. I know the first set of holidays is always the roughest so my thoughts to you and your family in the coming weeks as you struggle through this.

    On a happy note, I'm so happy you got to see the Psycho House in NYC. My husband and I visited it during the summer on a very humid day but by time we got up there thunderstorms came and it was eerily appropriate. :) It was also a nice experience, because I hadn't been to the Met in many years aside from this past May when I worked the Met Gala red carpet for my job, but hadn't strolled around inside the building in literally years. It was fun to take my husband there for the first time as he's not really an "art guy" but was very taken with many of the pieces, and watching his jaw literally drop when I took him to the section with the Egyptian temple ruins, were a joy for me. My best to you and your family, J.W. and thank you for sharing with us.

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  30. I am so very sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. She raised a very talented and adventurous son and she must've been quite proud of you.
    We're never quite ready to face the deaths that come to those close to us. Our own lives undergo an irreversible shift. My own mom passed away on Halloween nine years ago. Made me look at that holiday in so many completely different ways.
    And I just finished your book, "A Season With the Witch." I'm now trying to figure out how/when I can plan a trip to Salem, a place with connections to a time that has fascinated me ever since I played Betty in The Crucible a zillion years ago. You really created a compelling piece of work!

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