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 It didn’t even cross my mind to let her read the unpublished draft or to overnight ship her one of my advance copies.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.