Monday, October 24, 2011

I Got Them 'Ole Halloween Blues

I would really love to like Halloween. Or like to love Halloween. I mean, it's very much a Jenny kind of holiday. Dressing up silly, candy, decorating, candy, parties, candy.....

But Halloween and I have a history. We just don't get along.

I think it probably started the Halloween when I was eight. I don't remember that Halloween but it's probably because it was three weeks after my dad died and one week after my grandmother died. She died of a "broken heart" two weeks after my dad, her son, died of a heart attack.

The first Halloween I actually remember was when I was about twelve. My mother was in the worst part of her alcoholism then. I was trick-or-treating with a friend a few blocks from my house. We kept seeing hordes of teenagers rushing in one direction. When we'd ask, they'd say things like, "There is a crazy lady down a few streets who's making everyone do tricks before they can have treats!" or "There's a witch who's taking people into her house one at a time to scare them before she'll give them candy!"

They were going toward MY street. My stomach sank.

Sure enough, when Claudia and I got to my street, there was a long line of kids standing in my front yard, waiting to go in my house where my mother, dressed like a witch, was making them sing a song or do a dance - some kind of trick - before she'd give them candy. She was drunk.

If I knew someone like that now, I might actually like them. I'd think they were eccentric and quirky and probably, fun.

But as a twelve-year-old, I was mortified. Embarrassed. Ashamed. The next few Halloweens, I remember begging my mom to not dress up, not invite people in, not do anything.... ........weird.

Fast forward to 1991. I was thirty-seven, Tyler was five. My mother had been sober for twenty-one years and was working as an alcoholism counselor at age seventy. She was my best friend. And she was a WONDERFUL "mima" to Tyler.

In the spring of 1991, Mom had a series of frontal lobe strokes that caused the quick onset of dementia. Tyler and I spent three months in Lubbock taking care of her and then brought her back to Los Alamos to live with Charlie, Josh, Tyler and me.

The strokes and seizures just kept happening and she got more and more demented. By the fall, it had reached the point that Charlie and I were taking turns sleeping on the floor of her bedroom because she kept trying to leave. And Charlie, bless his later-cheating heart, was wiping her bottom because she couldn't remember how to do it.

In October, it reached the point that the only way to keep her safe was to place her in the local nursing home. I spent most days with her, rejoicing when she was cognizant and trying to make peace with the fact that she frequently wasn't.

On the snowy Halloween of 1991, I took Tyler to a Halloween party at the nursing home. My mom had been in the nursing home for seven days. Before the party, the nursing supervisor told me that I needed to let Momma do more on her own because she needed to develop independence.

So.... at the party, I remember listening to her and the other residents sing "I've Been Working On The Railroad" while I focused on putting little Halloween decals on my nails. Momma said, "Let's go back to my house" (meaning her room) and I said, "You go on, Momma. Tyler and I'll be there as soon as they give out the candy."

She left, and Tyler and I followed her no more than five minutes later. She wasn't in her room, she wasn't in the dining room, she wasn't in the other rooms in her hallway. The nurses' aides, Tyler, and I looked all over for her. Finally, Tyler and I went out the front door and walked toward Momma's wing of the nursing home. Tyler went one way around a dumpster and I went the other way. We found Momma on her knees in about twelve inches of snow, with an arterial bleed on her temple. Blood arched out of her temple with each heartbeat.    Literally.

Oh, God. Why am I writing this?

And to be totally honest with a thought I can hardly stand to think, Tyler found her first. I walked around the dumpster to see my Momma on her knees with her arms outstretched toward Tyler, saying "son-hon, son-hon, son-hon". Just nonsense words.

A passerby ran over to staunch the bleeding and I grabbed Tyler and ran inside to get a nurse. By the time I got back outside, Momma was unconscious. I rode in the back of the ambulance with her to Santa Fe for a CT scan. The doctor told us she had had a massive bleed in her brain, was brain dead, and we should let her go.

With her, in the back of the ambulance on the way back to the hospital in Los Alamos, I touched my earlobe and realized that I had had on my long black skeleton earrings. I remember feeling an immediate aversion, and ripping them out of my ears and tossing them across the ambulance floor.

My mom actually died on November 1st. All Saints' Day. She would have laughed about that.

But Halloween is the day that I identify with her death. Like I said, Halloween and I don't get along.

I've tried to like Halloween for the last few years. I've tried to get past identifying such a fun holiday with my mom's death. And I've done a pretty good job - decorating my house, taking my kids trick-or-treating, volunteering at the school carnival...

But my insides have never matched my outsides on Halloween. I've dressed silly and looked happy, but on the inside, I was hypervigilant, sad, scared.

My internal little girl has always been in control on Halloween.

But here's the corker. Last Halloween is when I fell like a candy-filled Homecoming float and broke my elbow. I was actually in the church parking lot that is next door to the nursing home parking lot where I found my mother nineteen years ago. Strange but true. Part of the reason I flipped out when the ambulance came to get me (separate from the fear of being too fat to be picked up and my general fear of anything medical) was that the last time I rode in an ambulance was nineteen years ago with my mom.

And, this Halloween season, my friend Nancy passed away. She was my cancer buddy, someone who had also gone through endometrial cancer. By the Grace of God, my cancer was not as aggressive as hers. I have survived. She didn't.


If I had control over everything, I'd be OK with Halloween. Isn't that the story of my life? And probably yours?

If I had control over everything on Halloween, I'd make Tyler not go to an insane music fest in Florida over Halloween weekend. This year is like the fourth or fifth year that he's gone and I DON'T LIKE IT.

I need all my little chicks in the hen house around Halloween.

If I had control over everything on Halloween, I'd have nothing scary. I like scary stuff but not at Halloween. It's too gruesome and reminds me of my long-gone skeleton earrings and all the blood. It reminds me of death.

If I had control over everything on Halloween, I'd get rid of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I can turn down nearly everything but those.

So.... this Halloween:
Tyler is going to be in Florida from Thursday to Monday so I'll pray a lot.
I'm going to Main Street Halloween with friends this Friday night.
Nina is coming home to spend Saturday night.
I don't know what I'm going to do Monday night but I'll be sure to be with people.
I'm going to try my hardest not to feed my feelings.

I'll smile and laugh and say off-the-wall things, but for the next few days, please keep in mind that little girl Jenny is right under the surface. And she's scared and lonely.

Love you,


  1. Oh Jenny:

    I always associate Halloween with Granny Irene's death too. I re-live that night every year. Picking up the phone, you crying, me riding my bike around our neighborhood trying to find my parents while other teenagers smashed pumpkins and scared me. I have always had in my mind a picture of Granny Irene in the snow. I didn't realize Tyler had found her. I have said several times that I never realized until I had children how hard it will be to lose a parent. You always dread it, I guess but when you know the pain it will cause your children and you see their relationship with their grandparents, it just makes it unbearable to even think about.

    Losing your mom was a life changer for all of us. It was the first time I lost someone I was close to and with us having moved just before that, it made it even more unbearable because we just hadn't seen a lot of her. I didn't get to say goodbye. She just got sick and died. It changed my mother. And Halloween cannot pass without my missing your mom. Just like fourth of July makes me think of her in a positive way. She always seemed to enjoy that and I remember being in her back yard with sparklers and fire works.

    I am sorry that this reminder is coming up for you and I wish there were things about her death we could all change. I will be thinking of her too. and you. So, if you need to call, I will be there to pick up the phone, just like I was 20 years ago. xxoo Kim

  2. oh my world .. I don't know that anyone would/could have fun on Halloween after all that you've been through !

    Your blog makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it makes me think a lot too ! You rock ! If you need a new friend, I'm here ! I've got ears or what ever you need :-)


  3. I love you Jen. You will keep your little girl inside safe; try not to worry.

  4. Oh Jen, this was the first time I have ever known this about you and Halloween ��. If I had known tonight when I saw you, I would have hugged you so much tighter! I love you so much and I'm so sorry about your mama ��