October 31, 2003.
It is a day for wearing masks.
Ten years ago today, my mother passed away. She'd fought cancer for nearly two years, and that weekend the family had come together at my parents' house for the inevitable end of her fight. We'd woken up on the 31st to half a foot of snow, the first oddity in a day that seemed to have stepped outside of time and taken any semblance of normality with it. Mostly I remember
the silence: the puzzled birds trying to find food; the quiet ticking of the clock; the confused
trick-or-treaters who'd mistaken the hearse in the driveway for a Hallowe'en party in progress; the parish priest - who called him? How did he get here? - murmuring words about my mother arriving in heaven in time to celebrate the feast of All Saints.
Mom had a quiet, sometimes sly sense of humour. I figured she'd arrived upstairs just in time for some heavenly tricks-or-treats, confident that the treats would be better than what we were
serving up to the neighbourhood kids and relieved that she wouldn't have to look at our glum faces
When I was a child, Hallowe'en was my favourite holiday. It was a chance to step outside
oneself, to be someone - or something - else. We were allowed to stay up late and to run though the
mysterious and fraught darkness. We cultivated our terrors like the maddest of mad scientists, and
if things seemed a little too tame, we'd liven them up by telling each other ghost stories. And adults
gave us candy! Free candy! to sweeten our fears. It just didn't get any better than that.
Until that Hallowe'en ten years ago. Nothing sweet about that holiday, just death in earnest, up
close and entirely too personal.
Grief wears many faces. It reels through blank-faced stares to tentative smiles and then sudden
tears in the space of a few moments. Anything can set off a cloudburst. People who have lost
someone close to them wander through a country of unpredictable weather, inventing the geography
as they go. There are no maps, and indeed none are necessary, because no one travels these roads by choice, and all destinations seem unappealing.
Time has changed that, of course. The cliché exists because it's true.
Now, Hallowe'en also wears many faces, like the theatrical masks depicting joy and sorrow. On
All Hallows Eve, life and death walk hand in hand and show us that they are in fact one and the same. This year I'll give out treats to the wee goblins that show up at my door and pretend to be
frightened by their costumes; later I'll go for a walk around the neighbourhood to see who has put
up the most inventive decorations. If I'm feeling too complacent, I'll tell myself a ghost story or
two, just to liven things up a bit. And I'll remember.
Because it's a day to smile and to cry and to shiver with fear, all at the same time. Who knew
that a well-loved holiday had such serious things to tell us?