I stifled a giggle as Kevin pulled the red sofa throw over his head and waved his arms, making ghostly noises.
Our little curly-haired Bear lay on her stomach on the floor in the front room, her head buried in a pillow. Kevin’s third “Boo-ooo-ooo!” was her cue: She jumped up, her infectious laughter filling the room as she ran toward him to pull off the blanket. Kevin recited his lines, provided in advance by the nearly-three-year-old slightly-tyrannical director: “It’s okay, Bear! It’s just me, Daddy!” And she came back with, “Oh, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to scare ME, Daddy!”
I watched them both dissolve in peals of laughter. Then repeat the script again. And again.
And that’s how we spent the month of October in 2008, the year Kevin was diagnosed. Cancer was still so new to us, and it DID scare us, and every moment together felt rich and full because we didn’t know how many might be left. So we threw ourselves into life and our daughter. That was the year she really figured out Halloween and we proudly watched as she recited “Five Little Pumpkins” with a voice full of drama and arms waving in exaggerated animation. We went to a corn maze and picked pumpkins and decorated ghost cookies and then…
We found out Kev would have chemo on Halloween.
There was no way he could trick-or-treat with us, dragging around his infusion pump, already nauseated from a full day of chemo at the cancer clinic. But not having Halloween, when the Bear was looking forward to it, well, that wasn’t an option either.
So I worked the phones and lined up friends and family who were willing to open their homes the night before Halloween so Kevin could trick-or-treat with us. I love the photo I snapped of the two of them on the sidewalk in front of our house, walking away from me, her floaty Snow White costume billowing around her, one hand grasping her orange plastic pumpkin and the other hand just as firmly grasping her Daddy’s fingers.
The next evening, after Kevin was settled into his recliner, nausea pills by his side, we flipped on the porch lights, ready to welcome the kids with fistfuls of candy bars. It was a beautiful evening and the Bear and I sat on the front porch – me with an ear toward the screen door, in case Kevin needed something. Bear greeted each kid with a “Happy Halloween!” and gushed appropriately over all the costumes. She asked each child what kind of candy they wanted before she filled their buckets – so concerned that someone would get a candy bar they didn’t like. I laughed so hard at her super hostess skills that Kevin wrestled up from the recliner and leaned weakly at the door to share the delight.
It was magic, but the good kind of magic. Sparkly and fizzy and you could see joy floating in the air, mingling with our girl’s giggles.
And, it’s weird to say, because cancer is mostly full of tricks, but that year was actually a treat. That night we gathered on the porch, passing out happy and bliss with every Butterfinger and Baby Ruth. If Kevin hadn’t had chemo that day, we would’ve spent our evening trick-or-treating. There would’ve been no warm glow beaming from our porch, beckoning others to share in our fun. Our daughter wouldn’t have experienced the delight of giving and we would have one less family tradition. Because every year after that, we’d hustle through our own trick-or-treating to get home in time to turn on the porch light and welcome all the costumed kids who showed up at our door. My favorite Halloween memories are of my Bear and her Daddy, sitting in the yellow glow of the front porch; she danced around, entertaining us with songs in between trick-or-treaters, and Kevin took advantage of her distraction to sneak all the Snickers from the candy bowl.
It struck me this week, as I put the finishing touches on the Bear’s most elaborately-conceived costume yet: This is really happening. The holiday season, touched off by Halloween festivities, is really coming – even if Kevin’s not here. And coldness settled between the cracks of my broken heart, tears filled my eyes and I felt grief weighing down my spirit. I don’t know if I can do it. It feels too hard. How can I laugh and smile and take my daughter trick-or-treating without Kevin here to laugh with me at her merry antics?
Then Bear danced through the room, gleefully exclaiming, “It’s PERFECT, Mama! I LOVE it!” and I knew: That’s how.
Watch her. Let her joy and laughter and whimsy inspire me. Double-check the candy supply, because she wants to be sure we won’t run out. Find candles for our Dora the Explorer jack-o-lantern.
Tell cancer “You scare me, but it’s IMPOSSIBLE to defeat me.”
Cry. It’s going to be sad, but there will also be moments of delight, and it’s okay to laugh with tears on my face.
Pull up a chair on the front porch and flip on the light.
Share our fun. Keep our traditions.
And eat a Snickers bar for Kevster.