advice / death / fear / ghosts / life / memoir / memory / mom / student / writing

The Halloween Chronicles

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Nothing scary is happening. Not yet, anyway.

Oh, scary things lurk nearby, certainly. Ebola has come to my state. War wages in far too many places to list. Terrorists plot somewhere. Something you don’t expect waits right around the corner.

But I’m sitting on my patio, glimpsing fireflies and listening to the whir of the dryer. It’s getting late and I haven’t had dinner yet because I hate to relinquish my spot. The evening is too lovely to go in.

I’m contemplating obituaries for living friends. You could feel unsettled to imagine a world without someone. I don’t like to imagine the world without some very specific people in my life (actually, presently, in my house). But I like the chance to say needed and comforting things to people who are alive right now. My mom died a long time ago (25 years ago this November), and I still realize things we didn’t talk about or say to each other. My living obituaries can’t say all those things to people, but they can remind them of how people feel about them.

Also, I realize how hard it is to get people to tell stories. I’ve asked people to share stories with me about my mom or my grandmother. I’ve gotten very few replies.

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It’s unfortunate that I can’t sit down for a coffee (or whatever poison you prefer) and take time to get people to talk. But you need time (a long night or a road trip perhaps) to get people to really talk. (And possibly you need for their phone battery to die.)

One semester I gave my students a project to write a biography about a parent. (They could choose another family member if they wanted to.) They had all semester to come up with questions, an interviewee list, and the mini-biography. At first students weren’t baffled. “What?” “Why?” “How?” “I don’t think this will work.” “I know everything. What am I going to ask?”

But in the end, they loved the assignment. One woman typed hers up and gave it to her father and her brothers for a Christmas present. And one student said, “I thought I knew my dad, but I found out things I never knew.”

Hmm. Maybe I should ask my students to do this again. Anyway. As we venture into this Halloween season, when they say the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, maybe take time to find out those stories you’d like to know. Write them down. Let someone know you’d like to listen.

Because we really don’t know what’s waiting around the corner.

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