a row of scary carved pumpkins with one cute one in the middle


We are again rapidly approaching one of my favorite holidays, Halloween. Although I do not costume it up anymore, I am blessed to have two sons who are still young enough to trick-or-treat and who, mercifully, are quite picky about candy selection. As a result, not only do we get many great pictures of them in their costumes – which have come a very long way in the 40+ years since I was their age (due to what I don’t know – technology?) – but my wife and I are also able to scavenge through their candy piles when they go to bed and get our fill of what we know they will not eat. Unlike our boys, we are not very discriminating when it comes to products made by M&M Mars or the good people at Nestle. (And a brief PSA, if I may: Please keep your apples to yourself; if we want apples we will go to an orchard. We are at your door for candy, plain and simple.)

There is, however, one aspect about Halloween that I do not enjoy and never did: The need of some people to be scared senseless. Back in my more participatory Halloweening days, I was dragged with friends to haunted houses or made to endure haunted hayrides, which is pretty much just a haunted house with the element of animal labor involved. After the first one or two of these experiences, I realized that it was best to undertake these events on an empty bladder.

Similarly, I avoid so-called horror films. To each their own, of course, but I do not need to see supernatural killers dismembering, beheading, or disemboweling others to make me feel that my Halloween experience is complete. For me, the real nightmare is trying to get off the extra pounds from inhaling the misappropriated candy referenced above.

Life is scary enough

All of which brings me to a bigger point: I feel as though life is scary enough as is. I don’t need to have fictionalized attacks on my ability to remain sane to make me feel frightened. And having cancer has only reinforced this position.

Halloween, not unlike cancer, focuses a great deal on death. People like to decorate their yards with fake tombstones and human skeletal remains. And sometimes they even enjoy going to cemeteries at night for some thrill or other. My view is why rush it? We all are going to be spending a fair amount of time in cemeteries before long, and by “fair amount of time” I mean the rest of eternity. Or until the sun blows up and incinerates the Earth. Either way, it should be ample time.

Although I realize that my reluctance to engage in these relatively commonplace Halloween activities may betray me as spineless, I think that there is more to it, especially these days. While I try – and am more successful than I once was – to disallow my mind from ruminating on my illness and its ultimate likely outcome, I am still susceptible to moments of weakness. Put simply, sometimes I get scared.

Feeling fearful

Part of what makes this so difficult is that I never really know what will set off these feelings of fear. There are some fairly obvious igniters, such as reading about a Twitter friend who has succumbed to cancer. While those probably should not come as a surprise, they are extremely difficult to accept nevertheless. I can’t help wonder when it will be my turn and what it will be like. Will I be conscious? Will I be in pain? Will my loved ones be gathered around me or will I be left alone to pass?

Sometimes, however, fear over succumbing to death is brought on by unforeseen concerns. It could be merely watching an otherwise innocent movie or show or just having a casual conversation when something triggers the reality my mind is working so hard to block. And sometimes, there is no obvious explanation for the manifestation of these fears at all. A good portion of this may perhaps be blamed on my generally anxious persona, a trait that has been made much more acute after years of cancer and rounds of chemotherapy.

Fear can be positive

Whatever the cause, there are just times when I find myself contemplating my mortality. I think that is natural, cancer or not, but having a serious incurable illness certainly brings it into much sharper relief. I try hard to not allow myself to be fearful of what will ultimately come, but I would be disingenuous if I said I was not, at least at times, afraid.

Living with an awareness of one’s limited time on this planet, however, is probably not all-in-all such a terrible thing. It does help give one perspective, even if it may exact a fairly high cost to do so. And even fear, taken in moderation, is probably a positive. It helps keep one from doing overly imbecilic things, such as gorging oneself on too much candy, the rightful owners of which will be justifiably infuriated when they discover all of their hard-earned collections eviscerated by their own parents.

So I will enjoy Halloween again, vicariously at least. And I will try to let the only fears that seep into my mind this year come from such minor events as decapitations, mutated serial killers, and the undead.

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