Halloween last year was when I realized that my cousin Ann was going to die.
We made plans to go trick-or-treating in my Adams Morgan neighborhood. Even though we lived in the heart of D.C., the block my daughter and I lived on took Halloween very seriously. Every brownstone was decorated with lights and carved pumpkins. Every neighbor seemed to take part, as well as the local fire station down the street. It was a really fun experience for my little city kid (and me) to be able to go trick-or-treating, just like the suburban kids. Just like me when I was growing up.
The previous year, which would be two Halloweens ago, Ann had concocted a crazy homemade costume (always the best kind) that she wore as she climbed up the steps with my four-year old daughter. It had a headdress made of fall leaves and wire, and a gown of bright yellow fabric. I think she said she was supposed to be the energy of the sun or something. Something very Ann. Anyway, she looked terrific and she headed out with my little spider. My friend Mary had given me a terrific spider costume when the kid was very small, and she had fit into it the previous year and it had become her costume this year too.
They hit every house on the block, a few more than once. I stood down on the sidewalk most of the time, taking photos, just too tired to climb another set of steps after my long day of work. And I didn’t need to. Ann had been declared cancer-free after a grueling 8-month round of chemo and a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Her hair was growing back nicely and she had energy again. Nothing was going to stop her from enjoying this experience with her favorite little cousin. In fact, she had energy to burn, as she was going to a Halloween party with work chums later that evening after our trick-or-treating adventure. We all had a great time.
The following year she came over to go trick-or-treating with us again, but this was quite different from the previous year. The cancer had come back over the summer and it meant business. She had to postpone chemo treatments as she was just too week to endure them, and she had been having trouble breathing for over a week and was starting to get scared about it. She only ate a piece and a half of the sushi I had ordered in for dinner from one of our favorite local restaurants. We headed out to trick or treat, but she was clearly exhausted, and only was able to make it to our corner and back to her car before she had to call it quits. She didn’t make it up any of the apartment building steps his time. I held my now five-year-old daughter’s hand and walked her to each door and called, “Trick or treat,” as Ann smiled, waiting on the pavement below. She took a great photo of us at the corner.
She wore part of the headdress that survived from her costume from the previous year. We hugged and parted and my heart sank as she drove off for home, but I smiled and asked my daughter if she would share some of her loot with me as we walked into our building.
This year everything is different. We no longer live in D.C. and I work from home. My daughter and I didn’t go trick or treating. Mostly because I’m not completely familiar with the neighborhood, and whether folks are open to door-to-door candy begging. We did go to a party at the local rec center and my daughter had a blast, and got a bunch of candy (and it all goes on sale today, so we will probably get a bit more), so I feel like we celebrated Halloween. But I can’t help but think about Ann and trick-or-treating and how I miss her and wish it hadn’t been so hard for her those last few months.