George passed away on November 8, 2019. In just a little over a week, he will have been gone for a year. Needing to be in isolation due to the virus -in addition to battling chronic health issues that landed me in and out of the hospital for three months- certainly made that first year of widowhood more difficult than I expected. I can’t help but remember how during those days and weeks when I was hospitalized, I would dread upcoming anniversaries as I saw the nurse write the date on the patient whiteboard in my room each day. I wrote a lot of stand-up to cope during this time.
I have been especially dreading October and Halloween. It was George’s and my favorite time of year and our very favorite holiday. Our home would be covered in spooky decor beginning on the first day of October. We would watch Halloween specials and horror movies every night until the grand finale on October 31, when we would go back to his childhood home for the biggest block party I had ever seen in my life.
George and I always enjoyed dressing up together and putting on a show. We had a list of couples costumes we were checking off that would have lasted us into our retirement. In 2018, he started getting sick and we skipped Halloween at the last minute. In 2019, we optimistically planned to be Coach Jimmy and a Pickford Peach for Halloween, even going so far as to buy the costumes and try them on excitedly when they arrived at our door a month before the big day. But George ended up taking a turn for the worse and was too sick to dress-up, let alone party, and we put them in the closet for next year.
Now it’s next year and the world looks so different.
It’s often seemingly impossible to find any light during times of extreme darkness. And as a 29-year-old American widow in this, the year of our lord Satan, two-thousand-and-twenty, I have once again found that it’s the Deadpool Effect that’s allowing me to cope.
When I first started incorporating my grief into my comedy pieces and podcast, I found comfort in confronting the darkness head on. When I made jokes that were more morbid than my own reality, things just didn’t seem quite as bad. I have a theory that this coping mechanism is in the same family as radical acceptance.
I love radical acceptance for more than just its name (as a Californian, I can’t help but pronounce the word “radical” with a heavy accent and wiggle my hand in a hang-loose sign). It’s all about not avoiding your emotions and accepting that pain is a part of life. During grief, our first reaction is often to avoid reality (I can’t tell you how many people stuck their heads in the sand when George died). But by taking on the mindset of, “This sucks and I’m upset, but I can’t do anything to change it,” one can ease their suffering.
I have also been finding some light in the things that initially brought George and I closer together as a couple.
Before we ever started The Dirty Bits Podcast, we were political science and history nerds with a shared passion for film and comedy. Drunk History was obviously one of our favorite shows and one we watched religiously, clutching our sides as we cackled and tears streamed down our faces. The show has been on my mind a lot this month, though I initially wasn’t sure why. I hadn’t watched it since George died because it was too painful.
But today I finally ended up throwing the show on.
When I reached the segment about Houdini dying on Halloween, I was then reminded of the pact that George and I had made if either of us ever died. It was a pact that was inspired when we were watching this very episode.
That’s when I knew that I’d have to hold a seance on my kitchen floor tonight.
George and I had a healthy appreciation for the illusionist and massive skeptic, Harry Houdini.
For us, Harry’s appeal came from the fact that he was essentially the James Randi of the American spiritualism period. This guy made it his personal mission to debunk all of the fraudsters out there who were swindling people under the guise of being able to communicate with the dead.
See, the reason that Houdini knew spiritualism was a load of crap was because he used to pull the exact same shit on people when he was first starting out as an illusionist. So he would go around crashing seances and exposing all of these so called mediums as frauds because he could demonstrate how they were both deceiving and hustling folks out of money.
But that all came to an abrupt end when some overeager kid suckerpunched him in the gut backstage before one of his shows.
So as he’s dying, Houdini tells his wife, “Hey, if I don’t make it out of this alive, hold a seance every year. I’m going to use our special code word, that’s how you’ll know it’s me.”
At this point in the episode, George and I looked at each other knowingly.
We already knew the word before we verbally confirmed it with each other. It was a special word and one that we knew nobody else would ever guess. If either of us died before the other, we would use that word to get in touch with the survivor. It would be a sign.
So Houdini died on Halloween and for ten years, his wife would hold a seance every October 31st to see if Harry would reveal himself with their special code word.
But the bastard never showed up.
Eventually, Beatrice called it quits and said, “Ten years is long enough to wait for any man, I’m done playing pretend, this is the last night we do this.”
People are still holding seances to this day but Harry has never been confirmed to have broken through.
I’m taking all of this to mean that my chances of contacting my husband in the kitchen tonight are slim to none… but what’s the point of having a code word if you don’t try it out at least once? And what better time is there than Halloween during a blue moon? My skepticism tells me I’m going to be sitting alone in the dark with candles while Babbs judges me from her dog condo in the living room.
I figure at best, George writes the code word in the dust on my floor. At worst, I meditate with some candles, don’t burn the apartment complex down, and then get a peaceful night of sleep with another healthy dose of radical acceptance. I’ll let you know how it goes.