Halloween and my experience with “The Personals”

We attended a birthday party today where several adults mentioned that they were heading off to Halloween parties tonight, and described the costumes they were planning to wear.  Adults dressing up for Halloween was something unheard of when I was a child.  Halloween was an affair strictly for children.  Participation is Halloween seemed to end for most of us during our high school years, and older teenagers never went door to door for candy treats with most of us opting for parties in someone’s home, or some school organized social function. Halloween seems to have changed to involve adults sometime in the last 25 years. This may have come about from the commericialization of just about every holiday.

Lately I feel somewhat torn on Halloween. Autumn is my favorite season and I enjoyed Halloween as a child.  However, the church we belong to highly discourages any participation in Halloween for a variety of reasons, but mainly because, as Christians, we believe in celebrating eternal life and not a festival of death. It also reduces death, spirits, and afterlife to something that can be parodied.  Christians don’t believe in ghosts, but we do believe in demons which do deceive and harm living people. They have existed for thousands of years, and they know all the human weaknesses.  Modern, secular society battles with them almost completely unarmed.

As I sit here typing late on a this dark Halloween night, I bring up a little vignette from my colorful past which is perfectly suited for Halloween.  After I was deserted by my first wife, I threw myself into my work.  It took me several years to emerge from my funk after I realized that work is no substitute for companionship.  In my late ’30s, I had to start over from scratch because, by then, not only had I long been out of circulation, but the only girl I ever dated I ended up marrying. It just worked out that way, but we parted 10-years later and I was a late 30-something with no dating experience. I also lacked a social circle. For when two people divorce, you also end up divorcing a significant portion of your mutual friends and acquaintances.  Your friends become collateral damage in a fractured relationship as they take sides or fade away. To limit my prospects further, I work in a field where I am surrounded by other men. So not being a barfly, and lacking the time and opportunity to develop relationships, I turned to what was once known in the pre-Internet era as “the personals”.

Over the course of a few years, I met many interesting women from the personals, but one in particular stands out. Her name was Patricia.  At our first meeting I asked her why such a nice girl needed to use the personals.  It seems that not only was she wrapped up in her own job with its own unique demands, but she indicated that it was often difficult to get a date in her line of work — she was a mortician.

Patricia indicated that to succeed in her chosen profession, one needs only three qualities.  A strong stomach, lots of empathy, and you REALLLY need to enjoy working with people.  Inevitably we would come to discuss the technical aspects of her job, and there were a few stories.  It seems that it is common for females in her field to be “hit on” by newly bereaved husbands.  She always rebuffed these advances because it violated a code of professional ethics.  Then there were, the “clients”.  Most of them were elderly as one might expect. People in her field tend to depersonalize the body they are working on, but she found it difficult to do this when she had to work with children. In one case, she was assigned to work on a girl of about 8-years old who died of a hemorraghic disease. She soon found herself talking to the girl, telling her how pretty she was, how beautiful her hair is — while as she stood there talking, the girl’s body was dissolving in front of her.  Then there was the time she was “stuck”.  It happened when she was working on a drug user who had died of AIDS, and her kevlar suit was punctured by a hypodermic needle which went into her arm.  That caused her much anxiety until the tests eventually came back negative.

Patricia often worked alone, and most of her cases were uneventful. Patricia told me she did not believe in ghosts, but she indicated there were two instances where she felt that she was not alone.  In those two cases, she sensed a presence close-by as if someone was observing her at work.  There was no one there, of course. Nothing in her peripheral vision.  It was just a feeling, her intuition, but enough to raise the hair on her arms. Maybe she was working too long, or too late on those days.  But perhaps it’s possible some of us stick around and take an interest in what happens to our remains after our sprit separates from them. I’m reminded of the old admonition to not speak ill of the dead.  Perhaps the walls do have ears.


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