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Home: The Toast

Previous installments of The Toast’s advice column from two disparate and imperfect persons can be found here. Last time: Nails and Aisle-Walking.

Hi! I have a bit of a time-sensitive question, but no pressure! It’s also probably easy, if that helps?

My next-door neighbor’s husband died two days ago, in a horrific and sudden way. I’ve only been their neighbor for about 10 months, we are just hi-bye friends, though we’ve had a handful of actual conversations (about xeriscaping, cars, neighborly things). I am totally heart-broken for her and for her husband, who seemed like a really good man. I have dealt with enough loss to know about the protocol on how to support her without overwhelming her, but what I am worried about is Halloween.

I love Halloween, and usually put up some hardcore decorations for it. Dark, memento mori stuff. This is my first year owning a proper front yard to decorate, and I’ve been prepping and pinteresting for months. Mostly ghosts and ghouls and dismembered body parts. I have already put a kibosh on the graveyard I was planning on, but I am worried I should just not do anything vaguely death-related because . . . it just seems mean to have up next to her house? But I also don’t want to treat her like some fragile widow to be pitied and coddled, and it IS Halloween, that stuff is going to be around. But then again, my dad died three weeks before Father’s Day, and even though I knew it was illogical to ask the world to ignore that holiday, I really would’ve appreciated it. Do I need to put away the homemade chicken-wire ghosts and focus on spiders and bats this year (or . . . nothing)? Am I overestimating my yard’s importance in the face of her tragedy? Am I a jerk for even asking this question?

Nicole: This is a new question! This is a new question. Wow. Okay. First of all, kudos to you for #leaningin to Halloween, I like to see that in a person, honestly. Now, to your particular question. Me, I’d cool it with the death this year. You included a link to an article about the actual accident, which, as per your request and common decency we are not putting in the piece, but, guys, it sucked. It was not great. I do not think you are remotely a bad person for asking this question, but I think that spiders-cats-bats is definitely the way to go.

Do not look upon it as a restriction, but rather a challenge! Perhaps a good year for horrifying, but living clowns!

Now, unless you are her only neighbor, she’s going to see a lot of things about death. And she’s going to be thinking of it all the time, anyway, and there’s very little you can do. But I think YOU will feel better, knowing you’re attempting to be sensitive to her emotional state. The only other thing I would say, apart from “wtf is xeriscaping?” is that you should try to be really good to her right now, as I’m sure you already are. And by that, I mean, do things for her that don’t place any obligation on her to talk or be nice or thank you. If you know she’s home, put a freaking casserole on the step with “for the freezer” and a list of the contents on top. If you’re raking leaves, rake her leaves when she’s at work. Not, like, creepy overinvolved stuff, but, again, you’ll both feel better.

Mallory: Oh, my God, the memento mori thing. Weird how that’s true, and not just a funny Halloween gag!

It can be so difficult to know how to handle being adjacent to, but not directly affected by, someone’s death. It’s so hard to know what to do, or what to say, and for those of us who haven’t yet experienced a sudden death in the family and therefore don’t know what we’d want someone to do or say to us in the same situation have to just guess madly. Something that may be worth bearing in mind is that no matter what decorations you do or don’t put up, this will almost certainly never be the Halloween she remembers the most vividly because of you.

I don’t know if she would find the sight of a limb-strewn house horrifying and painful, or darkly funny and kind of cathartic; I don’t know if she’s going to spend the next few months in a haze of gin and muscle relaxants. She might not even notice you still live there. The shitty part is, of course, the fact that you can’t ask her which she would prefer, because maybe she’d rather you didn’t but might not feel comfortable saying so, or maybe she wouldn’t even have noticed if you hadn’t said anything but now she does and feels terrible.

I wish I could sort of disagree with Nicole, because that would make for a more interesting column, but she’s very practical and compassionate, our Nicole, and also quite good at pushups. Stress the bats and the witches this year, going rather easy on the mangled corpses (outdoors at least), and the reward of a sound night’s sleep will be yours. Also, your house sounds very fun; please invite me to your Halloween parties.

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