A New Meaning for Halloween

I don’t particularly like Halloween. I never really have. The candy makes everyone feel sick; the pumpkin carving is difficult even when you have the special little tools; and the costumes- it’s just too hard to decide what to be. Three of my children- the teenagers- luckily have sort of outgrown it, except now instead of having to worry about costumes I have to worry about what they are doing as they run around the neighborhoods with a bunch of other teenagers at night. Eight-year-old Sam is still into the trick-or-treat thing. Every year I have grand plans of the two of us making his costume together, and every year we end up going to the “costume express” website where he picks out a costume (which usually comes with a plastic weapon of sorts and probably has a “Made in China” label somewhere on it). We type in a credit card number and pay for express shipping because we put it off until the last minute.

Last year, though, I started to think about Halloween a little bit differently, thanks to a special person named Cindy. Cindy makes Halloween feel a little bit like Christmas here at the Josie King Foundation. I met her a few years ago when I was speaking to a group of doctors and nurses. She was in the audience not because she was a doctor or a nurse, but because her husband died from medical errors in 2008.
I remembered Cindy because after that speech she handed me a sealed envelope with the word “confidential” printed on the front and she had tears in her eyes. I didn’t open the envelope until I was on the plane heading home. In the letter she told me about her husband Steve and the medical errors that led to his death.
Steve’s birthday was on Halloween. He loved Halloween. Each year, he would decorate his garage with strobe lights, flying witches and scary sounds that reverberated a block away. He loved to sit out front and greet all the neighborhood children who came to trick or treat and wish him a happy birthday. He would give them handfuls of candy, and then he would bring out the good stuff- little scary presents like glow necklaces, flashing teeth and pumpkin pins.
As the first Halloween without Steve approached, Cindy struggled with what to do. Should she go out of town? Should she visit a friend and pretend Halloween didn’t exist? She couldn’t possibly put on a happy face, greet the trick-or-treaters with a smile and do what her husband was meant to be doing. A part of her wanted to shut the door on it all and just leave a bowl of candy on the doorstep.
That year Cindy read my book Josie’s Story. She told me that she felt a connection to the book and to the Josie King Foundation. She knew what she was going to do for that first Halloween. She was going to dedicate Halloween to her husband and to raising awareness on patient safety. She purchased a case of books and placed them next to the bowl of candy. As the trick-or-treaters rang the doorbell she handed them the candy and the little presents, just as Steve had done. Then she took a copy of Josie’s Story and handed one to each parent who committed to reading it, and asked that they spread the word on the need to make medical care safer.
A few weeks ago, as the weather cooled off and the leaves in Baltimore began to turn red, yellow and orange, Cindy contacted the Josie King Foundation again. She told us that for this Halloween she would like to hand out Care Journals, our little green book for patients and families to help them track new, complicated medical information during a stay in the hospital. Once again Cindy will follow through with what her husband would have wished- candy and little presents for the children, along with doing what she can to educate her friends and neighbors on patient safety and the need to prevent medical errors.
Thank you, Cindy, for your support and for the generous donation to the Josie King Foundation. Thank you for your work in preventing medical errors. Most of all, thank you for making this a special day to remember Steve- even for those of us who never knew him.
Happy Halloween to you, and to everyone else.


  1. I've know Cindy and Steve since I was 12 years old, and Cindy is my best friend in the world. When Steven passed away so senselessly and unexpectedly, the world as she knew it was completely devestated. Friends banded together to support her, but nothing earthly could possibly alleviate her pain. Cindy searched for meaning and faced her pain head on. Through this experience, I learned something new about my sweet, gentle-natured friend that I'd never known before. She is a strongest, most courageous and determined human being I've ever known. It makes me wonder why I didn't know this about her before, and if it exists somewhere deep within all of us. I feel so blessed to be a part of Cindy's life, and she is truly an inspiration and example of someone that has found goodness through adversity. Halloween is just one example of how she has kept Steven's loving, giving spirit alive, and I know that he is smiling down upon her. Happy Birthday Stevie!

  2. Sorrel,
    What a beautiful story of how one person can make a difference and change lives while making a sad holiday meaningful to her…hugs,Dale

  3. I had the pleasure of meeting Steve at my best friends daughters graduation. He made a huge impact on me in just the few hours that i spent with him. I was fortunate this year to meet Cindy and see what a strong wonderful person she is. Cindy you are doing a great keeping Steve's spririt alive.I believe that everyone Steve came in contact with left a special place in there hearts. My prayers are always with you.

  4. Cindy and Steve were our fantastic neighbors for about 10 years. We absoluately loved living right next door to them. We referred to Steve as our "Italian Grandmother" because every time we went to his house he was always trying to feed us or send food home with us. He was a great cook!!! He always had a huge smile, a heart of gold and a giving spirit. Sometimes he would sneak over to our house and surpirse us by cleaning our yard or preparing our swamp cooler for the next season. He did these things quietly and never said "Look what I did!" This was Steve. He did his acts of love for many people without ever expecting anything in return. Halloween surpassed any other holiday in our neighborhood because of Steve. Kids would come from miles around just to enjoy all the strobe lights and eerrie sounds coming from his haunted garage. We will always enjoy all the wonderful memories that he created and will forever be greatful that he was part of our lives. We are also truly tankful that Cindy is our friend. She is the kindest most considerate person that we have ever met. Our hearts broke when we learned that her wonderful "Stever" had passed. They belonged together like salt and pepper and had so much more living to do. What happened to Steve was tragic and shouldn't have happened. We applaud Cindy for not giving up and for making a negative into a positive by sharing Steve's story and carrying on his traditions and love the way he would have wanted her to. We love you Cindy and give thanks every day for your friendship.

    Paula & John

  5. I just wanted to say that I have finished the book and loved it. I love the way you tell the story and that everyone was so encouraging to you. I wish you good dreams with your family now and for everylasting.

  6. I am so glad you liked the book. Thanks for the nice message. sorrel