I’m just going to say it, I don’t love Halloween. Please don’t be mad at me and TP my house or anything.
I know many of you love Halloween and I support you in that, but it’s just not for me…not anymore. I have my rational reasons – for instance, I’m bad at putting together Halloween costumes, I’m legit scared of scary movies, and one time a monster scratched me in a haunted house.
And I have other non-grinchy reasons as well. As some of you know, my mom died in late October and so this time of year is always a little rough for me. I tend to feel emotional and distracted and, inevitably, Halloween always manages to sneak up on me (and I don’t mean in a fun, scary sort of way).
I’m sure some of you can relate to my Halloween apathy. Or perhaps you’re more ambivalent…or anxious…or some other ‘A’ adjective. My point is, holidays can be difficult after the death of a loved one. Though we often think of major holidays as being the most difficult, we shouldn’t underestimate the potential impact of traditions and grief triggers surrounding days like Halloween.
If Halloween is difficult for you, it’s probably for reasons specific to you and your loved one. However, we’d like to discuss a few general reasons why Halloween might be tough for some grieving individuals.
You have bittersweet memories of the past:
Annual events, traditions, and holidays are rife with memories of the past. This year inevitably reminds you of last year and years before that. You may find yourself reflecting on years when your loved one(s) were alive, years when things seemed happier or simpler, or even years when things were very difficult.
After a loss, memories of the past gain new dimensions. A memory that at one point was remembered as purely happy can take on shades of sadness when it includes a person, place or time that’s gone from our physical reality. So whether the memory is happy or sad, both can cause you to feel pain.
Does this mean you should avoid all memories of the past? No, definitely not. You lose far too much when you lock away all your memories, whether they’re happy, sad, or mundane. Memory can be an immense source of comfort and connection, not just in grief, but in life. Happiness with a side of sadness is just something you have to get used to after a loved one dies.
Your loved one was a baby, child, or adolescent when they died:
If your loved one was a child when they died, then not only might you be struggling with memories and losses related to the past, but you may also be grieving losses related to holidays they won’t get to celebrate and experiences you won’t get to share. For example, you might be consumed with thoughts about how old they would be and who or what they would want to dress up as.
Unfortunately, Halloween grief triggers are very difficult to avoid. There are parties at school and work, decorations throughout your neighborhood, entire sections of your grocery store dedicated to candy and costumes, and on Halloween, the trick or treaters are out in full force.
If Halloween is proving to be especially difficult for you this year, schedule a little extra self-care time throughout the week. And if you think it will be too difficult to hand out candy on Halloween night, plan to get out of the house by going to dinner, a movie, or some other non-Halloween related activity.
Halloween symbols are bothering you or are distressing someone in your life:
Spirits, ghosts, tombstones, skeletons and other reminders of death are everywhere during October. Adults may simply find it difficult to look at these symbols in the harmless and playful way they once did. While children, especially those struggling with questions like – “What happens to you after you die?”, “What happens to your body?, “Are ghosts real?” – may find these images downright scary.
If you are supporting a young child who is grieving, you may want to check in with them about how they are feeling about Halloween. Here are support resources for talking to grieving kids about Halloween from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement and from the Dougy Center.
You’re just not that into it:
Halloween is a pretty playful holiday. Some people really get into it. Maybe you even used to get into it, but this year you’re feeling kind of ‘meh’. Grief takes a lot out of you and, in such times, you may find you need to conserve your limited amounts of energy and enthusiasm.
So here are the options as I see them
- Participate with simplicity and support: You may not have the option to skip Halloween because you have children in your care, your work requires you to participate, or for some other reason. If this is the case, try to keep things simple. Embrace store-bought costumes or maybe just go as a grieving person, people tend to find that very scary (I wish I were kidding) 🙂 And don’t forget to ask for support from family and friends.
- Skip it (if you have the option): Leave the decorations in their boxes and go to a movie on Halloween instead. Take comfort in the thought that maybe next year you’ll feel more up to it (or maybe not, and that’s okay).
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