Halloween holds traditions for many people, just as other holidays do. Grief around Halloween can come up for a variety of reasons, and it can do so the first year someone goes through Halloween without their loved one, or for the rest of their lives. Grief, after all, doesn’t come in stages, instead, it is cyclical. Each of us grieves in our own way, and while Halloween can bring death to the forefront, it is a good opportunity to educate and often remind others on what loss and grief really look like.
Your grief doesn’t stop during Halloween, and often, the season’s treatment of death as scary can be incredibly uncomfortable. What may have once been a fun, candy-filled holiday now seems distorted, insensitive, and disturbing.
Seek help if you are triggered
Whatever happens this Halloween, whether you’re triggered or not, as always, remember that a griever has permission to do whatever feels right to them.
It can be helpful to find a trusted friend, support group, on-line forum or counselor/therapist who can help talk you through it all. Sharing your feelings and processing emotions that are triggered by Halloween can help you move towards dealing with your loss. It is understandable why you may wish that the month of October never existed.
You may wish to read Part One of my blog on Halloween and Grief.
You may even feel betrayed by those around you. They may not seem to understand how hurtful their enthusiastic celebration of Halloween can be. Although this time can be extremely difficult, others haven’t experienced what you have. Most people see Halloween as a chance to dress up and be someone else for a while. Try to understand that most people are simply oblivious to the pain you feel.
Participation or non-participation?
The best advice is to reflect on your current situation and to do what feels right for you. It is your and only your decision. If you want to, or more importantly need to, skip Halloween this year, do it. Don’t feel guilty that you may have participated last year, but just feel unable to participate this year or choose to participate at a modified level. If your friends or your family ask you to participate in something you are not quite ready for be open and honest with your thoughts and self-advocate.
If you want to participate, find ways to continue the legacy of your loved one. Perhaps this will be through old traditions or perhaps you will incorporate some new traditions.
Mourning the loss of a child
Children and teenagers are often the biggest celebraters of Halloween, and when you have a child pass away, that first Halloween, and all subsequent ones, can be incredibly hard. After all, so much of the media we see around Halloween is about children- what candy/costumes/movies/books are currently popular. If your loved one was a child when they died, then you may also be grieving losses related to holidays they won’t get to celebrate and experiences you won’t get to share with them. 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.
Mourning the loss of traditions
Often, there is a parent/relative who did a lot during the holiday and is no longer with us. Our parents/relatives are the ones who so often teach us the tradition of Halloween and help us build our own rituals around it. Halloween is a tradition for those who celebrate it. Traditions are formed through repetitions. This makes Halloween, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays, a difficult time –– whether it’s the first year or many years later. If one parent especially enjoyed Halloween, this time of year can be so topsy-turvy because of the shared memories.
The importance of holding onto memories
A. Dressing up in costumes
It might help to share pictures of Halloween from years prior. Tell stories about amazing Halloween costumes they used to wear. Post them on social media, if you feel comfortable, and share details about your loved one’s enjoyment of Halloween.
B. Trick or treating candy
Perhaps there was a specific candy your loved one preferred. You can honour their memory by buying that candy to hand out to trick or treaters, or maybe you just would prefer to eat some of it yourself as you recall fond memories.
Continue any Halloween traditions to honor your loved one such as decorating the house, going to a pumpkin patch, carving jack-o-lanterns, etc. Just be aware of your triggers (if any) and plan accordingly. After all, our grief is due to their absence, but their life was real and important.
How can friends and family help the mourners?
For friends and family of those who are grieving, just be there for them. Ask them about how they are feeling or sit with them if they don’t want to talk but want emotional support. The best way to help anyone who is grieving is to allow them to talk about the person who has passed away. This can feel uncomfortable for those who aren’t grieving. The people who are grieving are already thinking about that person. They often just need reassurance that it is permissible and encouraged to continue to dialogue.
In conclusion, remember that grief is individual. Halloween’s portrayal of death often feels hypocritical. For the sake of our own mental health, it is an opportunity to educate others on what loss and grief really look like as a daily reality.