Some suggestions on how to deal with the Halloween season if you are grieving a loss
Excerpts from my Eventbrite presentation from September 7, 2022 “Why grief is especially triggered around Halloween”
I’ll admit it- Halloween is not one of my favourite times. That sounds strange coming from a death doula doesn’t it. My grandfather died on a Halloween morning when I was a preteen and I’ve always associated his death with the season. Even though it was many decades ago, I can still recall the drive from our house to my grandmother’s house and looking out the car windows. Everywhere I looked I saw houses decorated for the season. They seemed to be making a mockery of death. Yes, I am talking about those plastic headstones and tombstones, the hanging skeletons, the bloody fake hands coming out of graves- well you get the picture. Don’t even get me started on how beautiful symbols of death- places to be respected such as graveyards and cemeteries are made into a mockery of death or offered as entertainment by advertising for haunted graveyard walks and ghost tours. Then there is the tradition of trick or treating, something my sister and myself could not participate in that night as we were actively mourning. Seeing children in scary costumes was not what any of us needed. And I am sure that I am not the only one in the world whose grief is/can be especially triggered around Halloween.
So, for those who have recently or not so recently suffered a death here are some suggestions on how to deal with the Halloween season.
1. I suggest that you spend some time now, if you already haven’t, deciding on what Halloween looks like for you and your family. What are your expectations- not those of society or your friends or family? They are not the ones triggered or grieving. To what extent do your children wish to participate? Are you aware of what activities might be happening at their school? Perhaps have a conversation with their teacher to determine what might be a trigger for your child(ren) and see if there is a possibility of alternate activities for them to do if they need to opt out or overwhelmed. Children get triggered too.
2. Make a plan which includes how and to what degree you will celebrate this year. This could range from no participation to full participation. You are in control. What is appropriate for you and your family?
3. Identify your triggers and determine if is there a way to avoid them. If decorated houses in your neighbourhood are a trigger, can you take an alternate route to avoid the most unpleasant ones? Can you avoid the store aisles that display the seasonal items? Don’t purchase tickets for scary movies at the movie theatre or watch them on Netflix. Avoid purchasing tickets for Haunted Houses entertainment-only venues. Perhaps decline the offer to attend a Halloween party this year, of if you do go, decide what that will entail for your level of participation (plan a and b). Grief takes a lot of the joy and enthusiasm out of you, so this might be the year to take a pass on the celebration. There is always next year.
4. What is your plan for the actual Halloween night? If handing out candy to trick or treaters might trigger you then perhaps skip it this year. Go to a comedic or romantic movie (try to find one that is playing while trick or treaters are out in full force perhaps). If you have children who want to go trick or treating, perhaps a friend or other family member (or a babysitter) would be able to take them out instead of you.
5. If you do decide that you want to decorate your house (perhaps carrying on a tradition with your family that was important) then perhaps decorate with more neutral items such as flowers, gourds, fall leaves or the multicolored pumpkins instead of jack-o-lanterns, or spider webs or any other themed decorations. But if you wish to carry on the tradition of carving a jack o lantern, do so. You are in control, and you decide what is right for your family.
In conclusion, each of us grieves in our own way. Halloween brings death front and center. Whatever happens this year, whether you are triggered or not, remember that a griever has permission to do whatever feels right to them. Please feel free to reach out to me or to whomever will provide you with the mental wellness support you need.