It’s Halloween season!
The pumpkins are out, many of them now turned jack-o-lanterns. The party invitations are out, whether it’s a themed adult party at a friend’s place or a block party for all the kids. Even the weather is out with temperatures dipping and the fall foliage picking up steam.
It is a beautiful time of year, and so fun for so many. Who doesn’t like Halloween, and the ability to dress up and be someone else for a day? Or, who doesn’t love Dios de los Muertos, and celebrating the memory of those we love who have passed?
There is, it seems, a joy in the air this time of year –– with the candy and the sweaters and the haunting pranks.
Fake Headstones, Death as Costume & Other Damaging Halloween Tropes
But your grief doesn’t stop during Halloween, and often, the season’s treatment of death as scary or as part of a festival can be incredibly disheartening –– and damaging for grieving children.
We know that so much of the Halloween traditions are just for fun, but the following things can be really mentally damaging and challenging to handle for those who are grieving:
- Plastic headstones and tombstones all over town
- The scary way graveyards are depicted
- Neighborhood front yards full of hangings, of throats slit, of hands rising up out of vats of water.
“The first Halloween season after my fiance drowned, I eyed the neighborhood decorations with deep, deep scorn,” writes Megan Devine for Huffington Post.
“I was horrified at the surface death imagery, thinking of all the people I knew for whom images of death are not kitsch. How many triggers are stitched into the everyday world, headstones and hangings, ghosts everywhere.”
We can do better –– especially knowing that nearly 60% of Americans are grieving the loss of someone close to them over the last three years.
That’s more than every other person you run in to, or hand out candy to on Halloween.
Here are a few things to think about when it comes to celebrating Halloween in a way that can help those who are grieving feel less alone, less upset, and less freaked out about our treatment of the only thing every single one of us will experience.
Reasons Halloween Can Be Tough for People
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 like so many of us are taught. Instead, it is cyclical and becomes plain and simple part of who we are.
Here are a few points in time in which Halloween grief can be overwhelming.
A child or teenager tragically passed.
Children and teenagers are often the biggest lovers of Halloween, and when you have a child pass away, that first Halloween, and all subsequent, can be incredibly hard.
After all, so much of the media we see around Halloween is about children –– what candy they are in to now, movies like IT being recreated for them, and so much more.
For parents, this can spark deep grief over their loss, and a moment in time their child isn’t getting to experience.
A parent is no longer there.
Often, there is a mom or dad who did a lot during the holiday and is no longer with us. Our parents are the ones who so often teach us the tradition of Halloween and help us build our own rituals around it.
If one parent, for instance, really, really loved Halloween –– this time of year can be so hard.
It might help to share pictures of your parents dressed up for Halloween in years prior, or just talk more readily about what they loved so much about Halloween that you now incorporate into your own life and share with others.
You miss a loved one who loved Halloween.
Of course. many people LOVE Halloween. Maybe there is a person in your life that would always have a fun time on Halloween that is no longer with us: a best friend, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, even a pet.
Halloween is a tradition after all, and our traditions are given to us by repetition and shared memories with those we love.
This makes Halloween, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other holidays, a difficult time –– whether it's the first year or 10 years later.
Ways To Help You Cope on With Halloween Grief
First and foremost, know that you can plain and simple skip Halloween.
There is no need to participate in something that gives you stress, anxiety, or depression.
You get to be in control of your own thoughts and mindset. So, pull up Netflix and navigate to The Office and away from the Halloween movies.
Or, buy flowers instead of pumpkins. Or, take a few extra days of work for self-care and do what you need to. Take deep breaths. Visit their grave, or rub on that memorial diamond.
If you are still interested in participating, though, here are a few ways you can make the experience a bit better –– either for you or for a friend or family member you love who is grieving.
Talk about the good times.
Remember, the #1 best way to help folks who are grieving is to talk about the person who has passed away.
This can feel uncomfortable for those who aren’t grieving, but the people who are grieving are already thinking about that person. By you bringing them up, you help that person feel understood –– and feel as though its OK to talk about them.
Tell stories about amazing Halloween costumes they used to wear, identify details about this year they would love, and more.
Reminisce over old photos.
Need help remembering those old costumes and how they once were dressing up, or think some of them would inspire some serious laughter –– even among the tears?
Pull those Halloween of yore pictures out and pass them around the table.
Post them on social media, if you feel comfortable, and share more about the amazing person who is no longer with us, what made them so special, why they loved Halloween so much, and what it taught you.
You’d be surprised how many people can relate!
Continue Halloween traditions.
Did you always go to a haunted house? Maybe you made a specific Halloween dinner or dessert? Did they decorate the house? Continue any Halloween traditions to honor your loved one.
After all, our grief is due to their absence, but their life was real and important. It made us who we are – and our continuing of the traditions they loved and taught us is our way to pay it forward.
Eat their favorite candy.
Did your loved one love candy? Honor them buy eating their favorite sweets and even pass it out to trick or treaters.
Or, was your loved one the type that gave out healthy snacks instead of treats? Continue the tradition!
Even if you don’t want to participate in the trick or treating tradition, grab a bag of their favorite sweets and indulge anyway. You don’t have to do this as part of a group. This can be just between you and them.
Talk to a support group or therapist.
Does it all still feel incredibly overwhelming? That’s OK – and normal.
Not only are you allowed to check out and not participate in Halloween, it can also be helpful to find a support group or therapist who can help talk you through it all, and agree with your new Halloween aversion –– really helping it to resonate with you that it’s OK to not like this time of year.
Halloween can be tough, but there are ways to cope and honor your loved ones. The best advice is to feel it out and do what feels right for you. If you need to skip Halloween, do it –– even if you felt like participating last year, and there is always next year!
If you want to participate, find ways to continue the legacy of your loved one – through old and new traditions, alike.
For friends and family of those who are grieving, just be there for them. Talk to them about how they are feeling, and participate if they want, or sit with them if they don’t.
Encourage them to talk about their loved one if they want, or to post about them online if they are interested or hesitant.
Each of us grieves in our own way, and while Halloween can bring death front and center in what might often feel like a hypocrite way, it is a good time to educate folks on what loss and grief really look like. It’s for the sake of our own mental health.