I see the signs everywhere: neighboring homes draped in faux spider webbing; bright orange pumpkins waiting to be transformed into Jack-O-Lanterns; costumes and candy overflowing store shelves. I know Halloween is approaching, and it seems everyone is eagerly anticipating the fun.
Everyone, except for me.
I never used to be such a humbug about this holiday. I have many fond memories of my own childhood candy-begging and I really enjoyed accompanying my children and now grandchildren (looking exceptionally adorable) on their yearly rounds. But things are different now.
I noticed my changed outlook for the first time last year, barely 3 months after the death of my son David. The witches and goblins, and really anything humorously portrayed, didn't bother me so much. What shook me was seeing suburban lawns decorated like cemeteries, some with plastic body parts poking up from the pretend graves.
I instantly flashed back to David's broken body nestled in his casket; my tearful kisses bidding him goodbye for the last time. I thought about the dozens of red roses we tossed into his grave, and the care with which we later chose his memorial marker...to honor the wonderful young man he was and to ensure his eternal memory.
Now at the second Halloween after David's passing, I do recognize I'm not quite as distressed as last year. As I've had more time to think about the meaning of Halloween to me and to our culture in general, I find myself wondering about our collective fascination with the "undead." Perhaps this is our way of looking our own mortality in the face and making it more tolerable. Maybe joking around about some kind of space between life and death helps us cope with the inevitability of our eventual demise as we confront our greatest fear.
Whatever meaning Halloween conjures up for any individual, I know no one intends for it to be anything but fun. Even the lawns decked out as spooky graveyards aren't meant to hurt anyone or to be insensitive to those who are mourning recently-lost loved ones.
This is the nature of loss: there are times when your particular loss overshadows (even temporarily) what used to be ordinary life. It doesn't matter what kind of loss you experience; these moments continue to pop up, sometimes when you least expect them.
The couple struggling with infertility who can't stand to see baby product commercials; the recently-divorced woman who just can't share in the excitement of her sister's upcoming wedding; the mother of a child with a severe developmental disability who has trouble listening to other parents complain about typical extra-curricular carpool duties. These are a few examples of loss-related challenges that can affect how we experience life.
Have you noticed yourself or someone else struggling with an aspect of every-day life because of personal loss? If so, you're in good company, for this is one common way we humans tend to cope with unwelcome transitions. The struggle will evolve, it may fade, and it may disappear. And it's all part of the journey.
Essays on Grief Resilience