Haunted by Loss: Grieving During Halloween

4 min read

Fall is a time of change in the northern hemisphere; leaves fall, the air gets colder, the days become shorter, summer ends, and the harvest begins. Symbolically, autumn is also associated with a time of endings, transitions, and decay. This is evocatively captured by Halloween, which is associated with so many symbols of dying, death, change, and transformation.

Source: Mark Shelvock

Belle, my deceased dog, in an adorable and hilarious bee costume.

Source: Mark Shelvock

With such literal and symbolic expressions of death, it is obvious why some people are more sensitive to their grief during this time of year. Halloween is a bittersweet time for many people who experienced a death-related loss, and many of us find ourselves haunted by the past. Past or recent losses can show up like an uninvited spectral presence, which demands our attention and energy.

Grief doesn’t come to a halt during Halloween, and the permanent absence we wrestle with can impact us in many ways. We may taste the bitterness of our loss when we are reminded of a parent, partner, child, or teenager who has died when we see the trick-or-treaters emerge. Others may feel the absence of a friend who truly loved Halloween, or we can be poignantly reminded of a deceased pet who we used to dress up every year.

We may also literally see ghosts knocking at our doors this time of year (who are most likely children!).

The value of engaging with grief more intentionally

While grief is often crushing and heartbreaking, it is also the way in which we integrate significant loss into our lives. Grief is a normative response to loss, and grief invites us to honor the role of suffering within our lives. It is through grief that people learn how to make sense of incomprehensible events, and grief is fundamentally a process of adjustment.

Halloween presents us with an opportunity to decide how we would like to engage with our grief. While we can’t control death and certainly cannot think our way out of grief, we can instead learn how to honor our losses, which may haunt us every day. Triggers present opportunities for connecting to ourselves more deeply.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve during Halloween

It’s reasonable for some people who are grieving to entirely opt out of Halloween. Halloween can become an opportunity for intentional rest away from others, and it may be wise to prioritize personal wellness during a deeply disorienting time. Some people simply don’t have the energy or resources to engage with the chaos of Halloween, and thus, avoiding the holiday can be a radical act of self-compassion.

For others, the holiday may welcome an opportunity to reconnect with their community, or it may present a needed chance to distract oneself from significant loss and simply go out and have some fun (even if it’s not the same this year). Costumes can also present us with intentional opportunities to allow something deeper to find expression. We may wish to connect to an inner superhero so that we may embody heroic traits during a time of uncertainty. Alternatively, it might be time to dress up as a vampire to reconnect to our thirst for life or dress up like a different type of monster to demonstrate the darkness with which we struggle.

Source: Dalton Smith/Unsplash

Source: Dalton Smith/Unsplash

We can also intentionally honor our deceased loved ones, such as going out of our way to visit our loved ones at a shrine or cemetery. We can facilitate connection to the deceased by honoring long-established Halloween rituals and traditions, like decorating our houses, sharing stories about those who have died, or revisiting old photographs. This profound sense of connection to the deceased can be far more meaningful and sweeter than any candy we are offered.

This Halloween might be a time of simply trying to survive intrusive and overwhelming grief, or it may be time to develop an entirely new ritual for the spooky holiday season. Regardless of the way we decide to grapple with our grief this Halloween, the most important thing is that we collectively realize that grief is a deeply personal matter, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, grief invites us to express our human need to grapple with suffering, to bring awareness to the losses that haunt us, and to examine the deeper mystery of life itself.

What needs to find expression with your grief this Halloween?

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