Halloween Grief

My husband died about a month before Halloween. Fake tombstones and skeletons lined store aisles. I was a new widow, the unwilling owner of his cemetery plot. Holiday prop inscriptions labeled Rest in Peace were anything but peaceful.

Mock cemetery displays (complete with fake tombstones and skeletons) contradict the "peaceful" invocation to "rest in peace" (RIP). Many mourners despise them. (Photo by Teresa TL Bruce)

Mock cemetery displays (complete with fake tombstones and skeletons) contradict the “peaceful” invocation to “rest in peace” (RIP). Many mourners despise them. (Photo by Teresa TL Bruce)

He loved Halloween. He delighted in seeing our daughters’ excitement as they dressed up in costumes. I think trick-or-treating was as much fun for him as it was for them. Even when he had to work nights, his favorite annual activity at church was taking our girls “trunk-or-treating” right up until the moment he had to leave for his job.

That first year, just weeks after his passing, I sat in the decorated gym more out of habit (for our youngest daughter’s sake) than because I wanted to be there. I wasn’t quite numb anymore — the shock was beginning to erode — but I wasn’t myself yet, either (and wouldn’t be for a long, long time).

Sights and sounds buzzed and blurred around me. Kids played, adults conversed. I tried eating the food in front of me, but taste and appetite were as irrelevant as they’d been since the night my husband died.

I was an auto-pilot version of myself. I had no desire (or ability) to socialize, and the sight of couples enjoying the event together evoked irrational but undeniable guilt-inducing envy and resentment.

One woman, a person of refinement and decorum, sat beside me. She looked at me without staring yet she saw the pain I was too raw to conceal. “I won’t ask you how you’re doing,” she said.

I nodded my thanks, trying not to let the gathering moisture in my eyes spill onto my face.

“It just sucks,” she said.

Her words, so unlike the lexicon of culture and propriety I’d come to expect from her, were exactly what I needed to hear. Those three little words acknowledged my life had taken a turn, that the “fun” event was anything but, that my soul ached.

And in her acknowledgment of my hurt, a tiny bit of healing began.

Fast forward four, then five years.

Last year I manned games at the children’s trunk-or-treat. It was great fun, and I looked forward to doing the same again this year.

But grief doesn’t always behave in an orderly way. The closer I got to this year’s event, the stronger my aversion grew. Finally, I backed out of my plan to help. (And felt much, much better as soon as I did.)

I don’t mind the cutesy witches and ghouls and goblins decorating houses and buildings. I have nothing against the rows of tiny costumes and candy totes lining store aisles. I still think it will be fun to see little ones dressed up and going door to door again, yelling, “Trick or treat!”

But I still dislike neighborhood “cemeteries” like the one I photographed while out walking the dog early one morning. There’s nothing restful or peaceful about mock burial sites when you’ve had to buy a real one.