Halloween Apologia

October 31, 2016


I’ve neglected a neighborly duty.

It’s the end of October, and only a couple of days ago I realized I haven’t put out any fall decorations:

  • no bright autumn leaves (Not even fabric maples found only in air-conditioned craft stores, the way Florida nature intends them this time of year.)
  • no straw-stuffed, face-painted scarecrows (Who needs fake frights, with real scary clowns popping up everywhere?)
  • no black cats (Our neighborhood’s ghost-white strays wouldn’t like them — or might like them too well.)
  • no pumpkins (carved, colored, or untouched)
  • no, no, NO morbid parodies of death (Skeletons, zombies, and R.I.P. signs make me want to R-I-P them from sight. And forget about house-high Grim Reapers looming as if to strike down all who approach.)

I have no moral objections to children dressing up in costumes, going door-to-door (with adult supervision), and gleefully shouting, “Trick or treat!” in demand of candy or, where teal pumpkins promise allergy-free treats, in anticipation of another small surprise.

As proof, I could pull out pictures from years gone by, when I stayed up until all hours assembling my kids’ costumes. Or I could show that I already have (most of) the decorations I mentioned on hand, ready and waiting to display — just like I used to do every year. Decades of cute, hand-made and post-seasonal-clearance Halloween doodads lie hidden away in a back bedroom corner, awaiting release from their stacked, orange-hued bins.

Last year — and again this year — I considered opening those containers, pulling out their contents, and placing them on display … then I thought, Bah, humbug!

Dear me. I’ve become a latter-day, Halloween version of Scrooge.

This month I skipped my ward’s (oh-so-family-oriented) trunk-or-treat night, and this October 31, I have no intention of answering my door. (This one night each year, I leave my porch light off as much for Doggie Dear’s sake as for my own.)

I used to like Halloween. But it was the first so-called holiday following my husband’s unexpected death in the fall of 2010. The rest of that season I moved — when I mustered the energy to move at all — through the fog of newly bereaved shock. It seemed garish displays everywhere mocked my family’s loss — at the grocery store, doctors’ offices, schools, and in my own neighborhood. Grim

I was reeling from burying my husband. I did not want to see fake coffins, plastic graveyards, R.I.P. tombstones, skeletal “remains” in varied states of decay, ghoulish or even cutesy ghosts exhibited — for fun.

In my state of mind at the time, I bristled at each sale item and neighbor’s display as a personal affront. (Was that logical? Of course not, but grieving seldom is.)

I’ve (finally?) forgiven the calendar for repeating seasons. I enjoy seeing photos of my friends’ kids (and pets) all costumed up. I smile at displayed pumpkins and black cats — and even oversize spiders! — as my dog and I walk each other every day.

I admit, though, I still pass by death-oriented scenes with my lips pressed together in a firm line. I try not to judge those who bought them, put them up, and left them visible for all to see. I try not to realize that one day these people may suffer a shift in perspective that causes them to see their own decorations the same way I do.

Next year, perhaps I’ll pull out my orange bins again. I might even use them.


How have your lifelong holiday perspectives or practices shifted after life-altering loss?


  1. Name withheld

    October 31, 2016

    Holidays can be really hard when connected with grief and loss. 1998 was a dark year for me with an unexpected divorce, being bullied out if a competitive dental hygiene program, having my grandmother get cancer and my father lose his job. Right before the holidays. For the next few years the holidays felt like agony. I tried to focus in the Savior and minute the glitz. I cried my way through them. It is okay to need time to grieve and to heal. Be patient with yourself. I think as we heal and feel ready we can welcome back to the traditions we truly love and discard those that may bring grief and of even pain. Sometimes it can be hard for family and friends to understand. But when their own world is ripped apart they will finally get it.

    • Teresa TL Bruce

      October 31, 2016

      I appreciate the encouragement you offer by saying, “It is okay to need time to grieve and to heal. Be patient with yourself.” I’m still learning the importance of that. With practice (and time), it has become easier to dismiss others’ expectations of how (and when) my grieving and healing should progress. As you said, they don’t yet “get it” (and I hope it will be a long, long time before they do). It’s harder for me to be forgiving of the by-now-I-should-already thoughts generated from within.

      I hope you’ve been able to reclaim the best joys of the holidays now in spite of the agonizing associations they carried.

  2. M2theH

    October 31, 2016

    I have found that different holidays are harder on different years. I’ve had years where I didn’t even want to do anything for Halloween, but the decorations have never bothered me. I don’t think I’ve ever associated a fake cemetery with the death of a loved one.

    I’ve learned that grief has it’s own timetable, and it takes years to somewhat heal. You never get over losing someone, you just adjust to your new reality.

    I wouldn’t apologize for not decorating for any holiday if you don’t feel like doing so.

    • Teresa TL Bruce

      October 31, 2016

      I wonder why it is that some holidays hit us harder in different years.

      Maybe I’ve been trying to apply one year’s healing timetable to the next without remembering that each year I’ve been learning about and adjusting to shifting levels within my “new reality.”

  3. KR

    October 31, 2016

    I can see why Halloween could be hurtful after such a loss. You are under no obligation to celebrate Halloween at all, but if one year you feel like celebrating, that is okay too.

    My mom died 4 1/2 years ago and was buried the day before Mother’s Day. It was also my first Mother’s Day as a mother. That year and the next it was a painful day, but not as much as time passed. On my birthday, mid-October, however, I now grieve my mom that day. I didn’t expect my grief to feel so acute on my birthday, but every year so far I find myself missing my mom a lot. It doesn’t take over the whole day, but I feel it.

    • Teresa TL Bruce

      October 31, 2016

      It makes sense that your first Mother’s Day as a new mom — but without your mom — was painful.

      And on your birthday especially, it’s understandable that you grieve the woman who gave birth to you. (It has been 21 years since my mom died. It’s easier to handle now, but there are days when her loss feels recent again.)

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