Written By: Dr. Jacqueline Santana Sparber
Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. From the time I was a child I marveled at the fun and spooky decorations; it was just part of our American culture I embraced. In 2013, I was hired by Nicklaus Children’s Hospital (formerly known as Miami Children’s Hospital) in Miami, FL to develop their first ever bereavement program for parents that had lost a child. It is an understatement to say; that the undertaking of that project has forever changed my life…
Starting with my realization of how Halloween can affect someone that has lost a loved one. I hope anyone reading this blog finds it insightful and gains a deeper understanding and empathy for those that are grieving.
October comes and it appears as if overnight, the houses in all neighborhoods transform into graveyards for Halloween (I know mine used to).
Front yards have had extreme makeovers, looking more like something from the Twilight movie than suburban dwellings. Lawns have been blanketed with creepy grey headstones, skeletons are hanging from garage doors and fake spider webs float in the breeze. Oh, how my old self used to love it! I only saw it as creative, fun, different; it only meant Halloween and make belief stuff.
Now I see everything different… I gained the perspective of those in the claws of grief and it has all forever changed. So yes, I know it’s all make-believe stuff, however, it does make me wonder how people who are in the thick of their grief must feel when they drive pass by these haunted houses?
I’m sure it must rattle them as it now does me, as it’s a reminder of death. I’m curious if they have to hide their shadow of sadness or if they can see it for what it is? Just a holiday…to some an excuse to dress up and suffer from another case of a sick stomach from eating too much gooey candy (like my own children).
Holidays can be tough, you can’t just check a box, ‘choose’ option number one “Be Happy!” Sometimes the multiple choices can be limited on special days. The temptation is there, to give in and wallow, and sometimes it can’t be helped. Sometimes, guess what that is ok! Stay in bed, cry, feel sorry for yourself and miss your loved one. But if ready for it, for the emotions, you can try to embrace the day, or whatever comes with it and not be afraid… This is what I made my life mission to be there for those struggling through grief and help them through it…
I am a true believer and practitioner of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) I know that if you can shift your thoughts to positive ones your feelings and behavior can change to match. Our mind is very powerful! I hope I can help you learn how to do that; there will be an injection of fun and smiles through the sparkle of Halloween once you do!
Personally, I made a very conscious decision to never decorate my own home with headstones or reminders of death anymore! I now decorate for fall, with lots of bright pumpkins, scare crows and harvest themed welcoming for all décor. Celebrating life not death. I decorate our front door with flowers instead of skeletons, in hopes of welcoming some familiar spirits into our house instead of scaring them away.
However; we cannot control society and those around us. So this month of October and on the 31st, I choose and suggest for those in the midst of grief to actually look at the headstones in the yards as reminders to celebrate life! Celebrate being alive to carve a design on a bright orange pumpkin, scoop out the sweet sticky seeds and focus on the happy smiling faces that will be parading down your street in different attire.
So this year wear a costume if you choose and hide your grief, or don’t wear a costume, and just scare e everyone by just being you! Happy, sad, glad or wherever the mood takes you; be kind to yourself!
If you are grieving holidays will be difficult; starting with Halloween but you can make it through! We are here if you need help! We are only a phone call away 1-833 PSY-TOGO