This isn’t a Halloween post, though it falls on Halloween. I have a difficult relationship with Halloween. It seems a strange holiday, making light of death and darkness. Maybe I should just accept it as being another way we humans try to make sense of mortality.

It’s been four years since my father-in-law passed away. He died on Halloween, and Kevin’s mother telephoned late that afternoon, twice, first to tell him to hurry and come home, and then, not long after, to tell him, yes, please come home, but it’s too late to make it in time. But we felt fortunate. We’d been to visit just two days earlier, and knew that goodbye was coming. Still, we wondered what to do. The kids were dressed up and excited about trick-or-treating. How to give them this news? “Take them out,” I said, “and I’ll stay home and pack.” And so that’s how we told them, after trick-or-tricking: when they arrived home with bags full of candy, our bags were packed. There were wrenching sobs, and we changed them into pajamas, hopped into the van, and drove away, letting them eat all the candy they wanted. I don’t suppose we’ll ever forget that night, or that drive. It felt like an adventure, momentous and sad all at once.

A year ago, my grandma passed away on Remembrance Day. Last week, my grandpa, her husband, also passed away, and our family travelled across the border for another funeral, on another autumn day. As we drove to the graveyard for the burial, it was raining and the sun was shining. From our angle, the rainbow that emerged looked like a column of magic dust rising out of the earth, colour, shimmering. We all saw it.

I don’t know what everyone else thought. I don’t even know what I thought, exactly. Just that it was a rare and ephemeral sight, and I was glad for it.

Last week in suppers: enter chaos, from above
The most anticipated evening in their year

6 Comments

  1. A ladder of light–sometimes a flash of beauty can be salve.

    When I was two years old, my two month old brother died of SIDS on Halloween. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood how difficult a holiday it must have been for my parents, especially coming from places that did not celebrate the holiday.

    I’m sorry that you have lost so many people recently. Loss is always difficult, but to have so many around the same time. My heart is with you.

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  2. Oh my goodness, that would have been a difficult anniversary for your parents. Have you ever asked them about it?

    My kids love Halloween so much that it seems begrudging not to allow them their pleasure in the celebration, and so of course I do, and I enjoy the parts of it that they enjoy: their costume-planning and invention, the pumpkin-carving, the neighbourhood out walking around, and even the big bags of loot.

    I’m still trying to put my finger on what bothers me, specifically, about Halloween, and I think it’s that it not only makes light of death and darkness, but it also makes death scarier by turning it into something spooky and macabre and entertaining. Real death is nothing like that. But I suppose it’s not about real death, or grief, or loss, it’s about dressing up (why?) and getting candy (whoo-hoo!)

    And I don’t want to rain on the parade of jolly, joyful trick-or-treaters.

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  3. Sweet Carrie. I am so sorry, again, for this recent loss you’ve all gone through. And you’ve put down your feelings and emotions so perfectly yet again. I like to follow the Celtic Calendar. I kind of love that the Celts begin their new year on November 1st, Samhain. That this time of year when the very earth seems to be dying, offers a new beginning to all of us. Because really Death and new beginning are so intertwined. I believe, anyhow. And this is traditionally the night when the veil between our world and the spirit world is supposedly the thinnest. Perhaps souls would have an easier journey passing over at this time of year. November 1st is All Souls Day. It’s a good time to remember the ones you love no longer with you. And I think originally the custom of dressing up as spirits, those beyond the veil, was a way for people to honour those loved ones who’d passed away. To remember The Dead. One of the more beautiful Celtic customs is “the mute supper”. This was setting out an extra plate of food at the table for those who’d passed on. To recognized their nearness, to honour their memory. I think perhaps the “lighter” part of Hallowe’en is not so bad a thing – I don’t see it as making light of Death so much as saying “it’s not as scary as we deem it to be”, maybe. It is only maybe scary for those of us left behind to face a life without these people we have loved so long. Sending you and all the family lots of love at this time. Maybe set out a plate of candy for the souls you are missing. xo

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  4. Hi Nancy,

    Thanks for your thoughts (and I see you’re up in the middle of the night again!)

    I’ve never heard of the mute supper, but weirdly, I wrote a mute supper into one of my stories in The Juliet Stories. I did not realize it was a Celtic tradition.

    What Kevin does is put out a little cup of scotch for his dad every year. He sets it on top of a homemade “shrine” that we set up, with photos of family who have passed on, and candles. We put it up at this time of year, because that’s when Jim died, but it seems also a fitting time of year in a larger sense–All Saints Day, and Day of the Dead.

    After a couple of days, the scotch is gone, and we put the shrine away again.

    And this season does feel like the new year, to me. Starting from scratch. Starting from decay. So that makes a lot of sense to me.

    Happy Samhain.

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  5. I love the idea of leaving out a glass of scotch.

    I did ask my mom about how she felt about Halloween and the death of Dean relatively recently (once I had babies of my own) and she said that it was hard, but that she didn’t dwell on connecting the holiday and his death for the sake of my sister and me. She said that because she had two living children, it wasn’t fair to us to take away our fun. I’m paraphrasing and simplifying it a whole lot, but that was the essence of it.

    We didn’t really do anything in our home to acknowledge him, although we grew up knowing about him. I wrote about it a little here: http://www.glowinthewoods.com/home/2008/6/3/little-yellow-flowers.html

    I have a hard time with Halloween, too. And I know that it’s not just because of my family history. I’m going to try to think about it more and figure out why.

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  6. Marita, what a beautiful reflective piece, and to see your mother’s response to it in the comments below was also very moving.

    The friends I know who have suffered the loss of an infant or baby keep the memory of the lost sibling very much alive, whether or not it risks bringing on tears or making others uncomfortable. What can any of us do but remember, and talk about our memories? At essence, what more do we have?

    Trick-or treating with the kids, and being out with neighours in the ‘hood, and seeing all of the friendliness and goodwill and pleasure that people take in this holiday … it doesn’t convert me to a Halloween fan, but I enjoyed myself a lot this year, oddly, and unexpectedly. How was your experience this time around?

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