Wednesday, 31 October 2018

It's Halloween: Let's Talk About Death

Please excuse the following rant in advance. I’ve never been particularly comfortable with some aspects of Halloween, I just think our version is a grotesque concept. For one thing, Trick-or-Treat = standing on a stranger’s doorstep and basically threatening them unless they give you something nice, despite having done nothing to deserve it…

In the UK we have this ghoulish, horrible, frightening representation of the dead. We never really talk about death until October, and then it’s represented by blood, gore, and horror. I just find it so incredibly tasteless and unhealthy. We all die. It’s the one certainty in life - even more certain than birth or marriage, or all the other things that are expected and celebrated in life. It’s the one thing we know will happen, and it doesn’t have to be hideous.

Death can be beautiful, but nobody ever talks about it. My daughter’s birth and death were peaceful and beautiful. Sad. But beautiful. Even after she died, she was beautiful. I do not, cannot, and will not associate her with the awfulness that seems to represent death in this country. She was not hideous, she was not scary, she was not gross, or ghoulish, or disgusting, or any of those things that seem to appear at this time of year. I find it upsetting that death is treated like such a horrible, terrifying thing.

I feel like Halloween turns death into some gory spectacle. It's not just “harmless fun” (which is the argument I’m always given when I try to start a dialogue about death, and yes, a part of the old me can appreciate the "harmless fun" of kids dressing up, and getting high on candy). But I think it’s damaging that death is represented in such a negative way, and then generally silenced for the rest of the year. Death should be part of an ongoing conversation, so that when it happens, it’s easier to deal with. It shouldn’t be hidden away until October, and then paraded around like some frightening freak-show.

Holly’s death was beautiful. God knows it wasn’t what I wanted for her, or for me, but if there is a right way to die, then she died with dignity and it is one of few things I was able to do for her. At the other end of the spectrum, my elderly Gran’s death was equally beautiful, in a different way. My Mum was with her, and she quietly just slipped away, and was released from the horrendous illness that had been so cruel to her for the last years of her life. Her death was liberating, it set her free.

But here we are on Halloween, surrounded by these awful, upsetting, hideous representations of death. I wish I could see it as just harmless fun because my six-year-old wants to go trick-or-treating, and I suppose, to him, he only sees the “fun” side with all the sweets and candy, and I don't want to deny him that. But I just can’t help feeling this representation of death is not healthy. I don’t want to be around it. I don’t want my beautiful daughter to be associated with it. I want to protect her from any negative associations and Halloween to me this year, just feels so oppressively negative.

I have always tried to turn her life - and death - into something beautiful. To create positive memories, rather than remember her only with sorrow. So, while everyone else is surrounding their homes with macabre images, I took her beautiful bauble (containing her ashes) outside into the autumn sunlight, and photographed some tributes to her. There is beauty in everything, if you look for it. Even in death. At this time of year (and I admit that I am probably being over sensitive during the run up to the anniversary of Holly's birth, and I'm prone to overthinking everything anyway), I'm doing my best to hold onto that, in spite of what feels like an onslaught of grotesqueness associated with death...

And off I go... Trick-or-Treating with my son... in a controlled, and sensible way, in spite of my own feelings... Because that is what parents do for their children, and I don't want to deprive him of his "fun."


  1. Beautifully put. Every year I over think things. The pregnant mums Halloween costume makes me feel ill.
    I don’t see death as gore and blood. I held Archie and it was peaceful yet sad. I sat with my mum when she died too.

    When kids ask if they can be a dead cheerleader or a dead school girl it makes me cringe.

    Connie is all about unicorns and has made unicorn treats to give out and I focus on the pumpkins.
    I’m not a lover of going out trick or treating because I feel like it’s begging but if we do it’s only to people we know and always let kids call here.
    It’s a very mixed thing with halloween. Very mixed feelings and emotions. X

    1. Yay for unicorns!
      No emotion is straightforward after loss. You can't ever feel happy without feeling sad, or sad without feeling happy.
      Halloween is - as you say - such a mixed feeling. You want to enjoy the fun (especially for the sake of living children) but it's hard not to look at Halloween and want to remove the ghouliness from death when you've lived through death, and don't want to remember it as an entirely negative thing.