October 31st is Halloween, one of our nation’s most popular holidays. Over 67% of American households polled by an American Express in a 2009 survey replied that indeed Halloween has surpassed Christmas as a family’s favorite holiday period. During the month of October, Americans spend almost $2 billion on candy purchased for Halloween night. Despite prior years of horror stories of alleged razor blades in apples and pins in popcorn balls, the holiday only grows in popularity.
Halloween has its roots in pagan and deeply religious beliefs simultaneously. In ancient Celtic tradition they celebrated “Samhain” which is Gaelic for “summers end” and the beginning of darker half of the year. It was at this time that it was believed the veil between our world and the next is the thinnest and spirits cross easily between the two worlds. Dead relatives were invited to visit, but to ward off the harmful spirits costumes of evil scary spirits were donned to keep the unwanted spirits at bay.
In the Christian tradition the last night of October was known as “All Hallows Eve” or the night before All Souls Day where children and the poor would travel door to door to sing a song or say a prayer for the dead or perform a trick for money or for food, usually a treat like a soul cake and from where trick for a treat evolved. The tradition was called souling and was soon blended with the pagan tradition of guising, the wearing of costumes on Samhain the same date as All Hallows Eve and thusly creating our modern day holiday known as Halloween.
We were one of those families that looked forward to Halloween all year. We scoured second hand stores for clothing of all sorts and made our own Paper Mache masks or used creative make-up. Our house was turn of the century gothic and was surrounded by scary things, lit jack- o- lanterns and eerie music playing. In the upper Midwest, the leaves are mostly gone from the trees and they look like sinister bones stretching out against the darkening sky only adding to the creepy atmosphere we were trying to create. Kids loved to come to our house.
1987 was my 9-year-old son Kelly’s last Halloween, and only 30 days before his untimely death. Kelly loved Halloween and although very, very sick with the end stages of cancer he insisted on going trick or treating. We did not decorate our house that year as we had sold our home to move to Mexico for alternative therapies and we were living in a rented townhome serving as a hospice.
At that time I was still closing up our affairs in Mexico and my wife took Kelly to our old neighborhood to go trick or treating. As happens sometimes in Minnesota it was cold, wet and windy and Kelly was bundled up warmly and for the first time in his life only wore a simple mask bought at the drugstore.
After the third house on the block Kelly could barely walk and he crawled up the last set of front porch stair to get the candy, something he could not even enjoy. I am glad I was not there, the memory of the event is painful enough, and Halloween has never been the same ever since.
Kelly’s little sister Meagan continued to trick or treat through the years without her brother, but our passion for the day and the weeks that preceded it died with my son. For me the cold winds of November come early and Halloween only a harbinger of more painful memories and unrealized dreams.
Kelly’s birthday followed on November 16th and we had his last birthday party for him, where all his friends came to say goodbye; not an easy thing to do holding a living wake for a nine year old. Soon to follow on November 26th was Thanksgiving day; so difficult to be thankful when you child is dying and the smell of roasting turkey only made him nauseous, but we were with family and for that I was thankful. Four days later Kelly was dead and we looked ahead to Christmas and the rest of our shattered lives.
We did not decorate for Christmas that year; our families shopped for us and we celebrated (poor word) Christmas Eve at my in-laws’ neighbor’s house who were out of town for Christmas. Their home was nicely decorated and festive but it still felt empty as our hearts did. Today those memories still feel like a dream as did most of that first year. We were not very willing holiday participants, but stoically did our best for our daughter’s sake that deserved to enjoy the holidays.
We faced each ensuing holiday, wedding, party or for that matter any social event with the same numbness and lachrymosity as we did that first Christmas without Kelly. That first Halloween after his death, our daughter stayed at friends and trick or treated. My wife and I did not celebrate Halloween that first year, but we continued to wear a mask for many years to come.
No holiday is ever easy with an empty chair at the table but through the years the pain does soften and we can find joy again. In the early years is does seem even seem possible that we could ever enjoy a holiday again, but we can. However time does not heal, it’s our need to love that does; others need us in their life. They need our love as much as we need theirs. It is that cosmic synergy that heals our heart, not time.
Blessings to all of you as you approach the holidays… take them in stride.Tags: signs and connections