The other day, while mindlessly driving down a narrow, fall-colored, leaf-filled neighborhood street, I noticed that Halloween decorations were beginning to appear. Pumpkins. Ghosts. Witches. And then the graveyard.
I slowed down to take it all in. The Halloween graveyard.
This particular family had elaborately constructed a very real-looking cemetery complete with a spider-webbed decorated iron fence, an ominous looking entry gate and more tombstones than I cared to count. I smiled a little and shook my head. Innocent and ignorant I’ve come to call them.
Twenty years ago my response was different. Twenty years ago, my wife and I were trying to figure out how to survive (that’s all we asked for back then) our first Halloween without our first-born child. Our 18-month-old daughter Erin had died suddenly just a few months earlier on July 18, 1990.
We had done the unthinkable. Together we walked into the funeral home’s showroom and picked out a casket for our little girl. Not a new bed. Not a new bike. Like other mommies and daddies got to do. We bought a casket. And together we picked out an outfit. The outfit “she’d wear”… well, forever. And we purchased a plot. In the children’s section of a cemetery. And designed a marble marker. “I carry your heart,” it reads, that was placed above her body. In the cemetery.
Twenty years ago, when grief was so new, and fresh, and unsettling, and confusing, that first Halloween made me angry. How dare they decorate with gravestones? How dare the build fake cemeteries with blood-stained hands and arms and legs reaching up from the earth. It all felt cruel and inhumane and specifically directed at me and my wife that year.
But as the months passed, and turned into years, and as I set the intention to heal all that needed to be healed…my relationship with the Halloween cemetery changed. As did my relationships with so many other parts of my life.
Innocent and ignorant. And I mean that in the nicest way. I realized and understood that the Halloween cemetery builders were not trying to hurt me. They weren’t trying to cause me more pain. In truth, that weren’t even really thinking of people like me. People learning to live with the death of our children. As I drive past now, twenty years later, I simply share my head and smile…a little.