Facing Halloween after a Suicide
Fall brings with it some of the most wonderful holidays of the year. However, Halloween is one that can be difficult for many survivors to face. We already experience enough insensitive gestures and chatter in everyday life. This holiday is built around potential emotional triggers, making Halloween after a suicide especially hard. On the surface, it’s an innocent day, centered on costumes and candy, but some of the elaborate and gory decorations can really prompt undesirable feelings.
Ronnie Walker, founder of the Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors, recently blogged about this topic and I found the acknowledgement of the issue to be comforting.
“For newer survivors, especially, Halloween is often a holiday to be ‘endured.’ New survivors have little emotional resilience and are in no mood for a party, especially one involving blood, gravestones or gore. They struggle with intense emotions, often feeling suffocated by their feelings. Generalized anxiety is frequently high for new survivors. They have experienced a real-life horror and are often haunted by their dreams.”
She goes on to say that, “it will not always be that way. Things do get easier with time, but in the beginning, each and every landmark day brings a deepened awareness of one’s loss.”
My “first” Halloween came just two months after my dad died. The idea of people happily displaying grave scenes in their yards or laying a stuffed/fake body on their porch (or worse) grossed me out. How could people be so insensitive? I saw this more while driving in Wisconsin or Michigan and not as much in my busy downtown Chicago neighborhood, which was good. I would agree with Ronnie’s sentiment about time helping with this issue. Nowadays, I still roll my eyes about many facets of Halloween, but it’s not as jarring to me. I just don’t ever see myself being one of those super-decorators…
I have heard some survivors share that they’ve approached neighbors or office managers who have set up “offensive” or “too-close-to-home” displays about potentially removing them in consideration of the way they lost their loved one. And, in those cases, people willingly obliged.
My advice would be, if you aren’t bothered by what you see or experience, then by all means it’s appropriate to take part in the festivities. But, if you do feel uncomfortable with any part of Halloween, it’s more than OK to say something (knowing you’re not alone) or to find something else to do that day. Perhaps instead of passing out candy, it’s going to dinner, yoga or a movie. And, instead of dressing up at the office party, it’s baking a treat to share.
However you choose to spend the day, just do what makes you feel most at ease. This may even change from year-to-year. Thinking of you all!