In our family, we take Halloween very seriously.
It’s funny that one of my favorite holidays is the one that’s all about spirits, supernatural beings, and death. You should see our front yard – it’s covered not just in cobwebs and spiders, but also in skeletons and graves. The first year after Shawn died, I worried my kids would hate Halloween, but I was wrong. They weren’t bothered at all by the decorations or by the themes that surrounded them everywhere they went.
But I was. That year, I fixated on how – the year prior – Shawn had been so ill on Halloween that he’d barely left the house. Here’s what I wrote about the holiday, and the kids, back then:
They remember getting candy last Halloween, but they don’t remember a lot of the bad stuff. They don’t remember that Shawn was so sick he couldn’t set up the decorations and I was annoyed I had to go by myself to Michaels with three kids who fought the entire time. They don’t remember that their dad barely made it to see them in their Halloween costumes and went home early from trick-or-treating. They don’t remember when he turned around on Halloween night and caught my eye – and winced with such obvious pain it seemed like he might fall over.
I was pretty torn up that Halloween three years ago, but I didn’t let it stop me from dressing up like a zombie with all three kids. I figured I needed to have their mindset and embrace the fun and ridiculous nature of Halloween.
Turns out, even when I was sad, I still loved Halloween. I even loved dressing up like a zombie. In fact, I texted a few widow friends that day with my costume, all of whom laughed when I wrote, “when you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!”
This type of dark humor is something that many widows love.
My widow friends, the Cabal, joke about death at least as often as we cry about it. Yes, many people might say that death is much too serious of a topic to joke about, but part of the way we’ve coped through the years is to try and not take ourselves too seriously. Is someone haunting us? How might we scare the bad date we’re on with our widow powers? What might our late husbands be doing in heaven? We’ve played out some pretty funny scenarios.
So I’ve made it my mission to embrace all the parts of widowhood – the sad, the triumphant, and yes…..the ridiculous.
And Halloween is the best time for that.
This year, my kids wanted “scary” costumes. That’s what they always want. Yes, in the fall of 2019, I convinced them to go as the Avengers (mostly so I could be Black Widow) but otherwise, our family costumes have often centered around death, the afterlife and general ghoul-like characters. This year’s was a particularly loose “scary” theme: Claire was going as a devil, Austin wanted to be a scary clown, and Tommy, for the second year in a row, was going to be the Grim Reaper.
Chris and I debated what to be. Maybe we could also be devils or clowns or even Grim Reapers?
Our answer came a week before Halloween. Our family friends had driven back from Maine and brought a lot of our extra wedding things, and we met them to get our bags.
In one of those bags was my wedding dress.
It was destroyed. Remember, it rained on our wedding day, and the mud from the farm came up at least a foot on the dress. The lace at the bottom was ripped from dancing and the sleeves smelled a bit like gin. I thought for a minute about just throwing it away, but it had once been so beautiful! I wondered where I might wear it again.
And then it came to me….Halloween!
“I could be a dead bride and you could be my dead husband!” I said to Chris, without any irony in my voice. He looked at me with raised eyebrows.
Immediately, it hit me what I’d said and we both started laughing. Um….no. I mean, I joke about death much more than the average 42-year-old but even I have limits. No dead husbands! We needed to come up with something that was scary…but not that scary. Something that was fun, but also maybe something that made our family costume more coherent.
In fact, every year I try to see what our Halloween costumes say about us as a family. When we were the Avengers, I wrote this:
The Avengers is the best family costume we’ve ever had, and it’s not just because I get to don a red wig and pretend I know martial arts. It’s also because the Avengers is the story of facing all the bad stuff in life, and somehow coming out intact and alive.
That year, I concluded that our family costume was the best representation of how our family was persevering in this world. It was a statement we were making to our friends, our community, and the wider world.
I thought about this a lot as we prepared for this year’s festivities. What did Chris and I want our Halloween costumes to mean this year? What were we trying to convey?
Ultimately, we settled on going as Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. I donned a black veil and Chris wore green makeup. The kids looked scary, too – and that was our theme, right?
But what did this say about us as a family? That we understand death? That we embrace whatever comes our way? That we’re resilient and going to make it, just the five of us?
No. I don’t think it said anything about us except this: We love Halloween, and we grasp onto the fun that comes with it.
Yes, in the movie, the Bride of Frankenstein says, “It’s a perfect night for mystery and horror. The air itself is filled with monsters.” She means it to be scary. And it could be, of course.
But this year, I didn’t embrace too much seriousness around Halloween. I just had fun.
Hey, I was in my wedding dress, after all.