This past week, Mike, Shelby and I put up our usual Halloween decorations in the front yard. For some folks, the idea of putting a graveyard in your front yard once a year might be tacky or in bad taste. We have no idea what our neighbors think - though none of them decorate at all for Halloween so they probably care very little. Some people take offense I’m sure, because they have lost people they love and think it is rude to make light of that. Well, not us. We have a lot of dead people, and so I feel we have every right to make light of it. Or to put it better… to bring some light to it. Because there should be light let in on death, don’t you think?
That is my favorite thing about Halloween-time… it is a chance once a year to literally put death right out in the front yard. For that one month, I feel a little bit freer to put it out there to the world that, yes, death and darkness are a part of my life and I am actually very proud of it. Prop gravestones and skeletons my just be for fun, but for me, they have always held a deeper meaning.
It means that I am able to paint the death in my life with some light. Some humor and some joy. It means that I can find my own individual ways to be mindful and remember those I love that bring joy and creativity.
As we were putting up spider webs across the grave stones in the yard, one of the neighbor kids came over. She and Shelby played and helped out. Shelby pointed out which gravestones were her Mom’s and my fiance Drew’s - because the year before we had glued their initials onto the headstones for some added dark humor that she is quite proud of.
Her friend has actually lost her mom also some years ago… and at one point she went over to one of the foam grave stones and began saying hi - pretending her mom was there. This would be heartbreaking for most, but I didn’t skip a beat. I asked her if her mom was here hanging out with us? And she said yes happily. And I said, “Well you know what? I lost my mom too, so maybe she is here also!” Then Mike chimed in saying that we should put up a sign deeming our front yard the “Cemometery”. We all laughed hysterically - the Monster Mash playing on the stereo in the background - and I knew I will remember that moment forever.
How important to teach kids that death can be okay to talk about - okay to find humor and silliness in. How important to teach kids that death can actually be a very normal part of life that we can allow to be there in a very normal way. I certainly did not grow up with that! More important perhaps is to show them that grown ups can be that way about death - because often times kids are naturally, but they end up being censored by adults to act a certain way about death.
When my mom died, there was no normalcy about death in our family. It was - as is so common - something to hide and not talk about for fear of bringing up EMOTIONS. Gasp! Now though, as an adult, I have a lot of normalcy about death. Three of the most significant people in my world have already died. I write about death, make art about death, talk about death, have tons of friends whose lives have been changed and shaped by death. After years of counseling and journaling and various other therapies... the death mentality I grew up with has quite changed. Death is no longer some elusive, dark, awful, scary, silent thing. Now, death is simply a part of life. Not an easy part of life by any means… likely the most painful aspect of life. But also the most meaningful. And so tied directly to the proportions of love in our life. Great pain from death means you have immense amounts of love as well.
I’ll always remember these Halloween rituals that we have as a family, Mike, Shelby and I. And I hope when she is older, her memories will be filled with the fondness of this time of year… not only because we are decorating and using our imaginations and enjoying doing weird things like front yard cemeteries, but because we have not stopped making our dead people a part of it all. Because within these simple ways that we choose to embrace death, there are hidden lessons about how very normal death truly is.
I hope she will remember all the many ways that we found to honor our loved ones and make them a part of our present day. That she won’t have to feel like she needs to hide away her memories or her love for her mom, ever. Not just on Halloween, but any other day of the year, we talk about her mom and about Drew and my parents without any hesitation. I had to learn such things a harder way. It was a long and slow road for me. But perhaps, the things I have learned can help to instill a new and more holistic viewpoint of death at least for this little girl, which makes it all worth it.