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Halloween Grief: When Spooky Turns Into Sadness

It’s easy to get into the holiday spirit when fall rolls around. The temperature drops. We start thinking about food and gifts and time spent with family. Unfortunately, it’s no secret that someone who has recently experienced loss can suffer grief through November and December, but what about Halloween?

The constant reminders of death are right there in your face. Your next-door neighbor turned their front yard into a cemetery. There are fake coffins at school or work. People are walking around dressed like the literal dead.

Halloween Grief affects Kids and Adults Differently

For adults, it can be tough to look at these decorations in the way they were intended. For children, it can be confusing and lead to many, many questions.

“What happens when someone dies?”

“What happens to their body?”

“Are ghosts real?”

Suzy Soliday, LMHC, bereavement supervisor at the Bethany Center at Good Shepherd Hospice said the challenge lies in the disconnect between actual death and the festive themes Halloween is meant to bring, but the key is communication.

“Families just need to communicate what they believe,” she said. “Most kids don’t understand that death is a permanent thing. As they grow a little bit, they eventually realize death is final. But you just have to embrace what you believe.”

It doesn’t help that even outside of Halloween, there are still depictions of death that can send mixed messages to children.

“You can play a videogame and someone gets killed, and they’re alive five seconds later. There are television shows like ‘The Walking Dead.’ How does a child reconcile that?”

Suzy said you can helps by using softer terms like that person “is in heaven,” or “in a better place” or “no longer in pain,” but there needs to be clarity when speaking to children about death.

“We have to be careful to use concrete language,” she said. “Don’t just say ‘grandma passed on.’ Passed where? Where did she go? It may be a kinder, gentler way to say it, but kids need to hear concrete words like died. Kids generalize a lot of things. We need to explain that just because grandma went to the hospital and died, doesn’t mean everyone goes to the hospital and dies.”

Seeing graphic representations of death all around us can trigger many more things than questions. It can trigger fear and anxiety, and make something familiar suddenly seem scary.

“If the cemetery was this peaceful place to visit grandma’s grave and you felt connected to her and that was a good place to go, but the people down the road have goblins and tombstones in their yard, it can send conflicting messages to kids,” said Suzy. “If a family has gone through a tragic death, like a murder, or a horrible accident where there was blood and then you see someone walking around with blood all over them, that’s no longer fun. That can make you sad, give you anxiety and cause fear.”

It’s Okay to Change or Even Skip Halloween

If you decide that the traditional Halloween experience may be too much for you or your children this year, there’s nothing wrong with breaking from tradition. Don’t want to go door to door and risk being reminded of death? Many towns have “trunk or treat” events. There’s also no shortage of fall festivals that can be a relaxing way to spend time together without having to worry about a corpse jumping out at you.

“Go to a movie, do something different,” Suzy said. “Some people just say, ‘Nope. We’re not even going to be home. We’re not even going to open ourselves up to that.’ If it’s bothering you, bring it up with your kids, bring it up with your family and say, ‘hey this year we’re doing something different.’”

At Chapters Health System and its affiliatesGood Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice, every day is devoted to educating our patients and keeping them in the place they call home. We are dedicated to ensuring that patients, young and old alike, and their families are able to make educated decisions about important healthcare matters. For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or send an email to info@chaptershealth.org.

About Pat Carragher

Pat Carragher, Media Relations Coordinator at Chapters Health System, is responsible for external communications for the not-for-profit organization.

grief journey

Do You or Your Child Need Grief Support?

Experiencing a loved one’s death can be one of the most difficult and painful chapters in an individual’s life. That’s why Chapters Health System is here to help and wants you to know that you are not alone.

Our not-for-profit organization offers bereavement support for hospice survivors in addition to ongoing community support groups.  There is no charge for bereavement support and services. While many individuals participating in our community bereavement support groups have lost someone under the care at any of our affiliates — Good Shepherd HospiceHPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice — others have experienced a sudden or unexpected death.

  • Individual & Family Support: Bereavement specialists offer guidance, attention and support to hospice survivors within the family system as they work through the grieving and healing process.
  • Adult Grief Support Groups: Grief support groups offer support and education by helping survivors cope with their emotions, new roles in life and plans for the future. Groups are scheduled at various locations on an ongoing basis. Pre-registration is required, and groups are open to all community members who have experienced the death of a loved one.
  • Children’s Grief Services: To meet the special needs of children and their caregivers coping with the death of a loved one, we provide age-specific services and caring support in a safe environment.
  • Annual Children’s Camps: Each of our affiliates holds an annual camp for children in the spring.
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