My husband and I got married on National Superhero Day, and we had superhero elements in our wedding. We were drawn to each other, in part, through our love of stories that spur the imagination. So, I’m sure it’s no surprise that Halloween is one of our favorite holidays. And even before I met him, I’ve always dreamed of making my children’s Halloween costumes. When we were pregnant with our first child, who was due in August, we started plotting what our first family Halloween costume would be.
But, instead of an elaborate family Halloween costume that year, we barely acknowledged Halloween. We were grieving the loss of our son and trying to figure out how to get through the first holiday season without him.
Three years have passed, and we’re celebrating our second Halloween with our daughter. Last year, I was still somewhat overwhelmed with parenting a new baby. I really wanted to make her costume, but as Halloween approached, it became clear that I was running out of time and ideas. I think my husband would have loved to put together a family costume, but my heart wasn’t there. I needed something meaningful, cute, and focused on her.
As I flipped through the Pottery Barn Kids Halloween catalog, the baby elephant costume caught my eye. My guilt over not making a costume started to fade a bit, because this was the perfect costume. She was our little elephant, and her brother was our little giraffe. She charmed everyone as that little elephant, and I wouldn’t change her first Halloween for anything.
With the fun we had with her costume and her first Halloween, we started plotting early for this year. My husband really wanted to put together a family costume, but every time he mentioned it, my anxiety level rose. I told him that it stressed me out. It would take too much time. It would cost too much money. I couldn’t even think much about what I thought we should do for a costume for our daughter.
I know that part of this stemmed from heightened anxiety I was experiencing in general as we struggled through a major sleep regression with my daughter. While my mom was here helping out for a week, we decided to go ahead and order a costume for this year and think about planning and making something more elaborate for next year.
But even after her costume was ordered, I realized I still had anxiety around the idea of a family costume. I love the idea. It’s something I always envisioned us doing. But, I think I’m stuck on this question: how can we have a family costume when a member of our family is missing?
We’ve successfully navigated including our son, Patrick, in most aspects of our lives. He’s a member of our family, which is fully evident in our home, our celebrations, and the way we live our lives. At Christmas, we hang his stocking, he gets presents, and we make a donation in his name.
But, what about Halloween?
We started a new tradition last year. When we went to the pumpkin patch with our daughter, we had her help pick out a white pumpkin for her brother. We hope to do that each year, though, finding a white pumpkin this year was a bit more fraught. The pumpkin patch we went to didn’t have white pumpkins, and it took a bit of looking elsewhere to find one at all.
When we took photographs of our daughter in her elephant costume her first Halloween, we represented Patrick as a stuffed giraffe in the pictures. But, even with those things, I don’t feel like we’ve integrated him well into our Halloween.
For us, Halloween is a fun and imaginative time. But, I know some families really struggle with being able to find any fun in Halloween after the loss of their child. All of the graveyards, skeletons, ghosts and other representations of fear and death around the holiday can be very triggering and not a bit fun.
So, maybe we haven’t done too badly integrating Patrick into our Halloween. Maybe that’s not the issue at all. I think I’m being faced with more residual loss—the loss of our family Halloween costume. I even resisted it the year we were pregnant with our daughter. We were planning on attending a Halloween fundraiser, and I researched fun couple bump costumes. But, we ended up not going to the fundraiser or doing the costume.
While I can get excited about the idea, I just can’t seem to execute a family costume. It accentuates the missing piece of our family.
Somehow, I hope I can move past this. Maybe realizing the source of the issue will help in acceptance and moving forward. I know how much my husband would love to do a family costume. I think I would love it too, if only I could figure out a way to represent the whole family instead of accentuating the missing piece. Just when you think you’re managing this whole life after loss thing relatively well, you find another piece to navigate.