The Halloween Graveyard

The other day, while mindlessly driving down a narrow, fall-colored, leaf-filled neighborhood street, I noticed that Halloween decorations were beginning to appear.  Pumpkins.  Ghosts.  Witches.  And then the graveyard.

I slowed down to take it all in.  The Halloween graveyard.

This particular family had elaborately constructed a very real-looking cemetery complete with a spider-webbed decorated iron fence, an ominous looking entry gate and more tombstones than I cared to count.  I smiled a little and shook my head.  Innocent and ignorant I’ve come to call them.


Twenty years ago my response was different.  Twenty years ago, my wife and I were trying to figure out how to survive (that’s all we asked for back then) our first Halloween without our first-born child.  Our 18-month-old daughter Erin had died suddenly just a few months earlier on July 18, 1990.

We had done the unthinkable.  Together we walked into the funeral home’s showroom and picked out a casket for our little girl.  Not a new bed.  Not a new bike.  Like other mommies and daddies got to do.  We bought a casket.  And together we picked out an outfit.  The outfit “she’d wear”… well, forever.  And we purchased a plot.  In the children’s section of a cemetery.  And designed a marble marker.  “I carry your heart,” it reads, that was placed above her body.  In the cemetery.

Twenty years ago, when grief was so new, and fresh, and unsettling, and confusing, that first Halloween made me angry.  How dare they decorate with gravestones?  How dare they build fake cemeteries with blood-stained hands and arms and legs reaching up from the earth.  It all felt cruel and inhumane and specifically directed at my wife and I that year.


But as the months passed, and turned into years, and as I set the intention to heal all that needed to be healed…my relationship with the Halloween cemetery changed.  As did my relationships with so many other parts of my life.

Innocent and ignorant.  And I mean that in the nicest way.  I realized and understood that the Halloween cemetery builders were not trying to hurt me.  They weren’t trying to cause me more pain.  In truth, that weren’t even really thinking of people like me.  People learning to live with the death of our children.  As I drive past now, twenty years later, I simply shake my head and smile …a little.

If you’d like to explore this further, or any other facet of your grief journey, I work with people as a coach one-on-one.  If you’re in the Rockford, IL area, we can do that in person.  If you’re out of the local area, we can Skype or Facetime.  If you'd like to work with me, please email me at and we can discuss deatails.


  • Tom and all who shared their stories.
    Thank you. This sharing helps me to understand the emotions I was having when faced with the possible loss of my adult son due to a brain bleed stroke some ten years ago. One is never prepared for the loss of a loved one especially ones child!

    Bill Pirnat
  • My only child, my son, disappeared in September 2018. He was never found. He was never laid to rest by his loved ones. I hate the skeletons on display. I looked for his remains for close to 2 years, preparing myself for what I might find. Seeing skulls and skeletons everywhere are traumatizing. On the other hand, I do appreciate the Day of the Dead as a way to honor and remember our loved ones. I believe we carry our loved ones in our hearts and by remembering them we keep them alive in a sense. However, the folks displaying the skeletons aren’t following this respectful tradition. Their displays are meant to be “spooky,” and I can’t wait for it to be over.

  • Tom, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more heartbreaking and poignant essay … “innocent and ignorant.”

    I try to not be offended. I try to remember it’s not personal (good lord: how 𝘤𝘰𝘶𝘭𝘥 it be?!). I try to remember it’s about autumn tradition and children and having fun – and didn’t my own little guy love this holiday, as well? All the costumes we planned and discussed and made, together.

    Perhaps that’s part of it; that I may never experience Halloween without thinking of my boy and the wonder in his eyes.

    𝗧𝗵𝗮𝗻𝗸 𝘆𝗼𝘂 for helping me feel a bit less alone.

    Some of us are seen as weird or freakish well beyond just Halloween.

  • I just let the days slip away anymore, I no longer pay attention to any holidays or have any desire to resurrect any part of my life I shared with my beautiful son Pavel. I just ignore them now. They are just days of grief like any other day.

  • My son William died by his own hand on 3/25/19 . So very fresh ! Right now I really can’t enjoy any holidays , except his birthday . Christmas and Halloween boxes haven’t been opened since William left us . I just am not ready to celebrate these holidays without him . It just isn’t the same without him enjoying it with us . He went to seattle in Jan 2019 and when I brought him to the airport , we hugged and I said “ see ya at Christmas , if not before” . It was the last time I saw my beautiful boy 💔. I will get into those holiday boxes one day …. just not anytime soon. Thank you for you Halloween story Tom .

    Cam Raulston

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