Tom's Blog

The Halloween Graveyard

Posted by Tom Zuba on October 03, 2012 14 Comments

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.

Comments (14 Comments)

Lane died in August, the first Halloween, could not stand to look at the ‘decorations.’
Especially the lawn graveyards.
It was painful.
Even though, it was not about me either.
The next Halloween was a little better realizing they are just that decorations.
Lane loved Halloween, we had a graveyard, wooden caskets, (yes even a small one)
And he was all decked out as the grim reaper.
Fog machine, scary music.
It was not about real people who were dead or died.
It was Halloween, that’s all.
So now to me, it’s just that Halloween.
Not meant to offend me, or a anyone else.
I choose not to decorate, my home or give out candy, but do not feel indifferent to those that do.
Again, it’s not about me. ?

Posted by Wanda on October 25, 2015

Halloween was our annual campout/halloween decorating contest and it was also when, gathered with our friends we camped with, would celebrate my late son’s birthday. He loved it all, the scary stuff, the funny stuff, the cute stuff and his birthday attention. It’s easy to go there (now that’s it’s been 3 years) and celebrate the fun and creepy of Halloween and to live life to the fullest like he would do if he was here. It helps me honor his zest for life.

Posted by nj on October 20, 2014

I have been working on the death process idea since I can remember. My birthday is Oct 30, so Halloween has always been “my holiday”. I was fascinated with cemeteries, I would sneak away and visit the cemetery. I was a little afraid of the mausoleums with their creaky doors. OK…what I loved about the cemeteries was the volumes of marble history. Each life condensed into a few sentences carved in stone. I would read as many as my time allowed. I would close my eyes and imagine what that named person was like. All grown up I worked for a short time at a memorial park. The position was advertised as “Family Grief Counselor” translation high pressure sales man. I often told clients, what I want when I die (I will have it carved before I die) is a nice stone, a rock and it will say, “No tombstone will cover my bones, I am dancing in the meadow” Maybe one day centuries down the road someone would stop in front of my head stone and wonder who would put that on a rock.

Posted by Cheryl Shipp on October 19, 2014

Thank you for sharing your thoughts which pretty much sum up mine. Cute Disney princesses, turtles, frogs, superman, firemen….love them all. Gravestones, plots, headstones, ghouls, death, darkness….no thanks. After burying six people in seven years….I’ll pass. SMH. Xo

Posted by Marianne Delgado on October 19, 2014

Thanks for putting my feelings into words.i can handle pumpkins, but not graveyards or zombies. My mom passed over in January 2014.

Posted by Martha on October 19, 2014

Thanks for putting my feelings into words.i can handle pumpkins, but not graveyards or zombies. My mom passed over in January 2014.

Posted by Martha on October 19, 2014

Halloween has always been a favorite in our family. When a young man in our neighborhood was murdered 10 years ago, I began to see the skeletons, ghosts and tombstones differently. Now that my son has passed away, that feeling is stronger. I am happy to observe Halloween with witches, spiders, and monsters.

Posted by Maureen on October 19, 2014

" It all felt cruel and inhumane and specifically directed at my wife and I that year." Absolutely how I experienced Halloween graveyards the year my son Seth died. I’m still not crazy about them (4 years later), but I’m not angry at the people who put them up. I might add “blissfully” to “innocent and ignorant” to describe them. Pretty sure none of them have lost a child; of course, we’re all so different: what is offensive to some may be therapeutic to others. Great post, Tom, thanks.

Posted by Leslie on October 19, 2014

U must live in a good, upscale and old fashioned neighborhood, Tom. Where I live (Grand Rapids, MI), I noticed very few houses decorate for Halloween or Fall anymore. And the houses that do decorate have very little decorations. Seems like every year more and more families are not celebrating Halloween as well as other Holidays, because of the recession we’re in. Also, I think most folks are losing their Holiday spirits due to overworking and technology making us dumb down and lazy.

Anyway,thanks for the Halloween/loved ones lost Article. <3

Love & light, Barb.

Posted by Barbara M. on October 19, 2014

Halloween has Always been The Best for my Daughter Kira who passed 3/26/2011.
Her birthday was the 1st, her daughters (2 yrs old now) is the 8th, my Mom who passed just 6 months before her was the 29tH, mine the 24th……..I wish I could wipe the month away, it is far too emotional, sad, painful and brings up so much anger I can barely handle it. But I have to, seeing how I am my Grandaughters Guardian. Would not be fair to her, but leaves my pain & wounds over and over torn open.

Posted by Trina on October 30, 2013

Halloween has always been a weighty time for me since my dad’s birthday is the 29th (now deceased) my mom died on the 30th, and it was mine and my late-fiance’s favorite holiday to celebrate together. I suppose because i’ve had to deal with the weight of death around this date for over 20 years that I’ve become a bit immune myself to it, I even still went to a haunted house last year, only 4 months after my fiance’s death, and none of the imagery bothered me. I guess I’ve just never taken any of it seriously.

Its a little bit of a wake-up call for me to realize and be conscious though of just how upsetting and emotional some of the visuals of this holiday can be for those going through loss. Just because it doesn’t bother me does not mean that it isn’t quite upsetting for many others, and rightfully so. Thank you for this one Tom!

Posted by Sarah Treanor on October 25, 2013

My daughter Victoria passed away 4 years ago 10/26 and instead of her going out trick or treating we were having her funeral.

Posted by Catherine Sousa on October 21, 2013

This is the first time in 9 years that I have seen anyone write on this issue. It is still so hard for me to deal with this. My husband and son were totally into the fun part of Halloween and spent hours at stores choosing the right costumes. They laughed so hard remembering driving around in our sports car showing off “Bubba” teeth to those they passed on the interstate and their faces!!! On Halloween day and night 2004, Alex laid in his hospital bed wearing his mask off and on waiting for someone to come and see him but everyone was too busy. I was stunned when the new “coolness” of skeleton’s came out and they are not allowed in my house. I went trick or treating with my grandsons 4 years ago and my daughters friend and son came along too. All was fine until we rounded the last corner and there was the cemetery house…the friend told her son and my grandson to “lie down in the coffins and look dead!” My knees buckled and I turned and walked to my car with my young grandson who was scared. I was supposed to spend the night and I told my daughter I had changed my mind earlier and didn’t bring clothes and drove home the 1 1/2 hours crying. I decided at that time that I chose what I can control and so now I travel over Halloween and only go where they have no kids. I still decorate for the season with pumpkins and I remember Halloween with a smile and prepare myself for November 4th when Alex died and November 21, 2007 when Jim died. My dad died in 1984 and I was watching a show a few years ago where they exhumed a body and it was still intact from 1981. That has given me the only peace since the popular skeleton crap came out…

Posted by Mary Morrow on October 21, 2013

incredibly thought provoking. thank you for the eye opener. feel embarrassed i needed it. but i did. and no, i don’t have gravestones decorating anything….but i never thought of this before. somehow i feel like you gave me another little piece of compassion and understanding. thank you for that.

Posted by terri st. cloud on October 21, 2013

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