Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Facing Our Fears - Ghouls, Goblins, and the Grim Reaper

 If you're lucky, during the month of October, hayrides, apple picking, or pumpkin carving may help you balance the flow of horror movies and zombie costumes. Halloween brings scary images and lots of twisted notions of death.  Many of the scary creatures that fill our terror reels are those who have refused to die quietly, think Dracula, Frankenstein, zombies, and ghosts. There is one custom that we have in our family that comes on the heels of Halloween that helps put the ghouls and goblins into perspective for me - All Souls Day.  The day after the ghosts and brides of Frankenstein are sufficiently sedated in their sugar crashes, we reflect on the afterlife in a much more happy, appreciative, and tender way and in a way that does not involve any fake blood or fangs.  We incorporate the Day of the Dead rituals, creating a time for personal remembering of our loved ones who have died.  A photo, a representative token, and a candle for each person is laid out on our dinner table. Some flowers from the garden for my mom, a Lutheran hymnal for my husband's mom, a deck of pinochle cards for my grandfather - the backdrop for our stories. 

Day of the Dead Altar
Day of the Dead Altar (Photo credit:
Neither of our boys ever met our moms but on All Souls Day they'll hear how mine could find a song for any conversation.  We'll eat waffles, a frequent Sunday dinner option that my husband's mom was fond of making. Over time,we've added others to our memory meal and the boys now take more of a part in the storytelling.  They'll remind each other of the great grandmothers that they visited in the nursing homes, fighting over who could push the wheelchair. We'll hear again about cooking meals for all the farm hands and my godmother who wanted to take us to the new Mexican restaurant that she'd heard all about and then drove us into the Taco Bell parking lot.  There will be laughter and sadness and comfort.  Solace, reassurance, peace.  These are the gifts that come to me on All Souls Day.

It's a mistake to let ourselves and certainly our kids believe that death is the Halloween version of the black cloaked Grim Reaper.  It's a mistake to hide from the real feelings of loss and grief and pretend that we can only confront them with a literal mask. Facing our fears about death means that we can do more than mock it one day a year. We can remember and embrace. I encourage everyone to make up your own altar or create a way to honor your loved ones.  Here's a prayer that we share together at the very start of our All Souls Day ritual:

At the rising of the sun and at its going down We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and the chill of winter We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength
We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them. 

- Jewish prayer of remembrance

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Minotaurs and Werebunnies

As a child, I always dreamed of having a store bought costume for Halloween.  For some strange reason, the plastic mask with the super thin rubber band wrapped over my ears seemed like the best thing ever. The one time my mom actually brought a box home with the clear plastic top, devil face peering out, the thrill was short lived.  Once on my face and trick-or-treating, I couldn't manage to get the eye holes lined up well enough to see the path in front of me.

Isn't that so typical?  The ideas in our head vs. reality.  The planning and dreaming vs. the execution.  My memories of Halloween as a child are of  pirates with black smudges and an eye patch or of clowns wearing oversized leisure suit apparel . When I asked my son what he wanted to be for his 10th Halloween I was expecting something similar.  Instead, he looked me straight on and said, wait for it...minotaur.  What kid says minotaur?  What parent has to wikipedia her child's costume choice?  What parent goes searching the JoAnn Fabric aisles for minotaur-ish hair/fur material?
I spent so much time that year trying to create some close proximity of minotaur recognition in the mask.  I was proud of my cardboard box, turned head with horns.  I thought myself clever for having him wear the bulls sweatshirt for the body. (I didn't have a full bodied minotaur in me). Proud, clever, mom of the month candidate.

Werebunny (leftover Minotaur fur)
Then reality.  Halloween night, he went to 6 houses and removed the headress/mask.  He'd flip it down once he was at the top of the steps, ready to knock on the doors and as soon as he turned away, off it would come again.  By the tenth house, the cardboard was tearing, the horns were going limp and the "hair" was pulling from the jaw line, exposing the brown paper underneath.  At the party we attended later, the mask didn't get worn at all, just a boy in a Bulls sweatshirt.  Half basketball player/half boy. That's how it was every year.  A warm coat would cover the carefully sewn fur (Werebunny, don't ask) or stuffed muscle bound flannel shirt that was required for Frankenstein.  One trip to bob for apples and all the face paint of the pale and bloody Dracula would smear off.  It was always near impossible to carry the sword (pirate) or wand (wizard) while holding on to a bag of candy.

The great fun of Halloween was only about 10% realized on the night of October 31st.  The weeks of mid October were so much more fun.  The possibilities were endless.  The alter egos swirling. Just like Advent or Lent, the nine months of pregnancy, or Thanksgiving dinner, the preparation and the waiting are so much more interesting and complex than the final event.  Happy Halloween preparation!

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