Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. A holiday that’s fun and filled with anticipation, observed by people of all religions, it’s always felt, to me, like the great equalizer.
Because my family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, Halloween is the time when we get to decorate our house and string it up with orange lights. Because we don’t celebrate Easter, Halloween is the time when we get to eat baskets full of candy.
As a child, my parents always made a big deal of Halloween. My father planted pumpkins in his garden, and every October we’d scoop out their insides, carve them and roast the seeds, coating them with way too much salt, because my dad was a salt-a-holic. And he loved having a good costume – while other dads would throw on a Phillies jersey and go as Pete Rose, my dad went as Willie Nelson, complete with braids and red bandana (he was a dead ringer), or wear prosthetic makeup to transform himself into Miss Piggy. For me, Halloween will always be synonymous with my dad.
So I couldn’t help feeling that it was God’s little joke when my father died on Halloween three years ago. As a parent myself, I’d continued my family’s Halloween traditions with my own kids. We’ve ritualized pumpkin carving and house decorating and costume making, and every year my daughter helps me roast the pumpkin seeds, coating them with extra salt because she, too, is a salt-a-holic. But it’s hard to have fun with all of that when the holiday itself is all mixed up with so much sadness.
I remember the day that he died, I thought to myself that now, Halloween would be ruined for me forever. But I didn’t want it to be ruined for my children, so I’ve sucked it up and gone to the costume parade at their school during the day, gone to parties that night and taken them trick-or-treating. I dress up as Sharpay from High School Musical, or as Sandy from Grease, and when we get home I sort through their candy with them, and wipe off their face paint, holding in my tears until after they’ve gone to bed, when finally, I have a few moments to myself.
But it’s funny how time can change your perspective. This year, I’m starting to feel like maybe Halloween isn’t ruined for me forever, after all, and that maybe God wasn’t playing a sick joke on me. I’m starting to think that maybe, it was fitting that my father died on Halloween, and that maybe, rather than ruining the day, remembering him actually enhances it.
Of course, I still get sad, but with each year it becomes easier and easier to smile at the memories instead of crying from them. And when I’m thinking about him while I salt the pumpkin seeds, I can share those memories with my kids, so that talking about my father becomes yet another Halloween ritual for us. The truth is, my father had a difficult, troubled life, and there were lots of not so great periods I went through with him. But Halloween is a time when I will always remember him at his best, and I’m pretty sure that’s how he’d want to be remembered.