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As the seasons change, you may begin to see Halloween décor pop up all around your neighborhood. Spider webs and tombstones, skeletons and caution tape, and all manner of ghouls and goblins begin to grace the streets in anticipation of the holiday.

But if you have experienced a sudden, tragic, or violent loss, the Halloween season can feel like navigating a minefield, especially if children are involved. What may have once been a fun, candy-filled holiday now seems distorted, insensitive, and disturbing. Grotesquely exaggerated images of death seem to be around every corner. Symbols of death, such as cemeteries, become horrible scenes for entertainment—making a mockery of death.

You may even feel betrayed by those around you. They may not seem to understand how hurtful their enthusiastic celebration of Halloween can be.

Below are a few tips that might help you manage your grief during the Halloween season:

Decide What Feels Right

First and foremost, spend a few minutes deciding what you want Halloween to look like for you and your family this year. This is a time to guard yourself and your family – not yield to the expectations of others. You can avoid that spooky house on the way to work by taking an alternate route. You can skip the store aisles displaying seasonal items. Make a plan for how – and to what degree – you will celebrate this year…if you choose to celebrate at all. Most of the time, anxiety comes when there is no plan in place. To avoid unpleasant emotions, decide ahead of time what feels appropriate for you and your family.

Choose Alternate Activities

Rather than celebrate Halloween as you have in years past, you could choose other, more neutral fall activities, such as picking pumpkins in a pumpkin patch or going on a hay ride. Or, you might choose lighthearted or funny costumes instead of scary ones. If you do decide to trick or treat with kids, be sure to check with them to see if they are prepared to face some of the scary, gory costumes or yard decorations they may see. In addition, be sure you know exactly what you are getting into when you go to a Halloween carnival or party. As a safer alternative, many churches offer more “family friendly” fall festivals or “trunk or treat” opportunities for children.

Mourn in Your Own Way

Mourning is a deeply personal journey, and only you know the right way to mourn for you. You may want to light a candle in remembrance, decorate with fall leaves and gourds instead of skulls and cobwebs, or start a new tradition! Make caramel apples, watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, or make some s’mores over a fire–maybe even spend time remembering what you loved most about the person who died.

If you are having trouble with this holiday, it is important to be honest about how you feel with those around you. If your friends or your children ask you to participate in something you are not quite ready for, let them know what you are going through. You may also wish to share your feelings with a support group, online forum, or trusted counselor or friend. Sharing your feelings can help you process through any emotions that are triggered by this season and help you move toward healing and reconciliation with the loss.

Try Not to Blame Others for Their Halloween Zeal

Although this time can be extremely difficult, others haven’t experienced what you have. Most people see Halloween as a chance to dress up and be someone else for a while. Try to understand that most people are simply oblivious to the pain you feel.

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