Thursday, October 1, 2009

Skeletons and Nightmares

I have been driving down the streets in town and seen the various Halloween graveyard displays filled with headstones and skeletons in some yards. Ever since my husband's death the week before Halloween, I have been unable to decorate with anything that reminds me of dying. My sons are forbidden to wear the popular t-shirts with skulls on them. I only want happy fall-inspired decorations surrounding me like cheerful scarecrows, grinning pumpkins and colorful leaves.

As I pass these graveyard scenes (clever as they are), I cannot help but think that the people creating them have not faced the death of a loved one. How could they? I don't think any of us widows or widowers could in good conscience be purchasing headstones and morbid, scary objects dripping of blood and oozing gore. We have already faced the real nightmares of death, grief and loss. How could we have such displays on our front lawns, reminding us every day of what we hope to not think about if only for a few moments?

Part of me is a bit angry at seeing these graveyard scenes. Real life is already a pretty scary place, as we well know. Is it fair to laugh in the face of fate by displaying such prominent reminders of death? Or am I just overly sensitive to this because of my losses? It is just that I already live with the painful reality of death in my life even years after its immediacy. I don't want to pretend that death, sorrow and hardship aren't out there because I am well aware that they are. I just don't care for people mocking this reality. I know it is all meant in good fun but it feels as though someone has thrown me a curve ball whenever I see this stuff. How can anyone really laugh at death? I guess those who have been lucky enough to have not faced it (the "untouched").


  1. I think there's actually a pretty strong cultural/historical basis for engaging in activities that seem to glorify or mock death. Halloween has roots in old Celtic beliefs about death and the spirit world - people lit bonfires to frighten spirits away, and wore masks to trick them. Mexicans have Dia de los Muertos, where they incorporate frivolous things, like candy skulls, skeleton masks, and drinking and dancing, into the somber ritual of praying for and remembering the deceased. Memento mori (remember you will die) was an ongoing theme in art from medieval Europe all the way up to Victorian times. And all of these were/are societies that were intimately familiar with death, because it happened all the time -- the average life expectancy even at the turn of the 20th century was only 40-50 years.

    Mind you, I don't think your average guy with a chainsaw massacre scene in his front yard has thought through all this, but there's probably something of the same impulse at work - to deal with the *real* horror by creating *unreal* horror, to have an illusion of control over what can't be controlled. Of course, some people are probably just clueless and think it's funny, but some people are clueless in general.

  2. Vanessa - Our society is somewhat removed from the reality of death. I know at the turn-of-the-century, death was still such an integral part of people's everyday life. Your comment about Joe Blow with the chainsaw massacre made me laugh out loud. So did your comment about clueless people!