As a young child growing up in the country I was accustomed to seeing death. Baby chicks perished; Ducklings drowned; something attacked my rabbits and the ones that hadn’t died were too wounded to survive and had to be killed. Several of our dogs and cats suffered their demise in front of our house. I understood death as a natural part of life and nothing to be feared. Until I was in college no significant adults of my acquaintance passed on except my Great Grandmother when I was only four.
Halloween wasn’t a big deal when I was small. What I remember was the occasional party, with games, and carving pumpkins. We lived in the country and without a neighborhood to go trick or treating, I wasn’t taken anywhere to accumulate candy. Besides, my mother didn’t approve of eating candy; it was bad for the teeth. Later on, however I enjoyed dressing up my children and taking them around to the neighbors.
Where I live now Halloween costumes will soon proliferate as children roam the sidewalks for trick or treat,. Dressed as ghosts, scarecrows, or pirates or masked as the current political figures the wearers follow a tradition that goes back many centuries. Halloween in the United States is somewhat similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead. It comes from a long tradition of honoring those who have moved on from their bodies to the wider life of the spirit.
It was once believed that on October 31 the spirits of the dead could inflict harm or at least return in some way to communicate with the living because the veil between this world and the next is thin. Then some hoped to consult spirits of the dead, believing they could tell where treasure was buried, or what the future held. Some remnants of fear remain from then, though they are not taken seriously.
My grandmother passed on when I was in college and hers was the first dead body I ever saw. It did not frighten me. She had been prepared for burial and set out in her living room prior to the funeral the next day. That evening as I approached her body I realized it wasn’t my grandmother, that it was just clothes she had worn once and now no longer needed. Death did not then nor does it now seem to me to be something of which to be frightened. Life is more than a physical experience.
Halloween costumes can serve as a reminder that there is little to fear from the transition called death. A change of clothing is appropriate to a change of form. Just as I can’t fit into my baby garments or the clothes I wore for my first day of school, I can expect someday to outgrow this body, and to discard it for clothing suitable for the form I will then inhabit. While the unknown is always a little unnerving to contemplate, whatever happens whether in this life or the next is an adventure to which I look forward.