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My Halloween grief ritual

Halloween is traditionally the night when I put on a funny hat and walk around with the other parents, drinking wine out of my water bottle and sharing stories as our kids tear through the neighborhood like costumed candy-seeking missiles.

This year will be different. This year -- amid the great plague of 2020, with the first full moon on Halloween since 1944, with my daughter hanging at home after a day of eating candy in the park, socially distanced with her friends -- I am planning my own celebration. It’s one I have needed for months.

It's a full moon Halloween grief ritual. And there will be howling.

I plan to leave the house about 11 PM - and head over to my friends’ yard. Leaving the house -- the one I have been sheltered in place in for 7 and a half exhausting months -- is important. I had considered Ocean Beach, or Grizzly Peak, but I am planning a solo vigil, and I don’t want to end up in some eucalyptus-lined ditch somewhere.

What am I grieving?

I am not sure where to start with that question. For the past year, my life has been one existential challenge after the next, but aside from the grand shit show that is the world these days, I feel like a failure as a parent. After trying like 8 different approaches to support kiddo with Zoom school, I have to accept that nothing I have done is working. Trying to unravel the complex intersection of her negative self-talk has been my full time job for the past two months, since school started, and I have nothing to show for it. Middle school is already hard, but I am worried sick about my kiddo.

My father-in-law whom I love like my own father, is about to lose his battle with cancer, and I am heartbroken about that. We all are. And of course kiddo takes that in too, compounding her shame and anger and turning his death against herself. My husband and the other members of his family are grieving. There is so much heartache in this house, I expect it to strap on a guitar and start singing country music any day now.

So the grief will be about family stuff, to be sure, but also about the world -- the loss of civility, the incredible rage and fear that permeates our discourse, and the tectonic power grabs that continue to stoke it. The loss of hope and the scary uncertainty about what is coming next. The fear that everything we've known is breaking down and the systems in place do not have our best interests at heart.

I am not saying I am giving up hope; far from it. I am grieving so I can let go of some picture I had of the way things should be, and be more present to the way things are. Somehow I feel like if I am able to face the fucked-up-ness, head on -- without the well of grief that is currently jamming my senses and derailing my center -- I will somehow be in a better position to access the creativity and take the risks to create the new thing that’s needed, respond with more compassion, be a better leader, have a greater sense of focus. If nothing else, I will feel better.

So my Halloween grief ritual will look like this:

Before I leave, I will create three images: One representing my worry about my daughter and the stories I have about her that are not helping, the second will represent the life of my father in law, and another that represents the way the world “should be/used to be.” I will lovingly pack each image to reflect my deep reverence of each one as a teacher.

I will pack my tent and sleeping bag, a camping light, and my journal and colored pencils. I will gather together a collection of objects, images, symbols, or photos of people who might have some wisdom to teach me as I go through this grieving process. I’ve often resonated with the image of the labyrinth and the owl which seem particularly appropriate for Halloween. My human teachers include RDJ, and Oprah, and Dan Levy. All of them are coming with me and I will consult with each during the night.

After getting set up, I will take time to connect with my own ancestors -- Rose and Krikor, Betty and Aram; Hillel and Elizabeth -- who dealt with more horror than I will ever know. I will ask their advice, and thank them for their strength and the gift of life, which sometimes I’m like “fuck this show,” but most of the time I am pretty damn grateful.

Once I have connected with my ancestors, I will sit with each of my grief images separately and feel all the fucking feels that have been building up in me for months. And depending on how loud the Halloween party next door is, I will howl at the full moon like the honor of my ancestors depended on it.

When I have wrung the last bit of grief out of my cells, I will create a new piece of artwork with the pencils and my journal that represents some seeds of a new story. Nothing grandiose, just a little germinating tidbit so I can feel life inside me again.

As the sun rises, I will pack my stuff and head home. Kiddo and husband will probably still be asleep. I’ll put the new germinating images on my office wall. Then, I'll go outside pick some wildflowers from the yard, put them in a vase on the table, brew a pot of coffee, and make breakfast.

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