You would think hospice is scary enough without Halloween decorations in the residence dining room. Some depict skeletons with devilish grins portending what is to become of us all, and others are cartoons of tombstones with R.I.P written on them. The decorations are redundant in this setting are they not? Or at least ludicrous in drawing added attention to the bad situation the patients and families are facing—Come on, this is a hospice residence. Of course the people putting up the decorations were probably just thinking, “Let’s decorate for the holiday,” and had no inkling about the irony of what they were doing, which was like a very bad pun.
This year for the first time I no longer find it fun to look at Halloween decorations in my neighborhood either. So many show old people with leering expressions and tattered clothing, and witches howling amidst flashing lights, ghosts gesturing to bloodied bodies, and vampires looming over their imminent victims. Maybe because I have worked for hospices for many years, it does not take all that much for me to skirt the boundary between taking the especially sad and overwhelming days on the chin, and descending into burnout. Or it could be now that I am older myself, decrepit versions of the elderly no longer amuse me. More than ever, I need as much comfort and beauty as I can lay my hands on, tune my ears to, lend my nose to, and focus my eyes on.
I realize that for society, such displays are a way to project our anxieties and dread over aging and death and an attempt to push them away through caricature. In a way, working for hospice is dealing with Halloween all year long, except even worse, as I am facing loss not at the remove provided by dark humor but instead as the raw real deal.
So hey Thanksgiving themes, here I come!