This post has been written in reverse. Usually the bake comes first and is followed by my words. Often the bake prompts a thought or theme that I want to explore. This time I found myself wanting to write about Halloween. Yet, no post would be complete without a bake. Yesterday I found myself with 90 minutes spare before meeting a group of bereaved mothers (willing cake eaters) at our craft class. This was more than enough time to mix, bake, decorate & clean up (my least favourite step). I followed the simple all in one Fairy Cake recipe (see “light up for love” post) and using black & white icing I decorated ghosts & witches hats….
I am now uncomfortable with some elements of Halloween. Since Conor died I view Halloween with new eyes. I find some aspects insensitive. I grew up in London at a time when Halloween was overshadowed by the fireworks associated with bonfire night taking place just five days later. I remember making witches hats out of black card in school and once raided my mother’s white sheets to make a ghost costume. Halloween was little more than that. I have spent my adult years living in Ireland where Halloween is so much more and I have witnessed it become a bigger and bigger spectacle. I have neighbours who turn their homes into spooky grottos. Some gardens look like horror movie sets.
The parts of Halloween I now struggle with are the joke coffins and gravestones. Gravestones are an unwanted reality for the bereaved and are no joking matter. I never imagined that at the time I should have been buying blue 0-3m clothing I was shopping for my son’s gravestone. Who knew there was so much choice. We found ourselves browsing other graveyards, admiring shapes, size, wording, colours, materials etc. We walked around Conor’s graveyard armed with a measuring tape so his gravestone would sit well alongside the others. Just five weeks after Conor’s death we found ourselves in a cave on Valentia Island, Co Kerry picking out a piece of slate for our son’s headstone. We sat down with the stonemason and designed the gravestone Conor will eventually share with his parents. It was a most surreal experience. Having spent happy childhood summers in Co Kerry it was important for me to bring a piece of beautiful Co Kerry to Conor’s resting place…
The artificial world of Halloween decorations also reminds me of the challenge many of my new friends face trying to support their surviving children following their babies’s deaths. These siblings have an innocence that is lost forever. They live with the knowledge that anyone can die. I have a friend whose young children regularly visit Conor’s grave. Their baby sister is buried in the same graveyard. They notice any new items (including a new windmill bought by Conor’s Daddy) left on the grave and they show Conor their new toys. They know me as “Conor’s Mummy” which makes me smile. I can only imagine their confusion as plastic headstones and coffins come and go from their neighbours gardens. Death and gravestones are an ever present reality in their lives.
I don’t wish to cancel Halloween. I love seeing all the carved pumpkins. I am nostalgic for witches hats and white sheets. I am happy to see black cats and spiderwebs. I just wish it would stop there. There is no need for artificial coffins or gravestones. Leaving hospital with a baby’s coffin would be anyone’s worst nightmare. The sad fact is that for one family nearly every day in Ireland, this horror story is our cruel reality.
It was a last minute decision to bake these fairy cakes. My butter and eggs were straight from the fridge when the recipe asked for softened butter & eggs at room temperature. I gave the butter a 7 second blast in the microwave (do not allow to melt). I read recently to place eggs in a bowl of warm water to quickly bring to room temperature. Happy Halloween baking.