After Jayden was killed, Conover decided to go all out for Halloween because it was her son’s favorite holiday. She bought new decorations for her yard, loaded up on candy and handed out glow sticks to help light the way for trick-or-treaters in her Layton, Utah, neighborhood.
But 2020 has exhausted her. She said she didn’t have the wherewithal to decorate.
In addition to the coronavirus pandemic, a powerful wind storm uprooted the trees in her yard last month, tearing the shingles off her roof and some of the siding off her house. The damage cost more than $4,000 to repair.
“I looked at my messy yard and decided that I wasn’t going to decorate for Halloween this year,” she said. “I just wasn’t feeling it — I was mentally drained.”
In early October, Conover said, she told a few friends in her neighborhood about her decision to skip Halloween.
But the neighbors weren’t having it.
“Pretty soon I had people showing up on my front porch telling me, ‘Absolutely not — you have to decorate this year, and we’re going to help you,’ ” Conover said.
Several neighbors helped clean up her yard. Then the decorating began.
“People started hauling decorations out of my shed and putting them up,” she said.
“They told me, ‘You’ve given a whole new meaning to Halloween — it’s not just about the candy, it’s about keeping kids safe,’ ” Conover added.
Her neighbors told her that they couldn’t imagine Halloween without Conover’s spooky decorations and handouts of glow sticks to help children be noticed while trick-or-treating. Her neighbors also deck out their homes in memory of Jayden.
“What Crystal does is so important — there’s no way we could let this Halloween be forgotten,” said Jada Bradley, 55, one of the neighbors who rallied everyone on Conover’s cul-de-sac to decorate Conover’s home and other homes on the street.
“We wanted her to know we were all onboard and wanted to go all out,” said Tina Peterson, 50, who lives next door and is helping to coordinate coronavirus-safe trick-or-treating in the neighborhood.
“Halloween is an emotional time for Crystal,” Peterson added. “But what she’s been doing every year is a good thing.”
It was 2011 when Conover, a mom of five kids, hugged Jayden goodbye and sent him to spend Halloween with his dad in the nearby town of Uintah, she said.
Later that night, she received a terrible phone call:
Jayden had been walking on a dark street with his dad while trick-or-treating when the seventh-grader was hit by a driver. Jayden was on life support for about three weeks before he died on Thanksgiving Day.
“My heart was completely broken. If not for my other kids, I probably would never have celebrated another holiday,” she said. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it — I lost my mind. The sorrow and anger was overwhelming.”
Almost two years had passed, and as Halloween approached, Conover was feeling profound grief and loss. One of her close friends urged her to do something positive to remember Jayden, something to counteract some of her despair.
“We thought, ‘How can we prevent another tragedy like this from happening in the future?’ ” Conover said. “Because so many costumes are dark and kids are out on streets that aren’t always well-lit, we came up with the idea of handing out a glow stick to every trick-or-treater.”
On Halloween night in 2013, Conover bought several-hundred glow sticks and named her project “Help Jayden Light the Way.”
“Jayden was a jokester who loved to pull pranks and scare everyone on Halloween,” she said. “So we also decided to get a new decoration every year that he would have liked.”
This year, after she put a banner in front of her house about “Light the Way,” Conover had a chance encounter with a former firefighter. He was the first to arrive at the scene of her son’s accident nine years ago.
Lewis Weaver, now a real estate agent, was driving through her neighborhood last week with his two children when he noticed all of the decorations and the sign about Jayden, he said.
“It immediately clicked, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. I was the guy who found him that night,’ ” he said.
Weaver arranged to meet with Conover. The moment she saw him, she burst into tears.
“I pretty much hugged him with everything I had,” Conover said. “This man was the last person to see my son with any sort of life in him. He truly understood my nightmare. Meeting him was the most amazing gift I could have gotten this year.”
When he learned about Conover’s annual campaign to hand out glow sticks, Weaver said, he decided to do the same in his neighborhood. He also took his kids shopping for another clown to add to Conover’s yard decorations.
“When I was a firefighter, I went on more than 7,000 medical calls,” he said. “A call like the one I got that night about Jayden is one you don’t ever forget.”
Conover said she is grateful for Weaver and for the continued kindness of her neighbors. People sometimes forget, she said, that grief can last a lifetime.
“It’s been a rough ride, but I’ve found hope with their help,” she said. “If we can light the way and save the life of even one child on Halloween, I know Jayden would be happy about that.”
Have a story for Inspired Life? Here’s how to submit.