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What to do when your ghosts go away

“If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angels too.”
– Tennessee Williams

Here’s something they don’t tell grieving mothers: your children’s ghosts will leave you almost as certainly as your living children will. It’s pretty much a parallel construction of the universe. I can say this because it’s been almost 20 years and Madeline doesn’t check in nearly as often as she used to. Sure, I can honestly say she’s always with me, but the legitimate hauntings are far less frequent. Or maybe, like the grown-up daughter who lives across town, she gets taken for granted, even when she slams the basement door. It was just the wind, I tell myself. Don’t read so much into everything.

I miss my ghosts, not only Madeline but my dad, my grandpa, Aunt Ginny. Like living people, they cannot be summoned at will. They will not be conjured. But I also feel like I need them less, and perhaps they have other things to do. Complaining about their absence seems whiny and wrong. Would it kill you to drop a note once in a while? I want to ask. Stop in for tea?

My ghosts are benevolent, kind, reassuring. They are my angels. The committee in my head—they may be my demons. When I was younger and going through difficult times, they were not all to be trusted. Some of them would just as soon tell me I was stupid and worthless as offer any meaningful guidance. And then there is the voice who stands above and beyond the committee, the voice not my own: reassuring me, saying everything’s going to be ok even when this seems hardly likely at all.

These days, just as my ghost angels don’t visit as often as they used to, the committee issues fewer opinions. Or maybe I’ve quietly reconstituted my personal board of directors, given certain outspoken assholes the boot, and allowed calmer voices to monitor the proceedings. They are definitely less boisterous, more a matter of seconding that emotion than ranting against perceived personal injustices. Those voices tended to turn on me, blaming the victim for making herself vulnerable. Yeah, I don’t miss those guys. But I still hear the voice that’s not my own once in a while, the voice of peace and mercy to whom I almost always yield the floor.

In therapy years ago, I had to be evaluated in order for my insurance to continue to pay for the sessions. That meant I needed a diagnosis. The therapist said I had adjustment disorder and maybe a touch of post-traumatic stress disorder. I don’t know why, but adjustment disorder didn’t seem like a real thing. Technically, it’s when you have an abnormal or excessive reaction to a life event. My question is, if you’ve lost a child, or been a victim of assault, or both, what is a normal or reasonable reaction? Is seeing a therapist an abnormal, excessive reaction to personal tragedy? I understand this was just for insurance purposes, but the drama queen in me—or maybe it was the adjustment disorder talking—wanted more. I tried to convince my therapist to give me a more interesting diagnosis.

“I hear voices,” I said. “Remember? I call them the committee in my head? And then there’s the voice that’s not my own, the one I think might be God speaking to me?"

“Yeah, that’s nothing to worry about.”

“But they speak in full sentences.”

He laughed. “You’re a writer. You think they’d speak in sentence fragments?”

So there you have it. Hearing voices in my head doesn’t mean I’m crazy, any more than seeing ghosts out of the corner of my eye means I’m hallucinating. But now that my angel ghosts visit less frequently and my demon voices have quieted, I think my adjustment disorder might start kicking in. I’m feeling a little anxious about it. This is going to take some getting used to. I might freak out a little bit. Oh, wait. No, it’s ok. Everything’s going to be fine. Thanks, guys. I yield the floor.
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