Issue 8: Weird | 1,036 words
With Witch-in-Residence, Speculative City imagines a co-created speculative world based on real questions that we place in speculative spaces. Our Witch-in-Residence, through her working knowledge of the world and the magic within it, answers questions from beings who seek advice when they find themselves confronting difficult or confusing situations. Think of Dear Abby with a much more interesting fantasy twist.
Questions or letters for next month’s column are welcome! Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will map your question to our speculative world.
I think I’m going crazy. I mean, I know I’m not, but also maybe I am?
Three years ago, the love of my life suddenly fell ill. The illness was brief and deeply painful; death came quickly. Now, my life is devoted to completing the main project my love and I shared: raising our children. We have—I have, and he had—three, who’re now 14, 16, and 17.
Our children have decided it has been Long Enough, and it is Time For Me To Date. They are not alone; my sister and brother-in-law, my friends, his friends, our friends at church agree. It seems like everyone has an opinion, which is that it has been Long Enough and it is Time.
I am not interested in dating. I am not interested in finding another life partner. I was with my husband for 23 years, and I don’t describe him as the love of my life lightly. I have tried to be firm—especially with the adults in my life—and am met with varying levels of rebuttal. I think that’s in part because I haven’t told them what I think makes me crazy.
See, my husband is still here. I still have him. He’s not corporeal, he’s a ghost, but we talk all the time, and even if we can’t touch, I have him. Why would I want to date when I have the love of my life still?
I talk with him about everything, and I’ve talked with him about this. He says there’s no reason I should date, especially if I don’t want to, and that we can continue our relationship just as we always have, until I die, and then we can move on together. This makes so much sense to me! But I don’t feel like I can share it with the people in my life, especially my church friends. How do I convince people to let me make my choice to stay with my husband without making them think I’m crazy?
Wife of a Ghost
Dear Wife of a Ghost,
Sweet one, the word for “wife of a ghost” is widow. I say this with deep knowledge and recognition, because I am one. I know. Widow means “wife of a ghost” as much as it means “woman whose husband died.”
Yes, you get to decide if and when you date again—of course you do. You don’t need a reason. When people bring dating up, it would be useful to have some bland and clear lines to deflect the conversation topic. Lines like
“Oh, I thought we’d talked about this—that’s not something I’m interested in. Did you hear about Pearl’s youngest? She’s walking already!” or
“That’s so kind of you to care for me, and I hope I can help you remember this—I feel very clear about not wanting to date. Did you end up deciding which program to enroll Rutherford in at school?”
Being firm and showing amusement that the topic hasn’t been closed will serve the situation well here.
Now, this part is hard, dove, so brace yourself: I’m not sure your husband’s ghost is the one you should be talking to about dating either. I say this as someone who—I meant it, above—is a widow who had many conversations with her husband’s ghost about her love life.
See, the love of my life had the opposite opinion. We had conversations while he was still alive about how if either of us died, the other had to move on and find another love. It was a silly compliment we’d give each other and a way to show how much we loved one another. If I die, you’d better have another love, you’re too good at love not to have that. I’d reply, Okay, but let’s just confirm now that you’re not going to die, and he’d agree. Then, he died. His death (which was unexpected and sudden) was really, really painful for me and evidence of how small and powerless we human beings are in the face of the inevitability of death and loss.
But the point I want to make here is that after he died, for a long time after, my love for him was persistent—–just adamant. But my husband’s ghost wouldn’t let me forget our prior conversations. You promised, he said. It is very important that you fall in love again. Please find someone to hold you and make you feel better. Finally, we fought, me and my husband’s ghost. I told him that I heard him, and that I would find new love. I promised him I would, but that I needed to just be sad about his absence. He didn’t get to tell me not to be sad, even if it distressed him. He didn’t get to dictate my timeline. So, I told him, as I had many times when he was alive, in both jest and heartfelt truth: You can’t tell me what to do.
Your husband’s ghost does not get to decide for you, love. It makes me a little nervous that he wants to. I’m not sure what he wants is relevant here, and I want very much for you to find someone else to talk to about this. Find a healer who specializes in grief. At your first session, ask them what they think about people who regularly talk with ghosts. Regardless of whether or not they end up being your healer, practice telling them that your husband is dead. Because he is. That’s what widow means. If that statement is powerful, if it makes you cry to read—that’s how much mourning you have left to do. I don’t think you’re done. I don’t know if any of us widows are ever really done, but it is a parabolic curve, and you gotta get through that really low part before you can rise.
Yes, you can refuse new love; and no, I definitely do not think you’re crazy. However, I think you need to talk to someone besides your husband’s ghost about what you’re feeling—about your grief.
For what it’s worth, I’m grieving with you. Yes, still.
Hilary Berwick is a writer, coder, researcher, and meditation practitioner from Brooklyn, Oakland, Texas, and some points in-between. When she’s not growing plants, reading books about Pagan rituals, or playing RPGs, she writes queer radical speculative fiction and loves on her bigheaded dog.