The Friendly Ghost

There is a ghost in this house. That’s what she tells me. She talks to him a lot. They were married fourteen years. He gave her three kids. You don’t just quit having conversations with someone that important. Even after they’re dead.

She is an early-forties mother. Her days revolve around cleaning. It seems like cleaning up after her three children is all she ever does.

She wakes up, cleans, makes coffee, cleans, cleans, cleans, then gets her kids ready for school because otherwise they’d sit around in their filthy underwear eating Pop-Tarts all day and playing on phones. Also, she cleans.

And somehow at the end of each day, even though she’s worked a full shift, she manages to make Hamburger Helper. Then she vacuums some more.

This is her life ever since her husband died. Her kids depend on her for everything. She packs their lunches, walks their dog, and takes them to soccer practice.

You get a sense that her kids don’t understand how much she actually does for them. Children usually don’t. I was the son of a single mother. I still can’t comprehend the sacrifice.

One needs money for a field trip, another for a band uniform, and her oldest dropped his cellphone into the toilet at school and needs a new one. And through it all she still finds time to scrub baseboards and keep her house immaculate.

“I like cleaning,” she says. “It’s therapeutic. When my husband died, all I did was clean and talk to him. Sometimes we’d talk and clean until late at night.”

He never says anything back, but she swears that he’s here. She tells me this without even the slightest trace of irony.

Her home is a madhouse. During our interview, her kids clomp up the stairs, down the stairs, then up again. The sounds of their feet are like cinder blocks falling from a second-story balcony. She is immune to their noise. A mother to the core.

She can look you in the eye and have a steady conversation without losing a beat even though it sounds like A-10 Warthogs are making emergency landings on her roof.

The sound of bloodcurdling cries erupt from her youngest child in the other room. It sounds as though this child has either broken his femur or shattered his collarbone.

She looks at me, smiles, and takes a sip of coffee. “It’s probably just a scratch.”

She tells me all about yesterday. It was a big day.

The day started off normally. She rushed the kids to school then went to work. On lunch break, she got a call from her boyfriend. He was having car trouble and needed a ride.

They’ve been together a year. She met him a few years after her husband died. She says he’s helped her remember how to enjoy life again.

So she left work. When she arrived at her boyfriend’s indoor parking garage, she couldn’t find him anywhere. She drove around in circles. He texted to say that he was down the street eating lunch.

“I was so mad,” she said. “I was like, ‘How rude, I come all this way to help him and he traipses off to lunch without me?’”

So she parked in the garage and walked to the nearby eatery to meet him, she was a little upset and planned on giving him a piece of her mind. It turned out to be a fancy restaurant. She told the hostess she was meeting someone.

The hostess said, “He’s been expecting you.”

That was a little weird. How did the hostess know who she was? The hostess led her to a private dining room in the back of the restaurant. When the door opened she saw two candles on a lone table. Her boyfriend was waiting. When he saw her, he took a knee.

And I don’t have to tell you what happened next because anyone who has ever seen an episode of “Love Boat” knows what happened next. He asked a big question. She gave a big answer. They set a date.

She pauses. She dabs her eyes. She talks about her late husband for a moment:

“You know, when I first got married I was young, we would always joke and say stuff like, ‘If I die first, don’t ever marry anyone else, honey, because I couldn’t bear the thought of you loving someone else.’”

She laughs to herself. The memory of being young and in love is sacred.

When he got sick she became his caregiver. And it didn’t take long to lose him. Only weeks before he passed he told her, “I want you to be happy when I’m gone, honey, promise me you’ll find someone and be happy.”

Funny, how life changes a man.

At first she couldn’t promise. It was too painful. But he made her. So she told him that she would try.

She wipes her eyes again. “But you don’t just stop loving someone. You just don’t.”

After our talk, she shows me a photograph of her late husband. It’s on her mantle. In the photo are two young people dressed in wedding attire, cutting a cake together. Smiling. He’s handsome. She is radiant.

She replaces the framed photo. She is sobbing into a paper towel now. “I’m sorry for crying. I was just thinking: I’ll probably be the first bride in history who’ll be given away by a ghost.”

Not the first. Not the last. But definitely the loveliest one, with the cleanest house.

24 comments

  1. Michelle Gantt - January 29, 2020 6:56 am

    My goodness. That was stunning.

    Reply
  2. Lita - January 29, 2020 7:00 am

    Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  3. Sharon E Brock - January 29, 2020 7:52 am

    Although my son is now 44, I am still a single mother and will always be. I was scared of my own shadow until they put that little boy in my arms. No one understands terror until you are responsible for another life and I was transformed almost overnight. The nun whose job it was to register names did not approve of my son’s middle name. I ran her out of my room. Rabid badgers would have backed away. She had no chance.

    I learned early that with a boy, when my foot went down, there it stayed. I still don’t put up with crap. Only GOD himself had more authority and HE had my back. I had to do five things at one time; my lunch breaks consisted of super-organized errand runs; had my stretched budget snapped it would have wiped out two counties; my ceying was done in the shower; and thank GOD for Christmas layaways. I couldn’t help not having money but there was no excuse for dirty. My son ate before I did and I didn’t sleep soundly until he joined the Navy. I WOULD DO IT AGAIN. Finest days of my life even when I grocery shopped on $10 a week, worked two jobs for seven years, and didnt own a car until I was 32.

    Most mothers learn the difference between cries of rage, frustration, and pain early. 67 years later I still can.

    Thanks Sean for understanding us single mothers.

    Reply
  4. Steve Winfield - January 29, 2020 9:30 am

    BAM! March 12 7 PM. Just paid sixty-something bucks for 2 tickets. I’ll be counting the minutes! Been wishing & hoping you’d be near me soon.
    I’m grinning like a mule eating saw briars!

    Reply
  5. Connie Havard Ryland - January 29, 2020 12:22 pm

    Wow. What a lovely start to my day. God bless her and grant her many years of joy. She deserves it.

    Reply
  6. KATY - January 29, 2020 1:42 pm

    😇 Beautiful story , Sean ! 😇

    Reply
  7. Jo Hooten - January 29, 2020 1:51 pm

    Your stories make me cry. That’s wonderful because they touch my heart. Thank you

    Reply
  8. derekrobertson81 - January 29, 2020 2:12 pm

    Dude- you have to somehow warn us when reading your stories. Like “Hey you might want to wait until you are alone to read this once cause it’s gonna pierce you through your heart and all your buddies are gonna think your cheese slid off your cracker.” Or, Hey, this one will be safe to read at work before you begin your day.”

    Reply
  9. Bob Rennick - January 29, 2020 2:26 pm

    Two hours after reading your latest I’m still laughing at her line.

    Reply
  10. Shelton A. - January 29, 2020 2:30 pm

    May the live a long and Happy life together…may God bless this Union and watch over them all.

    Reply
  11. aleathia nicholson - January 29, 2020 3:32 pm

    During my pre-teen years my household chores were defrosting the fridge, making up my bed, ironing my daddy’s shorts, setting the dinner table and washing the baseboards, When I was dumb enough to ask my father why I had to do the baseboards he said: “Because you kicked them and left the black marks and because you are nearest the floor.” That last one really ticked me off because I had to kneel on a hardwood floor and scrub with BON AMI. Do they even make that anymore? I had other chores but time and new inventions took care of them, especially talking to the ghosts in the basement that really ticked off my mother.

    Reply
  12. Marge - January 29, 2020 4:11 pm

    You, Sean Dietrich, are one heck of a human being. You bring me “laugh out loud” moments and, today, you have me bawling my eyes out! Thank you for sharing your ability to notice and then write about the “real” world we live in.

    Reply
  13. Melodie - January 29, 2020 4:46 pm

    WOW! This is a goody, for sure. Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  14. Edna Barron - January 29, 2020 5:08 pm

    Such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  15. Linda Moon - January 29, 2020 5:11 pm

    How sad that men who are “boys” sometimes suddenly have to grow up….and the wives who love them, too. Mothers like her and like mine who sold shoes six days a week and took us kids roller-skating every Friday night might eventually replace the old photos, but the radiant spirit of the other will remain. One framed photograph, however, will never be replaced by me, this child of a ghost!

    Reply
  16. grantburris - January 29, 2020 5:36 pm

    Sean, you’ve done it again. Great story. Single Moms are in a class by themselves. They are very special. Men with compassion are to be admired also. Thank you for spreading out this story for us to see.

    Reply
  17. Dawn A Bratcher - January 29, 2020 5:49 pm

    What a lovely woman who has learned so much through adversity in her life. I pray that our Father blesses them in many, many ways as she and her fiancé marry & raise the boys.

    Reply
  18. Camilla - January 29, 2020 6:15 pm

    Wow. Just wow!

    Reply
  19. Brenda Harvey - January 29, 2020 7:36 pm

    Your stories often bring tears to my eyes. Love this one.

    Reply
  20. that is jack - January 30, 2020 2:49 am

    You are definitely ‘certifiable.’ but I enjoyed the read, it was fun!

    Reply
  21. Tim House - January 30, 2020 4:08 am

    Damn… What a loving thought… “I want you to be happy when I’m gone, honey, promise me you’ll find someone and be happy.”… She’s twice-blessed. 🙂

    Reply
  22. Dru Brown - January 30, 2020 3:46 pm

    Yes.

    Reply
  23. Christy Taylor - January 30, 2020 7:34 pm

    I am a happily re-married widow and life does go on. This one brought a tear to my eye. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  24. debS - February 19, 2020 12:46 pm

    You have touched my heart ❤️ one more time.

    Reply

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