“Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story”

It’s my wedding anniversary.  

It’s complicated when a birthday comes around for someone who’s not here anymore, and it’s complicated when a wedding date arrives after a spouse has died.

This is the post I wrote two years ago: 



Memorial Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts
July 2012

I wish I could take credit for this post’s title, but it belongs to an upcoming biography of writer David Foster Wallace.  I would have been inclined to rearrange the sentiment: isn’t nearly every ghost story a love story?

Two nights ago, on Jim’s and my wedding anniversary, my best woman and I had a fairly extended (and only slightly margarita-fueled) discussion about the nature of ghosts and about Jim’s constant presence with me.

This conversation wandered off into how I might introduce Jim, for clarity’s sake, to newcomers to my psyche and situation.

I cannot bring myself to say “my late husband,” and there have been occasions when this has proved confusing to others.  My friend tried to offer up some alternative–perhaps my “ghost hubby”?  She could not help but notice that whenever we sit down together, I behave as if he were seated to my right.

Sometimes I put things aside for months, or even years, and pick them back up and resume where I left off.  One of the books I had started and put aside after Jim was diagnosed was The Book of Disquiet.

I picked it back up on our wedding anniversary last year and read the passage which I had been about to read when I put the book aside.

That very next paragraph captured for me some of the essence of grief—the apartness, the disconnection, even (and often especially) when I am among other people–though that was not, plot-wise, what the passage was about: “I hear without listening, I’m thinking of something else, and what I least catch in the conversation is the sense of what was said, by me or by him.  And so I often repeat to someone what I’ve already repeated, or ask him again what he’s already answered.  But I’m able to describe, in four photographic words, the facial muscles he used to say what I don’t recall, or the way he listened with his eyes to the words I don’t remember telling him.”

The first part of this passage captures what I often feel when my mind wanders off–always to Jim–in the company of others.  The second part of it seems to describe the place to which my mind wanders: my photographic recollection of what Jim would look like when speaking or listening.

The apartness I feel is not strictly apartness: I not only feel that Jim is by my side, but I can see him in great, animated detail–the facial nuances he would have when speaking or listening–and I hear his voice in the same way.

Those two senses–sight and sound–are still set on stun (as Captain Kirk might have said).

Interestingly, The Book of Disquiet ‘s author is Fernando Pessoa, who also is a featured character–and in ghost form, at that–in Jose Saramago’s  The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis.

Saramago had has own intriguing takes on ghosts, one of which can be found in his extremely disquieting novel, Blindness.  In something of a meta-metaphorical digression one of his characters implies that only a single sense is missing for ghosts: “There’s no difference between inside and outside, between here and there, between the many and the few, between what we’re living through and what we shall have to live through . . . [T]his must be what it means to be a ghost, being certain that life exists, because your four senses say so, and yet unable to see it . . . .”

One place these two authors and friends intersected was in the concept of the spirit, which is voiced by Pessoa’s ghost, whom Saramago made a fictional character with his own meta-fictional creation (Reis).  To the latter, Saramago gave a voice that explained “We mourn the man whom death takes from us, and the loss of his miraculous talent and the grace of his human presence, but only the man do we mourn, for destiny endowed his spirit and creative powers with a mysterious beauty that cannot perish.”

(It should perhaps go without saying that my literary tangents came quite a few hours after  that ever-so-slightly margarita-tinged anniversary discussion.)

Back to our table for two . . . or three.

My friend thought about letting the waitress know the source of my peculiar exclamations, like excitedly pointing at the desserts–“Look!  Flourless chocolate cake!”

We had flourless chocolate cake at the wedding.  (Miraculously, it did not melt into a puddle–as would my spectacularly-failed unintentionally flourless cookies for Santa several years down the road–despite a record-breaking 99 degrees recorded at Boston Harbor at precisely the time the ceremony began.)

My friend thought about offering the waitress the explanation that we were there because it was my wedding anniversary, but decided this would probably invite more questions than it answered: after all, only the two of us visibly were there, both wearing wedding bands, and  no spouse was in sight.

My friend looked at me in that way therapists do (she is by occupation a therapist, but only recreationally so with me) and agreed it might be confusing to people I meet to speak of my husband in the manner I do.

It did not take her long to cast aside the thought that I could introduce him as my “ghost hubby.”

“But he’s here all the time with me,” I said, gesturing at the chair to my right.  “Is that insanity?”  (I still periodically worry about my friends having me involuntarily committed–although there also are occasions when I think that might provide me with something resembling a vacation).

“No, that’s love.”

(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon

About Stephanie

In her spare time, Stephanie works full-time, and then some, as an attorney. She has published articles and delivered talks in arcane fields like forensic evidentiary issues, jury instructions, and expert scientific witness preparation. She also is an adjunct professor at a law school on the banks of the Charles and loves that dirty water, as she will always think of Boston as her home. You are welcome to take a look at her Facebook author page, or follow @SMartinGlennon on Twitter. All content on this blog, unless otherwise attributed, is (c) 2012-2020 by Stephanie M. Glennon and should not be reproduced (in any form other than re-blogging in accordance with Wordpress protocol and the numerous other wee buttons at the bottom of each post) without the express permission of the domain holder.
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15 Responses to “Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story”

  1. Becky says:

    What a sweet story. Grief after the loss of a loved one is really hard, however Patricia N. Muscari’s latest book, “I’m a Widow, What Now? Embracing Life after Loss” is full of inspiration… It contains unique ways to experience and move more quickly through the grieving process. I particularly enjoyed this story. How sweet to have your loved one by your side even after death- that would be so comforting. Great Ghost love story.

  2. gaepolisner says:

    more than anything, those two little flowers at the end made me uncontrollably weep.


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  9. Stephanie says:

    Reblogged this on Love in the Spaces and commented:

    I’m reblogging “Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story” from a year ago because today would have been another wedding “Anniversary of Significance,” as Jim would have put it. And it looks like it will be just as outlandishly hot in Cambridge as it was on the original ninety-nine degree afternoon.

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  11. gae polisner says:

    I love this piece as much now as the first time I read it. I suppose today will be a hot, quiet day. Maybe tomorrow will be cool and raucous. Thinking of you.

  12. Stephanie, your posts are always so moving and meaningful. Thank you and bless you.
    I finally understood some years ago that people who die continue to live on in the people who’ve loved them. Not only in their children, who may look and even talk like them. But in the lives of loved ones who remember them well, and even live out small parts of their lives, intentionally or subconsciously.
    Thank you for your writing and for your openness during your challenging journey. I don’t know Jim, but I imagine a good man, an interesting man, a man who loved you and his children and his home very much.

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