Ghost Town

I live in another woman’s house.

I drive another woman’s car. I wear her clothes and sleep in her bed. Sometimes, I stand in her closet and finger her jewelry and think things like, Why so many necklaces? and Where could she possibly have worn all these? I go to her job and talk to her friends—well, not all her friends. I don’t always understand her choices, but I am expected to adapt to her life. I am supposed to fit myself into the mold of who she was. But I am the square peg now, all sharp corners. And shoving myself into the life she once had day after day, slapping a smile on my face so people won’t see how much pain wearing her life is causing me, is grinding me down. It’s wearing what’s left of me thinner than cellophane.

I try to pump myself up. I tell myself things like, Come on, Anna. You just have to adapt. Make this life work for you. But I don’t know who that is yet. And part of me still doesn’t want to. Is it supposed to feel so vacant on the inside? I am a ghost town. I am full of free-standing walls and memories and haunts. But all the real life has moved out. The streets blow with dust and the occasional tumbleweed. I reach for something deep within to define who I’ve become, and there’s nothing there.

I want to believe this is a between phase. That I am between the person I was and the person I am becoming, not fully immersed in either. But I’m not sure if that’s true. A year and three months later, and so little has changed from those first few days. Yes, I can drive a car. I can go to the grocery store. I can show up for work and go out once in a while. But you have no idea how empty those things feel.

At first, when I would cross a little milestone off my list, like get a haircut, there was a spark of something like pride, and maybe hope. And then, when I’d gotten my third or fourth haircut, I realized it doesn’t change anything. I don’t hurt less. I don’t miss her less. And nothing, not one of these little victories, is going to save me. And just like that, I am standing at her door again, in my gray shorts and my Atari t-shirt, in the morning in early August. And I realize I’ve never really moved.

I think this must be why some grieving parents say the second year is harder than the first.

If I could just find the energy, maybe I could do something with the bits Evelyn left behind. But I’ve been pulling blood from this stone for 468 days now. I get less and less every time I tap it. Even my words are drying up. I tire of trying to describe this existence so others can understand. I don’t know if I care anymore whether they do.

Someone told me recently that I would need to change my story. And I replied, “I’m not ready.” I’m not ready to be anything other than the broken woman who lost all sense of herself when her child died and took the best of everything with her. But more than that, I think Why? Why tell a different story? Why change anything about the story I find myself inside, the story I have swallowed and regurgitated so many times my ribs ache from heaving, the story that holds me up when I have nothing else to tell? The reason I don’t change my story is that I don’t have another story within me. And I don’t care enough to make one up.

Grief changes. Loss changes. Trauma changes. It all changes and it all changes you. I don’t mourn the woman I was the way I did at first. Mostly, I’m sick of her. I’m sick of being reminded of her. I’m sick of living in her shadow. I’m sick of remembering her and her laugh and her joy and her dreams and her bat-blind faith and even blinder hope. I’m sick of her fullness and her richness and her goodness. I am me. I am not her. I am what Evelyn left behind when she died. And I don’t even know what that is, but I know what it’s not. It’s not a whole person. It’s not a fully functioning human being. It’s not alive. Not like you are. Not like she was.

More than a year later, and I am still surveying the rubble at ground zero. I know you want to hear a different story, but I’m not really sure there’s anywhere else to go from here.

Anna Silvernail

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Comments (2)

  • Anna,

    Thank you for that account of You! It is everything I am feeling four months down the long, lonely road I have recently been traveling. A journey that takes me further and further away from my wonderful, beautiful son, Michael; and from the woman who I once was. A woman who is now unrecognizable, or one I even care to know. Your story hits me right in the place where my heart used to live.

    Karen, NYC, NY
    Michael’s Mother

  • Anna,

    I am glad you took the time to express your world as you are experiencing it. I read it while nodding my head knowingly at times and cringing at other times. I lost my 21 year old son, Mark, to cancer August 9, 2018. At first I thought each month that passed would mean a month more “healing” would pass. After four months I know it does not work that way. Mark was my only child. I feel completely empty inside even though I have friends and family that love and care for me, nothing soothes. Nothing truly comforts because nothing can bring him back to me. That is what I want. I want to undo him dying. I want to undo him getting cancer. I want to see him smile and say, “mom,” again. What else could possibly matter?

    I thought maybe after a year of adjusting things might feel less empty, but I have my doubts. What will my loved ones think if I am no happier in a year or two years? Or ever? Will I have to pretend to care about things that mean little to me now? Will I have to pretend to smile? If I don’t pretend to be happier, will everyone be disappointed and give up on me? Will I care? How can life just go on? It does though. I have learned this one brutal truth: Life goes on no matter what. It feels the Earth keeps spinning and it moves too fast now–I can hardly keep up each day. I wonder how I don’t break into tiny pieces and blow away in the wind. I wonder how others don’t seem to understand how fragile I am. How at any moment I could crumble. I wonder how I don’t.

    People keep telling me time will make the pain hurt less. I have read dozens of books on grief. I search online for other parents who have lost their child and somehow keep on breathing and eating and working. I am so curious how we do this. Every cell in my body wants to just evaporate and escape the daily realization that I will never hold my son again.

    I feel much like you, Anna. in that I don’t know who this new me is suppose to be. The old me, the one that made jokes and laughed easily, and had energy and a sense of adventure–that woman is not present. Maybe glimpses show up, but then the hollow woman takes over and just goes through the motions again.

    Some mothers that have found some wisdom and peace and can say they experience a healing from the pain at some point, focus on forward motion. I get that. I get looking for the positive in life. I get that getting stuck in the muck of constant mourning is unproductive. Intellectually, I understand where my head should be focused. You likely do too. But emotionally, I don’t know how to do it. I want to. I just don’t think I am ready yet either. I don’t think “not being ready” means we want to ache, or feel broken, or hollow. The fact that we are still writing and reaching out and bothering to put our thoughts into words and sharing ourselves means we will be “ready” someday. In the meantime, we put one foot in front of the other and it has to be good enough. I has to be. Right?

    Dana, Belleville, IL
    Mark’s Mom

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