a flower on a fence

Banishing the Ghosts

I’m standing in Terry’s mum’s house for what I think will be the last time before it’s sold, and I’m looking at the ceiling light.

It’s an ordinary kind of ceiling light: unassuming, maybe a little bit dated – nothing at all remarkable about it.

But I remember last Christmas, when we decorated the house for what we knew would be the last time, and Terry hung a little Christmas elf from that light. He did it as a joke, but his mum let it stay there, and, for the next few weeks, every time we visited, I’d sit in my usual chair, under the light, and I’d watch that little elf dangle in front of my face, while Max kicked away inside me, and everyone tried to pretend that this was not the last ever Christmas we’d spend here.

Now I look at the ceiling light, dangling in the empty room, and it kind of breaks my heart. The house has been sold, the keys will be handed over in a few days’ time – but as I look out of the room into the hall, I swear I can see the ghosts of our former selves come through the front door, and walk down the hall, just as we did every single week, for more years than I can count. I look around the room, and I can still see it filled with family, everyone talking and laughing, and behaving as if this moment is not precious: as if it will last forever. I see us sitting outside on the swing on a summer’s day: I see Terry and I on the garden bench, showing Soula the photo from my 8-week scan, watching her face light up.

And it breaks  my heart.

It’s not just the house, though.

Last week we driving home from somewhere, and, as we started up the hill to our house, in my mind’s eye, I saw Terry and I driving the other way, on the morning of December 29th, filled with hope and fear, as we headed to the hospital to have Max. Two people drove down the hill, but three drove back, and as we continue on our way, I can see us all – plus all of the other times we’ve gone to and from our house. The hill is crowded with ghosts: some are happy, some are sad, but all are part of our story, and they’re all. still. there.

And it’s not just the hill, either.

Lately, everywhere I go, I see the ghosts. At our local park, where Terry and I went to kill time after my miscarriage, I see us on the swing, and I feel the bizarre need to walk past it with Max, almost as if I’m showing my former self that, look, it happened! Maybe not THAT baby – the one you’re crying about on the swing, in September of 2016 – but THIS baby, right here in the pushchair in front of me. I banish the ghosts, and then I move on to the next ones, to banish them, too.

The ghosts at Hopetoun House, where I had a faux-happy afternoon tea a few days after the miscarriage.

The ghosts of Linlithgow, where I took photos the first time I was pregnant, thinking that one day I’d show our child them, and say, “Look, you were in there!”

A particular table at TGI Fridays, where I felt like I would never feel happy again, and a supermarket cafe where I waited for a set of blood results during my ectopic pregnancy. They all have their ghosts, and even once they’re “banished” they still linger on.

Last week, we went back to Terry’s mum’s house, to see the new owners about something that doesn’t matter. The house is different now. Halfway between old and new, the floors are bare, the wallpaper gone, a wall knocked down. It looked so different, filled with new people and new possessions – at first I thought it would be OK, that I would get through this visit without seeing the ghosts.

But then I looked up, and saw the ceiling light.

They haven’t changed the ceiling the light.

And they don’t know that last Christmas, a silly little ornament dangled from the fitting. They don’t know that we all sat underneath it on Christmas Eve, eating Chinese takeaway – or about all of the Christmases, birthdays, and perfectly ordinary, infinitely precious days, we spent in that house, in that room, under that light. They don’t know – and will never know – about any of those things.

But I do.

And as we walk out of the house, for what will definitely be the last time, I realise the ghosts are not in the house, or on the hill, or in some random supermarket cafe: they’re in me, and in all of us.

And maybe I don’t really want to banish them, after all.

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books by Amber Eve
  • This brought a tear tae a glass e’e, Amber. A house is a home when it’s filled with people we love and happy memories. It must be strange to visit your m-i-l’s home and see people there. Hopefully they’ll be happy in their new home, but there’s probably a wee bit of you and Terry that will always think of it as partly your house.

    A particular family house of ours is still close to my heart, a huge two-storey affair with a view of the Bass Rock in North Berwick. It’s a miracle we ever lived in such a place, but my grandparents bought it in the days when houses didn’t cost the earth. We made it a home. My mum bought lots of furniture, rugs and antiques, even though she was living apart from us in London. We had Hogmanays with my Granddad’s family who popped down from Edinburgh and neighbours who chapped the door (without ringing first!). So many stories – my Mum nearly falling out of her bedroom window when she dropped her mascara in the guttering and my Dad coming to see me post my parents divorce and chasing boys along the beach who pinched my ball. Even my primary school teacher lived temporarily in the ground-floor flat, so it’s bursting with happy memories.

    And completely by chance while in NB daily recently, I met a local artist who asked me about my connection to the town – turns out my old house is now owned by her brother!

    September 29, 2018
  • I am getting all teary eyed here, sitting in my parents house that is now mine, thinking about the two living and the one dead kid that will forever be with me, wherever I go. The ghosts are everywhere, happy and sad, just like you said. And even though they sometimes burden me, I wouldn’t want them to be gone.

    Anne – Linda, Libra, Loca

    September 29, 2018
  • Cat


    Oh, Amber. This is utterly beautiful. And I think you’re right: it does us more good to make peace with the trickier ghosts than it does to banish them.

    September 29, 2018
  • Myra


    Sending you love

    September 29, 2018
  • Michelle


    I have this print above my bed which has helped me to find some comfort with the ghosts. They are there for a reason, because those people mean a lot and however painful it is now, they won’t be forgotten. Take care. http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/9142/1/robert-montgomery-ghost-in-the-machine

    September 29, 2018
  • Lila Athanaselis



    September 29, 2018
  • Jenna



    September 29, 2018
  • Kelly Glen


    This was a very heartbreaking post. We all have memories and things from our past that we want to forget but they will always be there one way or the other no matter how hard we try to leave them behind but we just have to find a way to get through the pain and try and remember all the good times that we have had because that’s all we really can do. My thoughts are with you, Terry , Max and the rest of your family at this difficult time.
    Take care and all the best.

    September 29, 2018
  • Miss Kitty


    This hits so close to home right now. A good friend of mine passed away last month aged only 40. He was a raging alcoholic and also diabetic, not a good combination. Despite all attempts to get him help, his problems had got a lot worse over the past few months, so when he passed, it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but still a shock. Life goes on, and most of the time I forget, but then something will happen, or I will see something, and it will trigger a whole rush of memories, and I have to take a break to have a little cry. It’s sometimes the smallest things that can bring back memories, like your mother-in-law’s light. For me one of the first times I really cried following his passing, was a couple of days after his funeral, and I was sent a silly joke that I knew he would enjoy, and I couldn’t pass it on. I think as time goes on, the pain of these ‘ghosts’ becomes less painful, and simply become a wonderful reminder of a life you don’t want to forget. I hope so anyway.

    September 30, 2018
  • This was a beautiful read, Amber! A dear friend of mine just lost her husband all too young, and my dad just lost his uncle (who lived to 92), which has made this week filled with two funerals a week of loss, memories and reflection. Their memories stay with us, that’s for sure. And we’ll remember them with both heartache and happiness as time carries on. ❤️

    September 30, 2018
  • Beautiful, just beautiful.

    October 1, 2018
  • This is a beautiful post, Amber. Loss is so strange, and it’s so unpredictable whether those ghosts that come visiting will make us smile to remember a happy moment, or if they’ll punch us in the kidneys with the absence of whoever we’re missing.
    I’ll never forget going back into my grandparent’s house after my Gran died. I have her jewellery now, and I’ve kept them as she organised them, and the inside of the jewellery boxes still smells like her house. It depends on the day on whether I think this is a good thing or not.

    October 1, 2018
  • Erin


    Loved this post.

    October 1, 2018
  • So very beautifully written <3
    Thank you for sharing this. All the best for you and your family!

    October 2, 2018
  • Nicola Kendrick


    Left me in a bit of a puddle this. Beautiful…..we all have ghosts in so many places……mine are thousands of miles away in another country……

    October 2, 2018
  • Tears as I remember the ghosts so far away in another country, a time when things seemed simpler and life was easier although I didn’t know it then…

    October 11, 2018
  • Silke


    This made me cry. My grandfather isn’t doing too well, and I know in a couple of years he’ll be gone. And the house that he build with his own two hands, will be sold to people who don’t know how long it took him to build a house for his family between working three jobs to be able to pay for it all. Or how the kitchen always smelled like cookies and cakes before my grandmother got sick, or how there was a whole wall in the kitchen, covered in all the paintings and drawings me and my sister made since we were little, or how many times my grandmother counted all the bricks on the wall when she was sick in bed and had nothing else to do, or how many years my grandfather cared for my grandmother in that house before she passed away at home, or how my sister and me would take turns staying with my grandfather every weekend, so the house would feel less empty and less lonely. So many happy and sad memories are tied to that house and it breaks my heart thinking about someone living there who doesn’t know any of it.

    October 17, 2018