This might be a ghost story. There was nothing unusual about the beginning. A woman came to the agency I was working for asking for therapy. She described her life history. It was clear that she had a terrible life mostly due to her continuing illicit drug use. She said she had tried repeatedly but could not stop using.
All of her children except the youngest had been taken away due to her drug use. As the result of a legal hearing, she was subject to unannounced urine testing with the understanding that if she tested positive again, her youngest child would be removed from her home. She was on the verge of losing her job. She hated her boss. But she needed the income the income her job provided. Her work attendance had been erratic. On Mondays she was often so hung over that she could not work. Also, her car was old and unreliable. She lived in public housing in a dangerous building in the worst part of town. She had applied for a transfer to safer housing years earlier but the waiting list had hundreds of names on it. Feeding her addiction left her with barely enough money to buy food.
After listening to the recital of problems, I asked why she wanted therapy now. The problems she mentioned were chronic. I knew there had to be an immediate reason for her to come in. After some hesitation she said one of her sons had approached her about two months ago after years of refusing to see her. He told her she had been a terrible mother, leaving her children in jeopardy when she went off to get drugs, being too stoned to take care of them and disappearing for days when she binged. He said he loved her anyway and he wanted to help her get off drugs. They started talking. She felt hope for the first time in many years. Then he was shot and killed, an innocent victim of a drive-by shooter targeting someone else.
I said that was truly terrible. And I asked again, “So why come in now?”
“It’s my dead son,” she said. “Every night he stands over me, not saying a word. I know he hates me and blames me for everything he had to go through.”
I asked if he had done anything like that when he was alive. She said no, on the contrary, he’d been loving and supportive. He was seriously trying to help her get clean.
I said, “I wonder why he has changed so much just because he died. He hasn’t said anything. He might be there for the same reasons he restarted contact with you when he was alive. Do you want to invite him to join us in the office so you can ask him?” She refused and stormed out of my office.
At the next appointment she said “I asked my son why he came to see me. He told me he still loves he. He wants to help me.” She said he insisted that she had to stop using drugs. Night after night he said the same thing. Eventually she wore down, promised to cut back and finally gave him a date in the future when she would stop using entirely.
Then things started happening. The housing office called to offer an apartment in a safer place. Out of the blue, her sister called her to say she and her husband had bought a new car. Did my client want their old car? She started to show up to work on time, not hung over and she got a lot more done. She was no longer threatened with being fired. After some time she got so annoyed at her boss for putting her down that she told him off. To her surprise, he stopped insulting her.
She kept her promise to her son to stop using. He continued to show up, encouraging her and acknowledging the changes she made.
She met the goals she set for herself and graduated from therapy.
Please note: in this account I have simplified events and condensed the time frame, but it is entirely truthful.
I never saw her son. So, was her son a ghost? Was he angel? Was he an auditory and visual hallucination? Part of her mourning process? Or was his love for his mother so strong that a little thing like dying made no difference?