Do­mes­ti­cally Dis­turbed: To­pher Payne fears a ghost baby more than death.

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Tricia Brani­gan’s hus­band builds those lux­ury town­home com­mu­ni­ties that pop up in un­ex­pected lo­ca­tions where land is cheap, in­stantly gen­tri­fy­ing a sin­gle block of Bu­ford High­way, and then promptly walling it off so its res­i­dents never have to in­ter­act with the neigh­bors.

The re­sult­ing ef­fect is star­tling — you’ll drive past a ne­glected Tex­aco Sta­tion, then a hair weave place, and then there’s this big ter­rar­ium for white peo­ple, and then like a pre­paid cell phone store and a Check­ers.

I met the Brani­gans through work, when I had a job which re­quired me to call wealthy peo­ple and ask them for money. For what­ever rea­son, Tricia Brani­gan had no in­ter­est in writ­ing a check to the or­ga­ni­za­tion. But she would glee­fully spend thou­sands of dol­lars host­ing a fundrais­ing party in her home, a ges­ture as thought­ful as it was con­sis­tently in­ef­fec­tive.

The Brani­gan home is, of course, not in one of their pre­fab com­mu­ni­ties. They live in a sprawl­ing Buck­head mono­lith fea­tur­ing ev­ery sin­gle amenity their town­homes of­fer — garden tubs, Cal­i­for­nia clos­ets. They have six bath­rooms. I sub­mit to you that if six peo­ple in your house need to shit si­mul­ta­ne­ously, it’s time to re­view what you’re serv­ing them.

There’s a ten­nis court out back, oddly placed right next to the house, be­cause it used to be a salt­wa­ter pool. The pool did not have a fence, be­cause fences are ugly, and that’s why it was tragic but not sur­pris­ing when Tricia Brani­gan’s youngest child took a short stroll out­side and drowned.

This was 11 years ago. The child would be 14 now. I know this, be­cause they have a birth­day party for the child, ev­ery year. The child still has her own room, and pre­sum­ably her own bath­room. The Brani­gan Christ­mas card is a por­trait of the sur­viv­ing fam­ily, smil­ing cheer­fully on the cover. You open it, and it says, “Happy Hol­i­days from the Brani­gans, and our an­gel!” This is ac­com­pa­nied by a pic­ture of the child, with wings.

My hope is that if I do have a guardian an­gel, it isn’t some Ju­nior Lea­guer’s ghost baby. In what sit­u­a­tion would the ghost of a three year-old be of any as­sis­tance?

Casper the Friendly Ghost was pre­sum­ably a dead child. Did he ever do any­thing use­ful? Pic­ture “It’s a Won­der­ful Life,” if Ge­orge Bai­ley was at the mercy of a 30-pound guardian an­gel hold­ing a sippy cup.

Look. I get what she’s go­ing for here. Tricia Brani­gan, con­fronted by the great­est hor­ror a per­son could ever ex­pe­ri­ence, wanted to cel­e­brate her child, and the joy she brought in her brief life. But some­thing went awry, and she is in­stead craft­ing the con­tin­u­ing ad­ven­tures of Ghost Baby. This will be dis­cussed at length in the sur­viv­ing Brani­gan chil­dren’s even­tual ther­apy ses­sions.

In fo­cus­ing so ma­ni­a­cally on the joy of Ghost Baby, with the par­ties, and the creepy an­gel wings, Tricia Brani­gan has never dealt with the sim­ple fact of her cir­cum­stances: Her kid drowned. And that sucks.

At some point in our lives, each of us will be con­fronted by an unimag­in­able loss. Hope col­lides with re­al­ity, with plenty of col­lat­eral dam­age. The pain as­so­ci­ated with sor­row is the point, for the same rea­son phys­i­cal pain ex­ists: As an in­di­ca­tion that some­thing has gone wrong, and it needs to be ad­dressed.

It is meant to in­spire ac­tion — to rec­og­nize the mag­ni­tude of this event, to deal with it, and move for­ward. Sor­row is where the work hap­pens, and joy is the re­ward. And I mean gen­uine joy, not the man­u­fac­tured joy borne of de­nial, which would be dis­man­tled in an in­stant if any­one pointed out that you’re play­ing ten­nis over the ex­act spot where your child died.

When I die, I do not want peo­ple to plas­ter on smiles and throw a party and find creepy ways to keep my me­mory alive. I want moan­ing, keen­ing, wail­ing, gnash­ing of teeth. Self­flag­el­la­tion should be en­cour­aged.

I want peo­ple to grieve. And then I want them to do some­thing else. Be­cause life is for the liv­ing. And sor­row is the nec­es­sary pause that proves a life had mean­ing.

To­pher Payne is an At­lanta-based play­wright, and the au­thor of the book “Nec­es­sary Lux­u­ries: Notes on a Semi-Fab­u­lous Life.” Find out more at to­pher­

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