Seeing a psychic is almost a rite of passage for despairing bereaved parents, but to a pragmatist like me, booking that passage seems unlikely. I don’t think I buy into the premise of connecting with the dead with the aid of a medium, even if Oprah does – and perhaps especially if Oprah does.
My 12-year-old daughter, Natasha, passed away a few months ago, after challenging a brutal brain tumor for five years. In spite of my cynicism I’ll be accompanying a friend, someone who loves Natasha, to see a psychic who will meet with a small gathering to “deliver messages from departed loved ones,” according to her ad. My rational side knows this is ludicrous, but the other part of me — the part that yearns for my child – defies reason, because clutching at straws is better than clutching at thin air.
As bereaved parents, we are always searching for our children. I’ll spot a coat that Natasha used to wear on another child and I will track that coat, knowing the wearer isn’t my daughter but wanting to see it anyway, because I am looking at something of hers that she must have looked at a lot. Sometimes I’ll see a toothless infant dangling from a front carrier or a sock-plucking toddler in a stroller and I’ll recognize a smile or mannerism of Natasha’s from earlier days reflected back at me. I know that her physical being has left this world, but isn’t there just that slither of possibility that her spirit is still here with those she loved?
Natasha ‘came through’
My friend has had positive experiences with the psychic that we will see together. She lost a family member and the psychic brought her comfort and shared information that she couldn’t have had access to, she tells me. At a previous event, Natasha “came through,” she says. The psychic spoke of rainbows and two bridges and Peter Rabbit and her dad’s hurting wrist and two girls present with Natasha, who was wearing her hair in pigtails. Little of this makes any sense to us (and especially the hurting wrist).
But I know that my friend isn’t the only one who found solace from a psychic. Bereaved parents have told me about consultations that have been “transformative,” “exhilarating” even. Are they just gullible? That’s not the impression that I got.
If some psychics have found a receptive audience with Oprah and Dr. Phil, they have taken lambastings from others. An organization called the Skeptics Society, which promotes a “sound scientific viewpoint” in investigating the paranormal, has roasted those psychics that have found fame on network TV, such as John Edward whose show “Crossing Over” ran for five years.
Comparing Edward’s techniques to that of “entertainers, comedians and magicians,” Skeptics Society Executive Director Michael Shermer writes that he selects members of the studio audience by saying “I’m getting a George here.”
Cold and hot readings
“Of course such generalizations lead to a hit, where someone indeed knows a George, is related to a George or is a George,” Shermer says. “Now that he’s targeted his mark, the real reading begins in which Edward employs cold reading (techniques in which the psychic gets a sitter to reveal information about their loved ones without them being fully aware of it) and hot reading” (researching the sitter prior to the event).
But I take issue with Shermer describing psychics as dangerous because they are preventing the bereaved from “dealing with death head on.” That is awfully presumptuous and not true in the cases of those bereaved parents I’ve known who have taken that route.
The reading is on Saturday. It’s $130 at the door, cash only please and names are requested in advance of attendance. Interesting. I'll report back.
Suzanne Leigh is a writer and blogger living in San Francisco. She writes about her family at: