Thursday, February 28, 2019

John Oliver and the Rare Medium Beef

Last Sunday, John Oliver did a devastating segment on an industry that preys on the emotions of troubled people.  No, I'm not talking about the purveyors of fake cancer "cures", I'm talking about psychics.

Full disclosure:  I have paid an animal communicator.  Twice.  Both were times when Maggie, my little white cat, was deathly ill and I had no idea what was wrong with her.  The second time was three months after Mr. Brilliant had died.  A stubborn upper respiratory infection had seemingly morphed into a horrible skin disease which manifested as suppurating, crusty sores on first her ears, then her eyelids, her paw pads, and her anus.  I'd had to approve Mr. B. being taken off of life support just three months earlier, and now my beloved babycat was deathly ill and three vets had not been able to tell me what it was.  Maggie was 15 and my head told me it was time but I was unsure if it really was time or if it was just me having run out of gas and just wanting it to be over. 

I don't even remember what this animal communicator said.  There were things that resonated, but I can't tell if she gleaned the things she said from what little information I gave her or if she really can telepath with animals. I do know that she didn't tell me "Maggie wants you to know that it's time to go."

I'm on the fence about these animal communicators. I know that I was pretty desperate when I enlisted the one I did. 

I've never understood people who AREN'T in a life crisis who go to psychics.  A friend of mine went to a party where they had a psychic (which says it all right there), and the psychic said to her "I'm seeing the name 'Steve'."  Well, who DOESN'T know someone named Steve, especially in our age group?  And have you EVER seen a psychic who doesn't tell a bereaved person "S/he wants you to know that s/he loves you very much."  This isn't rocket science.

It's not that I don't believe that the dead can communicate with us, at least for a while.  If you've ever had what I call "dream-visits", you know that they are very different from "dreaming about" the person who died.  In the latter, the person never died or comes back from the dead.  Those are just dreams, and they are obviously about wish fulfillment.  In dream-visits, you both know that they are dead.  They FEEL different. 

Almost 30 years ago, a work colleague was killed when he was hit by a train.  He was a lovely man and his secretary adored him. She was a devout young Catholic who believed in heaven and hell and nothing else -- until the dream visit, when he visited her in the courtyard of the building they worked in and told her that he was OK and she should not be sad...but that he had to leave now.  About 20 years later, I thought about that when his widow showed up on an episode of "Hoarders," a show where the worst hoarders are almost universally people who have never come to terms with the death of a loved one or a divorce.  I think about her sometimes and wonder how she's doing now.

After my mother's husband died in 2000, I had dream-visits almost every night for a month.  In each one of them, he would ask me, "Where's your mother?"  Through that month, he became less sick with every visit.  Whereas in the first visit he was sallow, thin, in pajamas and a bathrobe the way he was when he died, by the time the visits stopped, he was back in jeans and flannel shirt and healthy.  But every time, it was "Where's your mother?"  It was as if he was trying to visit HER, but for whatever reason was unable to.

When my mother died, there were two dream visits, though they took a while.  In the first one, she was in the assisted living residence that she'd been in for a few months before she died 36 hours after going home.  I was shocked that she was still alive, and said "You're going to be so mad, Mom...we thought you were dead and we got rid of all your stuff!  She just patted me on the arm and said it was OK.  We chatted for a while, and she was as calm and happy as I'd ever seen her.  And suddenly I blurted out, "I miss you, Mom.  Not very much, but I do miss you."  And I waited for her to fly into one of her patented rages, but she didn't.  She just patted my arm and said "It's OK."  In the second one, we were sitting on a bench in the cemetery, she was wearing the clothes she was buried in, and we were just chatting about -- I don't even know what.

Mr. Brilliant took a LONG time to visit, and I was sure it was because he hated me -- hated me for not staying 24 x 7 in the ICU at the local hospital that botched his care at the end, hated me for working through that final illness, hated me for letting them stick tubes in him at all, hated me for choosing to let him go instead of letting them cut a hole in his throat for a trache and put a gastric feeding tube into his belly. (I still wrestle with all that, and I always will).  Then one day I was in the shower and I felt this wave of his rage, but I knew it wasn't directed at me; it was directed at his parents -- a rage that had come out after he'd stopped self-medicating when he was ill and which had terrified him.  And I started to cry and said "You have to let it go.  You have to forgive them.  They won't let you move on until you forgive them."

A few days later, I smelled cigarette smoke in the house. A lot of it.  I don't smoke.  I went outside, thinking perhaps our neighbor was sneaking a smoke, as he did sometimes.  No smoke smell outside.  This happened three times.  After the third time, I said "You know, you'd think you could find a way to let me know you're here that wouldn't piss me off."  The next time, I smelled pot.  A lot of it.  The good stuff he used to smoke in Jamaica -- green and loamy and sticky.  The smell was so strong that someone outside would have to be smoking a spliff the size of a cigar to make it smell that much in the house. 

I'd have dream visits too, where we were just talking, though I never remembered when I woke up what we talked about.  The last one was when I was in Prague for work in 2015.  In the dream, Mr. B. was there with me.  We were just talking; that seems to be what happens in these visits, no matter who it's from.  Suddenly I realized that his skin was peeling.  It was little half-moon-shaped peelings.  I said, "You really need to put some moisturizer on that,  you know."  And he said "No, it's just that there's only so long I can incarnate before this happens.  I have to go now."

And that was the last one.

I've seen him since then.  I saw him in the A&P parking lot in New Jersey once.  I saw him at the airport here when I came to look at the house I now live in.  I know those sightings weren't him, but how do we know they can't use other people's bodies to manifest momentarily?  He's been in this house twice.  I see him as a shadow, always in the dark, always at night.  I know it's him because the shadow is tall.  I guess he can't incarnate anymore.  And that's OK.

They say that if you see a penny on the ground, it's a "penny from heaven."  They say that if you see a cardinal in your yard, it's your dead spouse, to which I say that if the cardinal I always see in my yard is Mr. B., I wish he wouldn't bring his new girlfriend and set up a nest here right in front of me. 

The bottom line for me is this:  You don't need psychics.  I have no doubt that there are people whose perceptions are ticked up a notch or two.  But those are not the people charging you a hundred bucks to tell you that your dead mother loves you.  Those people have access to Google and MyLife and Spokeo and a host of places where they can find out about you long in advance and know that you have a friend named Steve.  Or that your mother died in 1997.  But I've experienced enough to believe that yes, we DO go on in some fashion.  I've always envisioned it as being like the movie "Defending Your Life," where if you don't get it right you have to keep doing it until you do...and you have a trial to determine if you got it right.  Maybe I honed into Mr. B's trial that day in the shower and told him that he had to forgive his parents or he couldn't move on.  Or maybe it was just me begging him to forgive ME for the ways I failed him.  I don't know.  I do believe, though, that if we're open to the possibility, they do speak to us.  They don't need a middleman.


But here's what I do know:  I know that we just don't know.  The dead have the answer to the question that most of us go through life wondering about.  And some middle-aged woman from Long Island is not going to be able to answer it for us.  We just have to wait till we get there.  And hope that they're all waiting for us there.  Including the pets.  And that they haven't run off with Meryl Streep.  Because, well, who the hell can compete with Meryl Streep? 


  1. Good. No words. I don't believe in this stuff. I didn't stop reading. I'm clenching my arms around me. Keep going.

  2. Defending Your Life is one of my top ten movies.

    The only visit I ever experienced was my maternal grandmothers shortly after she died. Nothing from my Steve . Other people report sightings but not me. I’ve stopped wondering why.

  3. Mourning is a habit that's hard to stop. When The Crank's beautiful girlfriend died, over nine years ago,I was asked if I wanted a little souvenir urn, about the size of a coffee cup, with a teaspoonful or so of her ashes. I said yes. Big mistake.

    She doesn't visit me. She wouldn't. She was a psychiatrist and didn't believe in ghosts. but for the past two years, I've been talking to the urn. Telling it (and I guess her) that I miss her. Catching her up on the news about her kids. Feeling guilty every time I go out on a date with someone else. Crazy! And she would have been the first to jeer. She didn't believe in afterlife. When it's over, it's over, was her philosophy.

    But yeah, certain people and certain animals haven't really gotten the word. I had a dog who got cancer. I wanted to end his misery (he was vomiting, hiding under the bed, and not eating.) They told me at the animal hospital they could remove the cancer surgically and the dog would still have three or four good years. So I said go ahead. They put a white rope around his neck and led him out of the room. He kept looking back at me, as they led him out, as if to ask, "Is this okay? Should I go with them?"

    Then I asked, "When are you doing the surgery?"

    "Oh, not for another week," they said casually. We have to feed him up intravenously first so he'll be strong enough for the operation, next week.

    So my dog was going to be lying in a cage for a week, in a strange place, with other barking dogs, an intravenous needle in his paw, scared to death.

    Right there, I should have screamed, "No damnit! Give me my dog back and let's just put him out of his misery." But I didn't. I trusted the professionals, or I was too intimated by the professionals, just as I was years later when The Crank's Beautiful Girlfriend was in the ICU, bleeding into her brain, and somebody on the medical team put her on blood thinner so she wouldn't get blood clots in her legs.

    A week after they led my dog away, they called me from the animal hospital. "Your dog is on the operating table," one of the pros told me. "Now that we have him open, we can see the tumor has wrapped itself around his aorta and vena cava. There's no way we can get that out without killing him. If it were my dog, Crank, I'd put him to sleep." Which I told them to do.

    So I don't see ghosts. But I am constantly haunted by them anyway. I talk to her. I talk to the dog. I tell them I'm sorry. It doesn't help.

    The official wisdom is, we need to let go of the ghosts. But what if they won't let go of us?

    Yours crankily,
    The New York Crank

  4. @New York Crank: I tell Mr. B. I'm sorry all the time -- sorry for spending the last 8 years of his life with my nose buried in That Damn Black Box trying to keep up with an impossible workload. Sorry for not realizing that his personality changes meant something was very, very wrong with him (not that it would have mattered; when he DID have manifestations of something wrong he didn't seek medical care). Sorry for not having enough internal resources to let things roll off my back in those last six months. Sorry I didn't fight to stay with him in the ICU at Valley Hospital instead of going home to sleep when they said I had to leave because visiting hours were over. Sorry I couldn't handle seeing his eyes open when they suctioned him after they took the vent out and freaked out so they wouldn't let me back in his room and he was alone when he died (even though I was in a chair right outside). Sorry for just not measuring up the way other people do. So many things I hate myself for and they haunt me every single day. Yes, he's visited, but he's never said "You did the best you could." You know what my idea of hell is? Reaching the other side and having him turn his back on me because I failed him.


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