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Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Here are my favorite novels for 2023, with links to my reviews!

Here are my favorite 23 novels from 2023:   

Count The Ways is an extraordinarily moving, heartfelt, epic novel about a woman's life, loves, and losses as a mother of three. One of my favorite novels of all time -- and a sequel is coming this year!

Cara Romero is one of the greatest characters of all time, and I highly recommend you get to know her via the audiobook version of this fantastic novel, as whoever does her voice does it with humor and pathos in a way that avoids mockery. So, so good!

I listened to the audiobook version of this gorgeous family novel, which is magnificently read by Meryl Streep, who starts off telling a story about the one who got away, but winds up telling us about the more meaningful loves that endure and sustain us.

This was my first Dennis Lehane book, but it certainly won't be my last. It's a mob story with a little bit more violence than I like, but it's also a mother's story about figuring out what matters and fighting to protect your children. I especially recommend this as an audiobook for the pitch-perfect Boston accents, but it's an extraordinary novel however you consume it. 

I loved this book! Both a historical novel and a critique of racism in the rarified halls of classical music, this is also a suspenseful, gripping mystery that will keep you turning the pages.

What a sensational novel-- so funny and delightful and feminist, with a main character I adored who is raising a spunky, spirited daughter I loved even more.

This is somehow the third, five-star book I read this year about children of WWII taken from their homes and placed with other families (the first two being The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah and Beyond That, The Sea, also reviewed here), but it's a tribute to the author that everything about her novel felt fresh, immediate, and deeply moving. This book was the only one of the three told from the Jewish children's perspective, and it's powerful, poignant, and thought-provoking. 

Whoo, what a wild ride! I love that this book drew me in by seeming to be historical fiction about a black woman laying claim to territory in the West at a time when doing so was one of the few paths allowed to Black women trying to achieve financial independence. And THEN the novel turns out to be a horror story rich with metaphors about love and family acceptance. I don't love horror as a genre, but this was a great book.

Absolutely brilliant, heart-wrenching novel about a Black, enslaved jockey captured in an oil painting that becomes an object of scholarship and study in the 21st century. The novel moves back and forth in time between then and now, when a black academic finds himself reluctantly falling for a white woman who's been studying this painting. The obvious and subtle ways racism constricts Black lives runs like a poison thread through both stories, and the novel's operatic climax haunts me still, six months after I finished the book. The writing is extraordinary; Brooks is a genius. 

I can't believe I used to think I didn't like historical fiction! (Anyone else who feels that way should read some Kristin Hannah.) Beyond that, The Sea is a lovely, moving story about a London girl sent to live with an American family to protect her from the bombs falling during WWII. This engrossing novel explores how the complicated feelings this raises for everyone affects the rest of all their lives. 

This is a late-bloomer, coming-of-age story in which Maddy, raised in London by Ghanaian parents, must learn to be less mature and responsible to find her own voice. I love how particular and yet universal Maddy's story is. Obviously I am not a young, Black, English woman struggling to get a foothold in my career, dealing with a disabled father, dating for the first time--yet I thoroughly related to Maddy's guilt, anxiety, inner critical voice, work frustrations, and sexual yearnings--while at the same time feeling grateful I was being given a window into a life so different from my own. Maddy is a vulnerable human you cannot help but root for--a bit like Bridget Jones but with Google and deeper thoughts. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/5266916355

The smartest romance I've ever read. Razor sharp in its wittiness, deeply affecting in its portrayal of the protagonist, a bit biting in its revelations about celebrity culture. I couldn't believe the writer wasn't a former comedy writer for SNL; she nails the backstage humor of working on a show like that hilariously well. When you need something fun, pick this book up. 

I love speculative fiction, and this is a great showcase of why.  A mother witnesses something horrible happen to her only child -- and then, miraculously, wakes up the next day and discovers it's the day before, and the horrible thing hasn't happened yet. I loved following this character back in time, and so will you.

Every woman who has (or ever will have) turned 30 will laugh, cry and feel more self-compassion after reading this novel, which I cannot recommend highly enough. I gave this as a gift to several young women in my life, and please let my rave review encourage you to gift this to yourself. 

This is an incredible novel about an almost unbelievable (but tragically true) horror story. In New York, The Willowbrook State School, meant to provide education and enrichment to children with developmental disabilities, instead became an overcrowded hellscape of abuse and terror. This novel imagines twin sisters, one of whom is committed to the "school," and the other of whom is mistaken for her sister when she tries to find her there. I would have found this novel gripping and deeply disturbing even if my younger sister hadn't died in Willowbrook, but knowing how true-to-life this book was broke my heart. The story is fast-paced and gripping, too. 

What starts as a humorous romance turns out to be a fantastic, complex story that will give you an education about the history of Puerto Rico. The central character is a high-end wedding planner with (of course) no interest in getting married herself. Her gay brother is a politician being blackmailed into voting against his conscience. Their addict father is dead, and their political activist mother ran away when they were young. These main characters are joined by many entertaining side characters in an  ambitious novel that is so entertaining, you may not even realize you are being educated about the U.S. role in Puerto Rico's colonization as you read it. 

This is a beautiful novel about women sent to a Catholic home for unwed mothers and forced to sign away their babies in the early 1960s. This book deserves a wide readership, but I think the not-great title and cover art might have doomed it. The story tackles lots of hard issues (racism, sexual assault) while telling an engaging, heart-wrenching story involving richly drawn, authentic characters. Please read it!

This is a multi-layered family story about a wealthy man who makes a terrible mistake in his youth, which convinces him he never deserves love or happiness, and the hapless woman who tries to emotionally rescue him. This doomed couple have triplets, and their engaging story is told by a mystery narrator whose relationship to everyone is revealed in the book's final third. I found the novel nuanced and haunting and fantastically well-written.

This dystopian novel is set in a horrifying but all too realistic near-future when anti-Asian sentiment and an economic crisis has left society in chaos and allowed for the formation of a police state. A "patriotic" bill strips citizens of many rights and allows for children to be removed from parents considered "anti-American." Our protagonist is an Asian-American mom labeled a subversive when one of her poems is used in a protest. She runs away to avoid her child being taken--and this lyrical, fairy-tale-like novel begins several years later when her son tries to find her. I found the whole book terrifying and the ending deeply moving. 

We are all lucky this book found its way to print. This is a first-hand account of life inside Angola Prison told from the perspective of a young inmate sentenced to life there. How he finds meaning in a life behind bars, how any of the men there do, is a story worth hearing. I recommend the audiobook, as reading the Black dialect in print makes for a slow read, but the voices will move and transport you.

OMG, if this novel doesn't turn you on, see a doctor. A divorced 40-something mom takes her teen daughter and her daughter's friends to see a boy band, and one of the boys in the band falls hard for the mom, a slim, youthful-looking art-gallery owner. Of course she resists him; she cannot have an affair with a 20-year-old! But this 20 yo is unbelievably mature and smooth and HOT and he slowly, so deliciously slowly, wins her over. The book is full of  exquisite sex scenes that revolve entirely around the woman's pleasure. The whole book is one long, languorous, yearning buildup. Five throbbing stars! 

What a unique, sweet, touching, intelligent book. The main character (the one who helps connect all the others) is an octopus imprisoned in an aquarium. The novel is full of quirky small-town characters who all long for or show love in unusual ways, and by novel's end, you will be rooting for all of them to find it.

Some books deserve more than five stars, and this book is one of them. It's a rarity to have a novelist who can weave together language that reads like poetry *and* write a compelling story *and* create characters in whom the reader feels deeply invested *and* write a book so damned good you never want it to end (yet also so good you can't stop turning the pages). This novel is all those things. Do not let its length deter you. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/5776703086

Monday, February 28, 2022

Have you got family issues? Join me in this series of workshops

Updated for 2023:

In my relative youth, I focused on how to have more fun. But over the past year or two, I’ve been focusing my energy on how to be a better person, studying psychological theories, family dynamics, my own behaviors, spiritual principles, and how to fit all these elements together to feel, be and do better each day. 

I've come to realize being kinder and more self-aware will lead me to greater peace and contentment than any amount of fun will (not that there’s anything wrong with fun; I try to incorporate plenty of that in my life, too, as evidenced by this shot of me and my mother going to a live show of The Price is Right!).

But this is the first time in my life when I have actively sought out and studied tools to help me be more present, more self-aware, more open, less judgmental, softer, more patient. I had family therapy with my daughter. I saw my own personal therapist. My wife and I took a 40-day meditation challenge together. I joined online support groups. My mother and I are taking a 10-week intuition and spirituality course together. And I’ve taken several online courses on how to cope with family estrangement as I continue to figure out how to live with my grief over losing my son and then having my granddaughter (above right)  disappeared from my life.

Next month, there’s a free, four-day summit of 30 workshops being offered for those whose family relationships are causing them pain: "Moving Beyond Family Struggles." The workshops start airing each day at noon EST.  

You can learn more about or register for this event here:

The catch to it being free is that you have only 24 hours to watch all the presentations each day – though for the early bird price of $97, you can have lifetime access to all these workshops plus audio files, meditations, and other healing tools. I might be more skeptical of these offerings, but I have already taken and benefited from online courses from several of the presenters, so I know this is a high-quality group.

Since my wife and I rearranged our budget to allow me to stay home, I have a finite amount of discretionary income, $200 a month for what we call my “fun money.” So when I see an offering like this, I have to decide if it’s worth spending half my fun money on it. In this case, I think it might be. 

I’ve read the book The Rules of Estrangement by the first presenter, Dr. Josh Coleman and have taken a helpful eight-week set of workshops with him.  

A mentee of his, Barbra Drizin (https://barbradrizin.com/), leads her own workshops, which I’ve enjoyed even more, in which she brilliantly breaks down into bite-sized lessons big concepts on everything from attachment theory to coping with emotional triggers (and then delightfully delivers these lessons in a New-York accented voice that reminds me of Fran Drescher in The Nanny.) Barbra's down-to-earth encouragement greatly enhances the lessons she offers.  

And Laura Davis, whose most recent memoir The Burning Light of Two Stars: A Mother Daughter Story is being given away free to all participants, is a brilliant writer whose work I have long admired.

I learn better when I am learning with someone, though, rather than on my own, so I am hoping some of you will go through this program with me.  (I am happy to have persuaded my grown foster daughter Amy to take one of Barbra’s courses with me, a weekly Wednesday life-enrichment program that we started last week.) 

Are there any of you out there who’d like to sign up to discuss some of these concepts with me? Although the workshop focuses on family estrangement and how to live your best life in spite of it, there are also courses on co-dependency, anxiety, divorce, communication, trauma, and a host of other issues that affect most of us, particularly in this historical moment. 

I’ll be trying to watch the workshops at warp speed but will then sign up if, as seems likely, I can't watch them all within one day. I hope I hear from some of you that you’ve joined me. 

Discussions deepen learning, so I hope there are at least a few of you who will do this work and have these conversations with me.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

I doubled my reading! Here are the books I loved during the pandemic.

Like many of us, I’ve found the pandemic greatly enhanced my reading life, allowing me to attend many more online book groups and author readings than I ever could have in person and to read more than 200 books over the past two years, with more and more of them being “read” as audiobooks. Some of these books were so fantastic I wanted to take a moment to recommend them. And I wanted to share what I’ve learned about my reading habits and how I hope that will affect my reading goals for 2022.

I counted up and categorized everything I read by genre and author, by gender and race and topic, and discovered, no surprise, that I read mostly literary fiction and thrillers by white women – but few, if any, of those books made my list of favorites. So I was happy to see that I’ve increased the number of books I read by Black authors and other POC by 5 percent over the past two years from 24 percent in 2020 to 29 percent in 2021, and I hope to continue hitting about a 70/30 split in my reading this year. Having this as a goal can help guide my choices as I’m deciding between two books. Since I’ve now joined Netgalley, become a regular user of my library app Libby, and am an avid user of the amazing app Scrib’d, having to be judicious in my reading choices is a daily concern. 

Deciding to read more books by authors of color is not an act of altruism; it’s a direct benefit to me. Turns out my favorite novels tackle issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and/or or the environmental crisis, and in my experience, authors of color are more likely to include these subjects as part of their storylines. It’s not that I love reading about depressing topics, but books about something bigger than navel gazing (e.g., infidelity, murder solving, family secrets) are just more compelling and make for a better read. Plus in deft authorial hands, these subjects are not depressing; seeing brave characters confront challenges and overcome them is inspiring.

I used to think I didn’t like non-fiction, but as I’m aging, I’m coming to enjoy more memoirs, plus reading more poetry and discovering several excellent books about how to be more anti-racist have increased the number of non-fiction books I’ve read, too. I also am surprised to see how many of the books I’ve enjoyed have been speculative or sci-fi books, as I hadn’t previously thought of myself as a fan of sci-fi; this is probably because of the surging popularity of near-future dystopias. 

I am a high grader on Goodreads, giving most books I finish a four or a five, but that’s because I don’t finish a lot of crappy books. (Life’s too short.) But of all the five-star reviews I’ve given, only a dozen or so novels are still sharp in my mind, all books I would definitely highly recommend if you’re looking for a good read. Here they are, starting with the most recently read. Each one links back to my Goodreads review. 

Razorblade Tears by S.A. Cosby – a fantastic crime thriller about two fathers, one black and one white, who reluctantly team up to find out who killed their sons, who were married to one another. The fathers were homophobes who missed the chance to accept their sons when they were alive, so they are driven after the murders by a potent mix of guilt and regret.
The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chen – a deeply disturbing near-future dystopia that creates for-profit mother-training centers. If you’ve ever seen family court in action, this chilling book is all too believable. 
DetransitionBaby by Torrey Peters – a wholly original, funny, moving novel about three individuals contemplating parenthood: a trans woman, a detransitioned man, and a cis hetero woman.

The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. – a poignant, powerful novel about two men who love and make a life with one another despite living under the tortures of slavery. 

The Knockout Queen by Rufi Thorpe – Two misfit, outcast kids with no stable parents, one a gay boy and one a freakishly tall girl, become best friends and help one another through high school until their paths painfully diverge.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi – A Black woman scientist, who spent part of her girlhood in her mother’s home country of Ghana, researches a cure for addiction in the wake of a family tragedy. 

Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin – The surviving sister of a murder victim whose killer was never convicted finds her adulthood shaped by the need to placate her broken parents and find her sister’s killer. 

My Dark Vanessa by Elizabeth Kate Russell – A young woman falls in love with a teacher and lets their affair shape her future, taking decades to realize that she was groomed and victimized. 

This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel – A beautiful family novel featuring richly drawn parents and siblings who rally around their youngest member when she decides to transition in early childhood.. 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid – A hilarious, affecting novel about a Black babysitter and her relationships with the white mother who hires her, the white boyfriend who courts her, and the white child she cares for and comes to love. 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead – A dark, hard novel about a correctional facility for Black youth in the 1950s and how friendship helped some young men survive the brutal conditions. I still remember the sharp surprise of the twist at the end.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins – One of the best novels I’ve ever read, focused on the gang murder of a family and the attempt by the surviving mother and child to flee to the United States. Written with compassion and sensitivity, the determination of the mother is especially compelling when one considers how many thousands of such desperate mothers attempt this trek with their small children each year. 

I also discovered that everything Chris Bohjalian and Liane Moriarty writes is wonderful and absorbing and reaffirmed for myself that I just don't like book series.  

And here are my top 10 favorite non-fiction reads of the past two years, which I am disappointed to see doesn't include any poetry, something I will also focus on more in the year ahead: 

Educated by Tara Westover – my favorite-ever memoir, about a young woman raised on a right-wing compound by a crazy, controlling father, and how her world opened up when she got to go to school. 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents --
A master class in presenting a well-supported, compelling argument. Makes clear how much our society is based on an unspoken system of racial caste.

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by my hero Ronan Farrow – the shocking story not just of how Harvey Weinstein and other predators got away with sexually assaulting women for decades but also of how hard it was to get this story out after NBC tried to kill it. 

How to Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X Kendi – Foundational work that helped me understand the difference between saying “I’m not racist” and learning to live as an active anti-racist.

The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova – This research-based memoir by a woman who learned to play championship  poker contains surprising lessons about how women’s need to please costs us in myriad ways.

I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom -- because sometimes you just gotta laugh and navel gaze. This one must be enjoyed via the audio version because there are songs.

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories about Racism by Amber Ruffin – the title says it all. While there is a lot of humor in this book, the cumulative effect of realizing how much shit Black people have to take in their day-to-day lives should hit white people like a brick to the head.

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence by Michael Pollan – Brilliantly researched and compelling, with startling news about how popular psychedelic drugs were becoming among researchers in the 1950s before anti-drug messaging based on racism shut that research down. Bill, the father of AA, was actually only able to get clean after having a transcendent experience while tripping on LSD, but he and his biographers felt that didn’t fit with his image, so they took that out of his story in the Big Book. Of all the stories Pollan shares, I found that one the most disturbing. How many alcoholics thought they were failures because they couldn't pray the booze away while they were denied the real story of how Bill got clean?

A Year of Lovingkindness to Myself by Brigid Lowry – a beautiful, compassionate book of essays about treating ourselves and one another more gently. 

Take some time to think about what your favorite reads have been since the start of the pandemic. What subjects stand out? Which authors? I am surprised to see that even though less than 30 percent of the novels I read were by people of color, 50 percent of my favorites were. How might studying the breakdown of what you’ve been reading affect your own reading choices for 2022? I'm excited that this  examination of my own reading has helped guide my reading for the year ahead. 

Happy reading, everybody! I love to talk about books almost as much as I love to read them, so please share your own thoughts and recommendations in the comments. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A medium helped me talk to Kyle -- maybe

I’ve recently joined a spiritual support group for grieving parents, Helping Parents Heal, that is
dedicated to convincing its members that our children are with us in spirit. Unlike my other bereaved-parent groups, which are careful not to proselytize or push individual beliefs, HPH is unapologetic about proselytizing. The leaders of the group want parents to believe in the afterlife; they attempt to reassure us in our grief by telling us that our children's spirits are always around us. The group leaders encourage us to look for signs, and they often recount the signs they themselves have seen from their own deceased children.

I vacillate between wanting to believe every penny and feather we find is evidence our children exist in spirit to sadly thinking we’re all deluding ourselves. 

Last week HPH had a special online meeting with a medium, and while other of their online meetings have drawn maybe a dozen parents, this Zoom had 175 people in attendance. Seeing the number of attendees made me cry, just to see how many parents were desperate for a word from their dead child--and to realize most of us would not be called upon. 

I’ve been to other group gatherings with a medium, one at my local library where the guy seemed like a charlatan, and the other at a Theresa Caputo show to which my mother took me; an experience you can read about here. I did not get called on directly in either case. A friend and I who both lost our sons to drug overdoses have talked about hiring a medium to give us a reading, but we have both been too afraid of being disappointed. Still, as I was getting ready to attend this Zoom meeting, I silently begged Kyle to please come through for me. 

(I talk to my son sometimes because it’s easier to show faith than not when one is not sure what one believes. Maybe he can hear me; maybe not. No one is hurt by me having a conversation with my late son, even if I am only imagining what he'd say back.)  

The medium, Becky Hesseltine, was a very sweet young woman; she led us through some deep breathing and then stilled herself and tried to open to a connection with whatever spirit was pushing to come through. Other mediums I have seen, including Caputo, start by shouting out a clue – (e.g., “I’m seeing an older woman whose name starts with an M,” and then they wait for someone in the audience to shout out, “Yes, my mother’s name was Mary.”) But Becky didn’t do that; she called on people individually and told us our loved ones were there, and then she tried to share the spirits’ messages with that loved one. She seemed incredibly genuine. And, touchingly, a little bit nervous. I can only imagine the pressure one feels facing a group of 175 grieving parents, worrying you’ll disappoint them. 

Becky asked each person she called on to confirm that she was on the right track by saying something like “Yes” or “I understand.” So as she was saying things, her listener was saying, “Yes, I understand that, yes, that makes sense,” adding to the authenticity of the whole event. For the first woman, she said, “I see your mother.” The woman immediately had tears in her eyes and nodded vigorously that she understood. “Your mother is with your son,” Becky told her. It turned out the woman’s mother had died four months earlier and she’d wanted to know if they were together. She was hugely relieved to learn they were. The second woman, who had lost her daughter, was skeptical enough that she didn’t say yes or I understand to many things, even when they were really close. “Are you wearing your daughter’s earrings?” Becky asked the woman. “No.” She said. But it turned out she was wearing her daughter’s rings, which seems pretty close.

Becky only got to call on three of the 175 of us, and to my enormous surprise and relief, mine was the third and final name called. I was in tears of disbelief as soon as I heard my name. Becky started by telling me that a female, a mother figure was there to talk to me, and I responded by shaking my head no. My mother is alive; she must have the wrong person. My heart sank. But then Becky said “Well let’s make sure this person is here for you, ok? This woman died from a cancer in her lower abdomen.”  “Oh!” I said, "Oh, yes, my grandmother died of pancreatic cancer." So Becky said, “OK then, she is here for you.” I was in a kind of shock, as I’d never dreamed I would be hearing from my grandmother, who died in 1995. 

If you would like to watch a video of the entire reading, it's here. (If you want to skip ahead to my portion, it starts at minute 33.) My daughter Jamie has watched it and is convinced it shows Kyle speaking to me. "That's it, Mom, proof! We know now Kyle exists in spirit. If anyone doubts it, we have it on tape." I wish I felt that certainty.

Becky went on to tell me many things that affirmed she was really talking to my grandmother: “Your grandmother was tough,” Becky said. “She had to really be tough.” This was certainly true, as she’d been dropped off at an orphanage when she was five by a family that couldn’t feed her. “She had to do a lot of things alone from an early age.” Yes, she was widowed young and had to raise my mother by

“She really wants you to know she’s `sharp as a tack’ and `can hear everything,’ This was literally something my grandmother used to tell me and my mother all the time. The phrase “sharp as a tack” was too on the nose not to be clear evidence of my grandmother. 

“She shares your pain, she understands you, Becky said. “She has your son there with you and she wants you to know she understands your suffering.”

“Yes,” I answered, weeping. “She lost a son, too.”  (This picture from my first wedding is a picture of my grandmother and her son, my Uncle Steve.)

“Yes,” Becky affirmed. “That’s why she understands. She’s always watching out for you.”

 Really? This was surprising. I must admit I had never given a thought to whether my grandmother existed in spirit and was watching over me. But perhaps that’s why she was pushing to the front of the line the first time a medium communicated with me. Maybe I've been ignoring her as she tried to talk to me for the past 25 years.

Starting with the specificity of saying my grandmother died of a cancer in her abdomen (how could she know that?), Becky’s reading of my grandmother was just dead on. “She played a lot of roles in your life,” Becky said (Yes, she was like a second mother to me; my mom and I lived with her off and on throughout my childhood; she cared for me whenever I was sick). 

Finally, Becky said she was turning her attention to the person she knew I wanted to see, my son, though then interrupted herself to say, “My goodness, your grandmother is powerful.” She said my grandmother was very fierce and demanding and she was having trouble stopping her and tuning in to hear my son, but finally she did.

Sadly, this is where the reading veered off from utterly amazing to more like other readings I’ve seen, filled with what sometimes seemed like guesses, some of which fit and some of which didn’t. Becky started by saying she gathered that my son had died suddenly. Yes. And she eventually asked if it was from substances, from an injection, and I said yes, he'd died of an overdose. 

But before that she asked if my son had a disability, something wrong on his right side, like maybe paralysis on his right side, and I said no, nothing like that, though we don't know what might have happened as he died (nor, as Renee wondered, which arm he shot up when he overdosed). Anyway, we let that go, because we didn't know what it meant.

Becky said Kyle had a giant heart , an immense heart, and that he loved his family, and that he loved our family dinners and always had fun at them. He said we had a lot of fun together as a family, that even when we no longer lived together he loved coming home for family dinners. (Which I agreed was true.)

She then said he was saying something about public speaking and she asked me if he had trouble with

public speaking and I laughed and said no, he was a stand-up comedian (see one of his adolescent performances, above), and she said something like, “Oh I have to remember whenever someone tells me something and I think they mean a negative, I have it backward. So he was actually the opposite, extra comfortable with public speaking!” And while this was true, it felt like a reach to go for the “Oh I meant the opposite” answer. Also, perhaps Kyle did have trouble with public speaking; he was quite nervous before every show and had to push himself hard to perform and hadn’t performed in years when he died, so maybe he was trying to say something about that and I missed it altogether. But I didn’t like not feeling an immediate aha over everything Becky said. Why must everything my son says be vague and coded. (Well, ok, because he’s dead, I get it, but I wanted to feel we were having a magical experience, and I didn’t.)

Becky said my son kept parts of himself very private and didn't share them, and I agreed this was true. She said he wanted me to know that he always felt fully accepted by me, that he knew I accepted all the parts of him, even the secret ones that he didn't like to share. Also true. (You can read more about Kyle's secrets here.)

She said Kyle is helping a lot of people. Renee (who was with me during the reading) wasn't sure if Becky meant Kyle was helping people down here on earth or off wherever he is. His big heart makes him want to look after people, Becky told me, and she seemed to suggest that unlike my grandmother, my son wasn’t always watching over me, that he was busy watching over a lot of people. Although she didn’t mention my daughter by name, I felt that was who she meant, but this is entirely my own conjecture. 

There were other things that weren't right on the nose with what she said about Kyle. For example, she asked if I found his body or if he was home when he died, but I said no, I saw him in his coffin but didn't find his body and he wasn't home when he died. Becky seemed confused and said well, he's home now, he keeps talking about home and says he’s definitely home with you. Only afterward did I realize: of course he is home with me now; his ashes are buried in my backyard under an apple tree we planted in his honor, the remainder are reserved in a bag in my bedroom closet in case his daughter ever wants them. So yes, in a literal sense, he is home with me now and forever.

Becky’s main message was of the love he feels for all of us, how big his heart is, how he wishes he could have been more open with us while he was alive. Becky seemed very genuine. She didn't act like a big fancy mystic; she just seemed natural and down to earth. She called specifically on three of us and gave us each a specific reading about our own people. She stated a lot of facts about all of these people that could not have been guessed or looked up.

I had wondered in the past if mediumship could be explained by ESP. Maybe there are no spirits, but mediums can use psychic abilities to pick out of our heads what we want to hear and say it back to us. But this experience with Becky confirmed for me that mediums do exist who can pick up on some kind of communication from the spirit world, as I had no thoughts of my grandmother that Becky could have picked out of my head; my grandmother's arrival was a complete surprise to me. Still, despite this confirmation, I was left feeling almost as empty and disappointed as before I had the reading, which makes me feel very ungrateful. But I didn't want vague ideas that could apply to many young men. I wanted my son to appear before me in a blazing ring of fire. I want to be able to hug his muscled shoulders. I want to feel his arms around me. Or at the very least I want a message no one but him could give me. 

Also, I would not have pictured my son and my grandmother together in the afterlife. They seem so unconnected from one another, as my grandmother barely knew my son; she already had dementia by the time she lived near him when he was a little boy, and his main memory of her was being dragged to the nursing home to see her several times a week, not a fun time for any toddler. This raises questions for me about what brings spirits together out there. Is it just blood connections? (And if so, what does that mean about adopted families?)  Why are they hanging out? Why hasn’t my grandmother been reincarnated already? (Or maybe she has and her spirit can divide and speak to me while it’s living in another body here on earth. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about reincarnation, and that seems to be a theory.) But again, I am left with more questions than answers. 

So despite all this, or maybe because of it, I got my mother to sign us up to take a course together that Becky is offering, “Revealing your Intuition and Spirit Connection.” It starts tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern time and runs for 10 weeks. I’m telling myself this is partly because I think learning about spirituality and meditation will be good for my mother, who has no belief in the afterlife and a fear of death and has never meditated. But really, probably I am just hoping for another chance at a conversation with Kyle.