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Sunday, February 2, 2020

Do We Need A Medium to Talk to Our Dead?

The three women who loved Kyle most went looking for him at a Theresa Caputo show a year and half after he died.

In February of 2018, my mother took me and my adult daughter to see Long Island Medium Theresa Caputo at a stadium show in Reading, PA. My mother paid $500 for our tickets and drove us five hours from our home in Western Massachusetts as part of a wildly extravagant effort to give me what she knew I wanted most -- a chance to hear from my son, Kyle, who died of an overdose in September of 2016.

The 1800-seat arena was mostly sold out, filled to the rafters with Caputo fans and grieving family members all hoping they would be chosen for a live reading. As we arrived, I wondered how many of my fellow audience members felt, as I did, that this event was going to leave them deeply disappointed.

Before my son died, I gave almost no thought to life after death. I had lost many loved ones – my grandmother, a close uncle, my in-laws, several friends, even a younger sister in childhood – but I’d never wondered if they could see or hear me, nor what had become of them. The childhood fantasy I’d had that I was being watched over by my father, who had died at age 24 when I was an infant, had long since faded, right along with my imagining I could blink or wiggle my nose to make magic.

Then my 26-year-old, strappingly handsome son, who had danced with me at my wedding earlier in the month, was found dead of an overdose in a Best Western lobby bathroom.

My son had struggled with addiction for several years, but in 2016 his future looked hopeful. He’d graduated from a long-term recovery program, reunited with his daughter’s mother and fallen in love with his 2-year-old, Maggie, after missing most of her babyhood. Though he’d had a couple of relapses, we were relieved that he was finally acting as a father to his child. We’d all beamed to see him, sober and doting, cheering as his little girl sprinkled rose petals down our backyard aisle as my flower girl. When he relapsed the week after my wedding, it was a disappointing setback, but he immediately checked himself into detox, which seemed like progress.

Only his toddler seemed to sense what was coming. Though Maggie didn’t understand her father was an addict, she knew he’d been sick and had spent a few days in a hospital getting well. He came home promising he was fixed and wouldn’t be leaving again, but she was mysteriously inconsolable. She screamed hysterically at him that she knew he was about to leave her and never come back. He swore she was mistaken. He and Maggie’s mother, Amber, exchanged a look over Maggie’s head. Their toddler was saying things that gave them chills about how Kyle would soon be gone forever. They told me this story over video chat, Kyle asking with a nervous laugh: “What does she know that I don’t?” I found the story upsetting, but only because I worried about what Kyle’s relapses were doing to Maggie, not because I imagined her terror prescient.

During that video call, Kyle seemed excited about a new job he said he was starting on Monday, and he spoke by phone and video chat to several sober friends and family members throughout the weekend. Then, inexplicably – for all of us who are not addicts – he spent all day and night Monday shooting heroin and meth until he died early Tuesday morning.

My son’s death, unlike all the others I’d endured, caused me to develop an immediate, compelling interest in life after death.  I wrote a journal to him as if he were reading over my shoulder. I spoke out loud to him when I was alone. I and other close family members had several startling experiences in the weeks and, especially, first days after he died, and felt sure Kyle was there causing them. A few examples:
  • My ex-husband and I were at a park near the morgue. Our mood could not have been more grim, but I had a sudden feeling that Kyle wanted us to run around the green field. I felt silly saying so, but I heard myself suggest, out of the blue, “Maybe we should play kick the can,” a game I have never played and don’t know how to play. With that, I felt pushed to look harder at the pristine field and there I saw a single can lying in its middle: a green Monster energy drink our son habitually drank. “That was Kyle,” we said to each other, dazed but sure. And then we ran around making up Kick the Can rules, feeling his spirit with us, sharing an understanding that he’d wanted us to know he could see us.
  • When I was forced to say goodbye to my son’s body at the funeral home a day later, I tried to take his picture as he was laid out in the coffin. As soon as I had the focus set on his perfectly alive-looking face, with its slight stubble and protruding lower lip plump as if ready for kissing, my phone froze and turned itself off – and I said out loud, to Kyle, “Oh! You don’t want that to be an image I keep of you? Ok then.” I felt without doubt that Kyle had turned my phone off. When hours later my phone turned itself back on, the image I hadn’t had a chance to click of my son’s still face –laid out like a prince’s on a white satin pillow – that image appeared just long enough for me to see it, like a last goodbye, before it vanished from my phone forever.
  • At his memorial service a couple of days later, as I stood in a fog of grief at the podium, my phone tucked into my bra strap, staring out at our and Kyle’s lifetime of friends, I addressed Kyle first and said, “I don’t know if you can hear me – ” and was interrupted by my phone ringing – one, single ring. Everyone joined me in a relieved laugh when I said to the assembled, “I guess this is a reminder to turn off our cell phones.” But when I looked at my phone to see who had called, it was blank, showing no missed call. I said, “Oh, I guess that was Kyle letting me know he can hear me,” and saying that felt natural, not supernatural. My friends in the first rows nodded vigorously, glad I was believing.
  • Kyle’s father, Larry, who prior to Kyle’s death affirmatively did not believe in God, said he was driving alone and heard Kyle’s voice speak out loud so clearly it made him scream in the car. “Hey, Dad,” he said. “I’m OK.”
  • While we were sitting shiva, just as I was asking if anyone believed Kyle could hear us, one of my grandsons tossed a tiny, soft stuffed animal across the room. In a physics-defying arc, it hit a pull chain hanging from the ceiling fan, causing it to fly straight up and shattering the glass in the light so that it rained down all over the floor. At that point, we recognized a pattern: if we asked if Kyle could hear us, he answered.
  • The radiator in the room where his funeral photos were displayed froze while all the others in the house worked.
As time passed, such strange incidents happened less frequently, and my feeling that Kyle was with me faded. In the first months, if a scream rose in my mind, which it often did, “KYLE, WHERE ARE YOU??” I immediately felt his soothing energy around me, and a response in my mind: “I’m right here.” I now feel a much less definitive response if I wonder this – so I try my best not to.

Which may be why, when my mother gave me a birthday gift nearly 18 months after Kyle’s death of tickets to see Theresa Caputo: The Live Experience, I felt mostly dread. I was just starting to accept that my son was gone; I didn’t want to hope for a connection that I wasn’t going to feel.

During the first terrible year after Kyle’s death, I sometimes felt desperate to find a “reputable medium” (a phrase I would have silently scorned in my previous life), someone who could give me proof that Kyle could see or hear us. Looking back, I’m not sure why I didn’t accept as “proof” our previous, eerie experiences  – but as time passed, I started discounting my own memories, assuming they were the product of my grief-addled imagination. I wanted proof, a professional to confirm for me that Kyle’s unique voice still existed in the universe. I wanted a stranger to tell us a story only Kyle would know, a secret we had between us that even I didn’t remember, a joke only Kyle would make.

I’m sure this is what every grieving skeptic wants, indisputable proof – and none of the “signs” I’d had previously could not be somehow explained away. Indeed, my atheist wife always has a scientific explanation for everything that feels like a spiritual communication (though she has wisely stopped sharing her explanations with me). After the shattered light fixture and broken radiator, she jokingly asked Kyle to please find less expensive ways to communicate, which was as close as she came to acting as if she believed.

When I started thinking about finding a medium, I did Google research first. There are websites that rank mediums’ reputability, and using these, I narrowed my search down to a couple of people within 100 miles of me. I sent emails and clicked the contact buttons on their websites -- and never heard back.

A grief-friend – a mother whose son was rehab-friends with mine before tragically dying of an overdose four months before mine -- said she would go with me to any medium I thought was “for real.” She was afraid she’d be crushed by not hearing anything convincing, and I agreed that was my worst fear also. But we didn’t have to worry, because no one I tried to reach ever responded. My mother wrote to Theresa Caputo’s website to ask for an individual reading, too, but we never heard from them, either.

My mother is a longtime fan of Theresa Caputo and her Long Island Medium show. After attending a medium’s presentation with me at our local library – one that seemed so fake it caused me to burst into tears – she purchased the Caputo show tickets because she didn’t want me wasting any more time on less authentic mediums. And I must admit that by the end of the Caputo show, I was convinced that she was either speaking to the dead or psychically pulling thoughts from her audience members’ minds. I can’t dream up any other explanation for the details she dredged up and the naked shock she drew from the open-mouthed mourners hearing her channel their loved ones. She was so confident about each message she was delivering that even if a person were shaking her head and saying, “No, nothing, I don’t know anything about that,” she would press on, insisting they think harder  – and in every case people suddenly discovered a startling connection.

In the most memorable reading of the night, she told someone who had lost a dear friend to gun violence and blamed himself that she could see “a bloody tattoo.” The man she was talking to, who was crying silently, kept shaking his head until finally the guy’s wife stood up and yelled at him, “Of course, you have that bloodline tattoo in honor of him.” And there it was, under his sleeve, on his forearm.

Caputo’s show began with a video opener of seemingly miraculous connections she had helped people make in previous shows and a request that we stand during the national anthem to honor the military families in the audience. Then Caputo herself came out, looking much smaller and prettier in person than she does on television. She had torn her ACL and came out limping in a plastic boot, her buff young physical trainer assisting her up stairs as she made him part of her ongoing schtick. She let us know she expected us all to feel moved and positive by the end of the show, whether we had a personal reading or not, because we were going to witness indisputable connections between the dead and the living.

“Tonight is about your loved ones validating they’re with you and don’t want you to feel guilty,” she said. The dead loved ones who spoke through her were going to do three things to persuade us they were real, she told us:
  • “They’re going to bring up old stuff that helps you remember good times you had together.
  • “They’re going to tell you stuff they’ve seen you do since they died to prove that they can still see and hear you.
  • “And they’re going to show you their authentic personality so you know it’s really them.”
Then she said something that my mother and I found disturbing: “The dead are living life through us so they want us to laugh and have a good time.” We hope Kyle has something better to do than just watch us live -- though that does sound like a sad but fitting punishment for someone who threw his life away … which I know is not supportive of the addiction-as-a-disease model, but I digress…

Theresa is a Vegas-style entertainer -- a talented comedian, a heavily accented character with extra-long nails and tall wigs and an easy patter that draws many laughs – and she’s as good at that part of her performance as she is at talking to the dead. Before starting her readings, she did a pitch for her fan club, whose members are eligible for lower-cost tickets to future shows. There is no way to watch all this without suspecting she is exploiting the desperation of grieving families – but after watching her in action, I believe she is also a skilled medium, someone who clearly possesses a gift, and I imagine she justifies her ticket prices by knowing she is, in fact, offering comfort to everyone who comes to her shows. This doesn’t make me feel any less silly about the money my mother paid to help us learn something we should already have known.

Which brings me to Theresa’s main act: talking to audience members and their invisible ghosts, a camera crew following her into the crowd to hand out mikes and turn people around so their conversations could be broadcast on the jumbo Tron.

Theresa claimed that sometimes one ghost spoke for many. She said some messages we heard could be for many of us and this seemed to apply when her first reading was to a mourning sister. With my daughter listening intently beside me, I took notes that read, “Dead brother wants sister to know he takes responsibility for his own death, there’s nothing she could have done, he remembers all she did and doesn’t want her to feel guilty.” This both sounds like a message to my daughter and also like it could be about anyone, but in the moment, Caputo shared many personal details that made this universal message personal to the particular sister she was addressing.

Caputo went on to speak to about a dozen audience members individually, offering personal details that made people gasp and cover their mouths and cry out and say, “Oh my god, that’s him.” Among the highlights:
  • “He’s sorry he complained the food you gave him was cold,” she says to a widow whose husband had been a complainer. The whole family, including the widow, laughs and cries simultaneously. “He appreciated you and wants you to take that trip you’re thinking about.”
  • “You keep seeing shadows flying by you?” she asks a young woman who’d lost her husband. “Or you see lights moving out of the corner of your eye that are making you think you’re going crazy?” The woman nods, amazed. “Well he wants you to know that’s really him, not your wishful thinking. So when you turn your head because you think you see something quick, that’s him.”
  • “She says to tell you, ‘That butterfly is a beautiful tribute to me; I love it, Mom.’” This is said to a stunned woman who then raises her sleeve to show the butterfly tattoo she had inscribed to her child.
  • “Did you have a tree and bench dedicated to him?” she asks a family. They all gasp, eyes wide, say yes. “Now see, how could I possibly know that?” she asks. “You think everyone in here dedicated a tree and a bench? Well, he sees that and he appreciates it. He wants you to know he knows you did that.”
  • “Are you wearing her earrings tonight?” she asks someone. The woman’s hand flies to her ear, she nods, shocked. “She says they look great on you.”
  • “You’re mad she didn’t wear her seatbelt; you think that’s why she died. But look, this woman over here is mad her sister couldn’t get out of her seatbelt when she died. They are both here together to tell you it was just their time, nothing could have been done.” (Whenever two or more people stood to the same prompts or cues, Caputo insisted this was not a coincidence, that spirits were joining forces to communicate a similar message, using one another’s stories to amplify the stories of others.)
  • To a whole family mourning their patriarch: “He says it’s ok for you to sell off some of the land to save the rest; he knows you promised to take care of the land, and you’ve done a great job, but he understands you’re out of options, and he’d rather you keep some of it then lose the whole thing trying to keep it all.” Members of the family nodded vigorously or wept, hugely relieved.
  • In the middle of a reading with a woman whose skeptical husband, Justin, had been dragged there so the woman could try to connect with her dead mother, Theresa said, “I’m getting a name, and I don’t usually get names. Elizabeth?” The woman’s hand flew to her mouth. “Yes!” she screamed, “that’s my mother’s name!” Theresa laughed and said, “How’s that for you, Justin?”
Caputo told us at the beginning of the night that we would leave knowing we’d witnessed communication from the dead, and she was right; every interaction she had with individual members of her audience – about a dozen of them -- did seem miraculous, to the point that I almost didn’t mind that I didn’t hear directly from Kyle. I was reminded throughout the show that if others were experiencing these communications from the grave, we could too. If any dead loved ones can speak, then ours can speak to us, too – and he has.

There was a moment when Theresa said something about “the numbers 9 and 6 – or the months September and June,” which are the months of my children’s birthdays. My daughter started to raise her hand and then stopped and let someone else respond to that cue. “Nah,” she said, “I don’t need for her to help me talk to Kyle.” So perhaps that cue was for us, perhaps not, but either way the show accomplished what my mother intended, reminding me that Kyle has been speaking to us, and we don’t need to pay for expensive tickets to know he exists as spirit in our lives. All we have to do to know he’s still with us is to believe – which, ironically, given how my son’s struggle with faith often interfered with his recovery, is also all he would have had to do to live.

I hope you are able to talk to your lost loved one without an intermediary. I hope you don’t feel the need to pay good money to attend an entertaining stadium show full of jokes from the dead. The odds of you being chosen for a personalized reading in a crowd that size are extremely slim, so I hope you don’t need to be in that kind of crowd to know that there is life after death. But if you are plagued with doubts and want “proof” that communication from the afterlife is real, a Theresa Caputo show might be just the ticket.

#addiction #overdose #theresacaputo #overdosedeath #believe #grief #medium #grievingmother #lostson #talkingtothedead

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