A couple of weeks before my mom died, I became obsessed with a television show called “Long Island Medium” about the work of a woman named Theresa Caputo. I started watching because I was fascinated by the medium, a woman who could easily have been the mother of any “Jersey Shore” cast member, and who reminded me of Carmela Soprano with her long nails, high hair and frequent use of “Madon!” as an interjection. I was a skeptic, it was all ridiculous, and I had seen and read so many debunkings of psychics and mediums that I watched the first episodes looking for strings, tricks and manipulations.
If you go into a room filled with middle-aged people and say “someone here lost their father…” odds are that several folks will fit the bill and react in a way that makes them easy marks. Then you go on to say “there’s something about a dog,” or “he’s saying something about his car,”and it looks like you’re communicating with the Great Beyond rather than using your wits to put on a good show.
The more I watched, though, the more I came to believe that even if Caputo was not channeling anybody, she really, really believed that she was. The cynical side of me supposed that TLC could be pulling our collective chain, giving her information about the people she “read” and editing out hours of failed encounters, but the side of me open to all things spiritual and magical began to believe there was something there. I also noticed that her motley mix of angels, Catholicism, sage smudging and common sense left people feeling better, at peace about their losses, less guilty, less raw. Pragmatically, the results were so positive and created such healing that it really didn’t matter whether Caputo was talking to the dead friend, mother or child. It mattered that she had helped someone who was grieving.
Last night while I was not sleeping (which is becoming a “thing” for me) I thought about Theresa Caputo. I had no desire to have my mother “channeled,” and I wondered why it was so important to those other people and why I had no interest. My mother is dead, I loved her dearly, and it seems like I should be at least intrigued by the possibility that someone could talk to her and tell me that she was fine, watching over me, and worrying about how Obama did in last night’s debate.
I am not intrigued . Not at all.
My first thought was that many of the channellees (is that a word?) had been parted from their loved ones suddenly, particularly where the departed was a child or a young spouse. There is no more grief for those people, you can’t weigh out relative portions of grief like flour, but grief isn’t the important variable. What’s different is a sense of wrongness, a feeling that the universe has cheated you out of something you were promised, and had every right to expect.
I knew my mother was very sick, and in some ways it was amazing that she lived as long as she did. It was not a shock to lose her, except in the sense that it is always a shock when someone who is as essential to you as air is just…not there. It does not defy the rules we have invented for our lives if a parent dies in her 70s. Those rules are torn asunder by the death of your toddler, or a neighbor’s 18-year-old daughter. They are violated by deaths unexpected, violent, unexplained and otherwise “unfair.” I know from experience that those are the losses that puncture, persist and prevent peace, resolution, and healing. The sucker punches of death. I can see why, after such a loss, the salve of answers, reassurances and confirmation of a continued bond would go far to soothe the staggering pain of open emotional wounds.
The thing is, I don’t need anyone else to mediate a conversation with my mother. We were good, she and I; we talked every day, fought about silly things, spoke of our deepest emotions and her fears about the end of her life. I am damned lucky to have had that time, and I have almost no regrets. I suppose that if Theresa Caputo appeared by my restaurant table and told me that my mother wanted me to get my hair cut, I wouldn’t turn her away. But I’d already know.
I’d already know because I am the person who will channel my mother, because she will be in my head and informing my daily plans until my own death. She was, in life, an opinionated, sharp-witted and determined woman, a person far more assertive and confident than I have ever been. She lives on not only in my DNA but in my soul, her stronger will and optimistic spirit binding my broken parts around my weakest parts and holding me together.
I hear her, clear as day, telling me that I don’t have to do anything for anybody but my father right now. She knows so well the spinning and jiggering I do in my mind because I am only worthy if I am making other people happy all the time. She tells me, without benefit of psychic intermediary, that I am her beloved child, the insecure and anxious doppelganger of her insecure and anxious husband. That I deserve rest. That I have to make sure he gets some rest. That it’s okay if I don’t get dressed until noon.
So maybe I believe that the Long Island Medium channels dead people, and maybe I don’t. All I know, right now, is that it’s unlikely that I will ever need or desire a third party to communicate with my mother.