My 20-year old son, Cameron, and I arrive at the medium’s office early. The parking lot has plenty of spaces, but I choose one far from the door. I am jittery. My palms are damp.
My mother died when I was 11, my father when I was 35, both from cancer. Ever since I lost my mother, I have imagined visiting a medium for reassurance that she was still with me in some way, that she was proud of me. And yet, I never made an appointment. I often told my friends I didn’t want to go because I didn’t want to be ripped off by some phony telling me ambiguous nonsense, but it’s more than that. I’m scared of being taken advantage of, but I’m more scared of the implication that there is nothing to hear, that my parents aren’t with me in any way at all.
I am now 43, the same age my mother was when she died. I’ve made some changes in my life to reflect this milestone: I’m living a healthier lifestyle, I finally got the mammogram I put off for eight years, and when a good friend told me about her great experience with the medium, I took a deep breath and joined the waiting list.
“Shall we go in?” Cameron asks.
“I’m not expecting much from this,” I say. “It’ll probably be a load of stuff that could apply to anyone.”
“That’s what I’ve been thinking, too.”
Inside, Cameron and I sit side by side. The room is large and sparsely decorated. The walls and soft furnishings are pastel-colored, gentle music plays quietly and the smell of incense hangs in the air. It’s the way I would have imagined a medium’s room to be.
The medium sits opposite us. She has an assured, calm manner and shoulder-length blonde hair, and she’s wearing a cream blouse, fitted pants and a kind smile. She doesn’t ask whom we hope to contact. She knows my name from my reservation and now knows my plus-one is Cameron.
I’m scared of being taken advantage of, but I’m more scared of the implication that there is nothing to hear, that my parents aren’t with me in any way at all.
“I now ask any loved ones present to provide us with some validating evidence, so you know they are here,” she says, her eyes closed. My hands are shaking, my stomach twists.
“Jo,” she continues. “You’ve lost both your parents?”
“Yes,” I say.
“They’re both here, along with another relative, John.” She opens her eyes.
“That’s my grandad.”
I’m surprised. I wasn’t expecting her to know names. I wasn’t expecting my grandad.
“Your parents were no longer together?”
“No, they divorced when I was little,” I reply.
I look at Cam, our eyes wide and glassy. I wonder how much of this information can be discovered via online search.
“Your mother was a teacher?”
“Cameron, your grandpa wants to remind you of the time you went fishing with him. You were 7,” the medium says.
Cameron leans forward in his seat, his eyes flicking between the medium and me, with a silent question on his stunned face: Is this actually real?
He slowly nods. In his room, he has a framed picture of the fishing trip he took with my dad in July 2006. I do the math in my head. He was 7.
“He also wants to remind you of a little car he taught you to drive?”
We nod. My dad built Cameron a car using a lawnmower engine when he was a toddler, and he took great pleasure in teaching him how to drive it.
The medium looks at me with a confused shrug.
“Your mother says to say ‘kangaroo’ to you, to say there is something about a kangaroo on two separate occasions? Something that you’ll definitely understand?”
I understand. I understand perfectly, and so does Cameron. As a single parent, my mother saved as much of her teacher’s salary as possible to take my brother and me backpacking every summer. Our favorite trip was to Australia. She took a photograph of my brother and me with a kangaroo at Lone Pine Sanctuary in Brisbane, and in the picture we are both pretending to pull its tail. Years later, my husband and I took our children on the same trip to Australia, visiting all the places I had been with my mother. In Brisbane, we met my brother, and at Lone Pine Sanctuary, he and I reenacted the same picture, pretending to pull the tail of a kangaroo.
“Yes, I took my kids to Australia to the places I went with her.”
“She was with you on that trip,” she says.
I nod. My hands aren’t shaking anymore. Cameron and I mirror each other, our necks craning forward to the medium, turning often to one another to express our incredulity. The medium has more to tell us. Much more, including detailed messages for my cousins from my father and uncle. More names, more memories, more details that she can’t know. It’s exhilarating. Among all the accurate information, there is a more general piece I don’t understand. The medium says my mother claims that rainbows would be meaningful to me. I can’t place the significance, and I tell the medium so.
“Maybe you will later, or maybe you never will,” she says. This was the kind of vague message that I had imagined the session would wholly consist of. It’s the first general piece of information, and the first that I can’t place.
“Do you know a Danny or Dan?”
“Yes,” I say, “my brother.”
“Your dad is saying he’s a free spirit, he’s an adventurer. He’s planning a huge move in the next few years — your dad is flashing the number 50 — and that you must tell him he should do it. He must follow his heart. It will be a better quality of life, although his girlfriend isn’t on board with the idea yet.”
My brother had been telling me recently of his plan to move to France or Spain within a few years, around the time of his 50th birthday. His girlfriend has serious reservations. I don’t know how the medium knows what she knows, but what she is saying is uncanny. I look around the room. Are you really here? Mum? Dad?
The session ends, and Cameron and I walk outside, squinting at the bright sunshine. We don’t speak. I’m feeling wiped out. The session has been more than I could have hoped for, but I’m on the verge of tears. Cameron gives me a huge hug, which is just what I need.
“What do you think?” I say.
“That was unbelievable,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
“How could she know all that?” Cameron asks, looking to me for the answers.
“Cam, I just don’t know.”
“It must be real. She knew way too much. It has to be real,” he says.
“I guess so.”
Cameron drives me home, and we spend the next hour and a half talking nonstop.
“It was cool when she said your mum was a stronger personality than Grandpa,” he says. “That’s how I imagine her from all you’ve told me.”
“Yes, that was definitely right.”
“How could she know I was 7 when I went on the fishing trip and everything about Uncle Daniel wanting to move?” Cameron wonders out loud.
“I don’t know,” I say. “It’s mind-blowing.”
We spend the journey talking about what Cameron remembers about his grandpa and his uncle. We chat about our trip to Australia, and I tell him more about my mother. With Cameron driving and neither of our phones on, it’s a long and moving conversation. We spend much of it laughing through tears.
I call my brother Daniel the next morning. I catch him at the airport in Saigon, right after he competed in a bike race. He’s missed his flight to Singapore. Yes, he is a free spirit. Yes, he is an adventurer. I tell him what the medium said, how Dad supposedly feels about his proposed move. The silence is longer than the typical delay on the line.
“I only told you and maybe two other people about that,” he says. I tell him about the kangaroo, the two separate occasions. His reaction is the same as mine: “How?”
I spend the next few hours scouring Facebook and Instagram, determined to work out what the medium could have discovered ahead of time. There’s the easy stuff: My brother’s name ― from his profile pictures, anyone could see that he travels and races bikes ― as well as my cousins’ names, and with a deeper dive, the fact that both my parents have passed away, and my mother’s profession.
What is definitely not on Facebook, or anywhere else, is anything about the Australia trips and the kangaroo. I wasn’t on Facebook when I went with my children, and even if the medium had somehow been able to see Daniel’s private posts from 2012, he didn’t post about it. Similarly, the fishing trip when Cam was 7 has never been mentioned anywhere on social media, nor has Daniel’s plan to move, nor the contents of the messages for my cousins or many other details the medium told us. I am an emotional person, but I’m also logical. What happens when my process of elimination leaves the seemingly irrational as the most rational explanation?
I call my friend Caitlin, my source of knowledge for all things psychic and spiritual. She is amazed at the level of detail the medium gave us.
“You can believe it, they were there,” she says. “Of everyone I know, if there is anyone I would wish this for, it would be you.”
I am emotionally exhausted. I don’t know what to think. I want to believe my parents were there and are here with me always, but I’m finding it difficult. I can’t quiet the skeptical part of me, no matter how much I want to.
My greatest hope for the session was that I would hear enough to know my parents are watching over me. I was given that, but something in me is still holding back from entirely believing in their supernatural presence. My biggest fear was being a fool ― being taken advantage of by someone looking to exploit my grief for financial gain.
As we left, the medium had said, “If you want to come back, I would like you to wait at least a year.” Sure, she has a waiting list, but it didn’t seem like advice from someone looking to maximize her profits from my loss. I will go back, maybe in a year or two, and likely to a different medium, but one just as highly regarded. I want to hear more. I want to believe.
Whether or not the medium knows it, our session with her gave me a gift I didn’t realize I was looking for. Not the opportunity to connect with my deceased parents — which may, or may not, have happened — but the chance to connect with my very much alive son.
In the days after our visit, Cameron and I text about our visit to the medium. I tell him I am so glad he was there with me. He says he is so glad, too. Cameron, my 6-foot-tall eldest son, is no longer my little boy. He’s no longer my near constant companion. He no longer remains where I put him: in his crib, at school, at lacrosse practice. He has his own world, his long-term girlfriend, his college life, his triumphs, his struggles and hopes. But at our session with the medium and in the car, he was nothing but my son, and his company was a comfort and a reassurance.
Whether or not the medium knows it, our session with her gave me a gift I didn’t realize I was looking for: not the opportunity to connect with my deceased parents — which may or may not have happened — but the chance to connect with my very much alive son.
Cameron is entering adulthood, and his path is diverging from mine. We are all distracted by current events, by our phones, by our worries. Whatever transpired with the medium ― whether something supernatural happened or not ― our session was a way to hit pause and focus on family, the ones we love, and our shared memories.
Connecting with Cameron on this deep, emotional level was a reminder to do so more often as we go forward, no matter how busy we are. And as uncertain as I am about what we experienced, I’m certain that’s a message my parents would have wanted to get to me.
Originally from England, Jo Varnish now lives outside New York City. She is the assistant editor at X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine. Jo has been a writer in residence at L’Atelier Writers for two years, and is studying for her MFA. She can be found on Twitter at @jovarnish1.