My visit to psychic-medium John Edward is part of a promise I made to one of my best friends, Julie, in the last days before she died, exactly 10 years ago; it's taken me all this time to get the courage to follow through on it. Even though I work in the field of death, as a hospice bereavement coordinator, I've never seen a psychic medium, never really forayed into the realm of the afterlife. Instead, I've worked to help people understand their losses, and to understand my own.

I have a master's degree in clinical psychology, something I pursued after losing both my parents at age 25. But the work I've been doing in hospice has had much more to do with helping people accept the finality of death and move forward in their lives, without the people who are missing. When considering seeing the psychic-medium, I find myself filled with a morbid curiosity. Will my dead parents come through? Will my friend Julie come through? Part of me hopes they will, but the rest of me would rather they didn't. I'd be left with too many questions, thinking that it's possible to communicate. I am almost vehemently skeptical.

In a hotel conference room on Long Island, I enter a small room decorated with bland photos of lakes and forests. Two rows of banquet chairs are lined up before a podium. I choose a seat in the front row, as close to the far wall as possible. There is one other woman in the room and we offer each other tentative smiles.

Slowly, more people begin to file in. A solitary, heavyset man heads to the back row. Two women with perfectly blow-dried hair settle in next to me.

By the time all the seats are filled, there are 15 of us. I am far more nervous than I anticipated. Finally, John Edward enters the room with a flourish He looks just like he does on television—normal, a little tired, almost like a harried father you would see at Disneyland.

He starts off right away with a father-daughter duo in the audience. "I've got a woman here," he says, gesturing toward the pair. "I feel like she's for you guys, like this is your wife," Edward says to the man who's already nodding. "She's showing me a living room, and, like, a lamp. Is there something funny with this lamp?"

The man is nodding.

Edward continues. "Does she, like, turn it off and on?"

The man is laughing now, and his daughter is holding his hand. "Yeah," he says. "It was this lamp that I bought that she hated, and ever since she died every bulb I put in it goes out within a few days." Edward is nodding now, too, pacing the room even faster. "That's her way of letting you know that she's still with you." He looks around the room, addressing all of us. "This is the kind of stuff they do, guys. They want us to know they're still with us."

He goes on to tell them a few more things—some particulars about the illness the woman died from, her month of birth. "They give me this information to validate their presence," he explains. "This is their way of letting you know it's really them."

Finally, he gestures to the daughter. "Your mom, she's telling me you have a baby or you're going to have a baby?"

Her eyes grow wide with surprise and she covers her belly with both hands. She stutters as she responds, "Um, uh, I'm only five weeks along," she says. "But no one knows yet."

"Well, your mom knows," John Edward says, and she bursts into tears. I find myself choking up along with her.

Is this real? And if so, what does it mean?

By the time John Edward stops in front of me, I really don't know what to think anymore.

"I've got two women here," he says. "One's definitely your grandmother, and the other is also above you, like, a mother?"

I just nod at him.

He looks at me. "The mother one, she's pointing to her hand. 'She's wearing my ring. She's wearing my ring. She's wearing my ring,' she keeps saying."

I look down at my left hand, at the engagement ring on my finger. "This was her ring," I say quietly.

He nods, unimpressed. "I hate doing jewelry," he says. "It's so obvious. But she was insistent."

My heart is racing.

"I've got a man here for you, too. He's, like, a little younger than your grandmother but older than your mom, so it doesn't seem like it's your dad, even though that's what he's showing me Edward is frowning, listening.

"My dad was a lot older than my mom," I say.

"Okay, okay, that makes sense. He's showing me some kind of shoulder pain. Was there something wrong with his shoulder?"

"It always bothered him," I say.

"Okay, he's showing me, like, this weird story now. He's showing me this story about a friend who threw his kid in the pool when he was little, to teach him to swim. Does that make sense to you?"

"That's pretty much how my dad taught me to swim, too," I say, memories of the chlorinated, aqua-colored pool at the house I grew up in flooding through me.

"He's trying to use that as a way of saying that's how he parented you."

I laugh a little. "Yes. That makes sense."

"And he's giving me a G name. George, maybe?"

"His name was Gerald," I say.

After that, Edward tries to throw some birth dates at me, the month of February (my grandmother Lulu was born on Valentine's Day), pancreatic cancer (my aunt Jean died of it), the name Nathaniel (my maternal grandfather), but nothing else quite like the messages from my mom about the ring, or my dad and the pool.

And nothing from Julie. Nothing at all. Not a mention of her.

Abruptly, he moves on to a woman seated a few chairs down from me; and, just like that, my reading is over. I'm overwhelmed and keep staring at the spot to the left of where he had been. Were my mother and father and grandmother in this room? I want to stand up, walk into the space, walk into their arms.

The next day, on my flight home, I try to think about it all from my therapeutic point of view. One of my favorite questions to ask my clients is a simple one: What do you think happens when someone dies?

No matter what I believe personally, finding ways to connect with our lost loved ones is a vital part of the grief process, and it comes in different forms for everyone.

For me, it came in the form of writing letters. At the one-year mark of my mother's death, I couldn't bear it anymore, so I sat down and wrote her a letter. She's now been gone for half of my life, and I still write her. It's not just that we want to know that our loved ones are okay. We want them to know that we are okay, as well. We want them to know how much we loved them, how much we miss them. And this is exactly what I saw occurring in the reading with John Edward. Every single person in that room wanted to know that they were still connected.

I replay the reading over and over in my head. I think about all those letters I wrote my mother. After my time with John Edward, now I'm wondering if it's possible she has been here all along.

After This This adapted excerpt was taken After This: When Life Is Over, Where Do We Go?, by Claire Bidwell Smith. Published by arrangement with Avery, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Claire Bidwell Smith.


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