Talking with the Departed

-“Doctor…Need to talk to him… Just one more time—please help me.”

Pamela X. is the smart middle-aged lady from Coral Gables that we featured in one of the earliest, and most heart-wrenching, posting of our series of Emotional Frustration in an article titled as “The Gone Son.” We narrated how one Saturday morning her only son had committed suicide. The lack of apparent signs or causes for that tragic decision had baffled her distressed parents, especially because he had left no note and had not shared his intention with any other family members or friends. In honor of him, we addressed the issue of Suicide in our book “Emotional Frustration-the hushed plague.”

In spite of being followed and medicated by the best psychiatric team of Dade County, she always occasionally came to visit us in the following years, despite the fact that we could not add anything. Well, that is not entirely true…She progressively hinted that she wanted us to recommend a good medium in order to contact her deceased son. She was still hurting from his tragically unannounced decision to take his life and she desperately wanted to ask him a few things. Initially we played dumb evading the request altogether (for which we have a lifelong experience with opinionated ladies), but we came to the conclusion that if we did not help her, she would end up cheated by charlatans. We reluctantly gave her the contact info of a friend-of a friend-of a friend-of a friend… We did not want to be present at the séance nor do we want to discuss what she told us.

Mediumship is the practice of supposedly being able to actively communicate with the spirits of the departed by gifted individuals called mediums that act individually or as a part of larger conglomerate in Shamanism, Voodoo, Candomblé and others (we will discuss them in other posts) The most common interventions are the take-over of the medium’s body by a spirit who engages directly with the interested party or the relaying of the spirit’s messages by the medium. It became a very fashionable entertainment with the upper European classes in the Nineteenth Century; some serious scientists of the time like Pierre Curie researched it and eventually became converts. Other scientists concluded that the phenomenon could be explained by suggestion and telepathy. In a 2005 study Drs. O’Keefe and Ciaran, from the British Psychological Society, concluded that there was nothing supernatural in that practice and that mediums could not possibly contact with the departed.

The continuing fight between believers and non-believers of Mediumship misses an important anthropological fact. Above all, it should be considered as a cultural phenomenon that has been reproduced in countless settings. Humans, unlike all the other animals, are constantly anguished by the idea of death and what lies beyond; moreover, we always feel that there is something else that we should have said. Or done. Some persons take refuge in religion, others in esoteric cults and still others in unproven ways. When we finally relented to ease the access of Pamela X. to a medium. we wanted to protect her from shady operators that would have raided her purse and spiritually harm her even more. Even though we have our serious doubts about the practice, which seems like a sophisticated form of hypnosis to us, we believe that it might have some healing effects for some patients, like the Charcot’s sessions in La Salpétriêre had for his.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.