A reluctant psychic conveys the omnipresence of the dead with endearing comfort
When Suzan Saxman first went to kindergarten, she was surprised to discover that each child in the class was surrounded by helpers. Old men and women were leaning over the little ones protectively, cats and dogs were curling between their legs, and nuns in old-fashioned habits guided their hands to the right answers. “I didn’t realize there would be so many aides in the room,” she innocently told her mother, who marched off to the school the next day to find out if her daughter was also getting additional assistance, only to find out that no one was. Suzan was seeing things. Suzan was seeing the dead.
Suzan, with whom I cowrote The Reluctant Psychic (St. Martins 2015), has been communing with the dead her whole life and what she has encountered primarily are not malevolent spirits who want to frighten or haunt the living but souls still reaching out to those they love, eager to lend a hand, albeit an invisible one.
That’s what she told me when I first consulted her. My daughter had been sick for over a year with a mysterious illness that confounded even the best diagnosticians, and I found myself seeking out this woman I’d heard about from a friend at the gym.
I’d never been to a psychic before. I’d never even thought of going to one, but I was desperate.
“Your daughter is named for your mother, Patricia,” she said before I’d even sat down in the little screened-off room in her clothing store. “Your mother used to live in your daughter’s room, before she died. She’s there still, watching out for your daughter. She brings her dead cat with her, a big white cat, a Persian. The cat’s very fluffy and your mother is very beautiful, like a movie star, like Elizabeth Taylor. She’s here right now in the room with us. She wants you to know that.”
I felt the floor, the walls, and the ceiling of my reality disappear. It wasn’t that I hadn’t believed in an afterlife, but that belief was vague and insubstantial. To have this woman I’d never met before name my mother, describe her, and even identify her beloved cat, changed everything I understood about the world around me. Over the next few months as my daughter journeyed through a medical ordeal that Suzan had also predicted I found myself calling on my beloved dead for help. “Daddy, please tell me which test to get done next.” “Mom, help us find the money for the consultation with the specialist.” Somehow each of these things I asked for—from unexpected advice to mysterious bank refunds—miraculously materialized.
“The dead want to help out,” explained Malidoma Some, an African elder who taught a workshop on ancestor practice I attended soon after meeting Suzan. “It helps them feel useful, it helps them feel known, it helps them process their karma.
But unfortunately in America the unacknowledged dead are everywhere. Your cities are filled with souls waiting to be remembered and called upon.”
As I became mindful of the dead, the dead became mindful of me. Each night I recited the names of all the dead: grandparents, deceased aunts and uncles, long-gone pets, friends who went too soon, teachers I’d loved, really anyone I’d known or heard about or might be related to who had gone to the other side. If I didn’t know someone’s name, I’d say something like “and Grandpa Matthew’s mom who died in Ireland in childbirth.” I’d reach out to that woman I never knew whose very name had disappeared and speak my concerns about my daughter. How much unused mothering energy she must still have, I told myself. Out of the blue, a distant cousin sent me an envelope of old daguerreotypes, one of which was identified as a photo of Grandpa Matthew’s mother. Her name, Catherine, was written in elegant script on the back and in her hand was another photo of her mother.
I began to experience the great lengths of the dead behind me, mother before mother, father before father. Beneath me, too, the dirt was nothing but the dust of ancestors, of ancient sea creatures, of vanished trees, of species long since gone extinct. The world of the living was also the world of the dead.
“That’s right,” said Suzan when I talked about all of this with her one day over vegan quesadillas at lunch.
“It’s all just back and forth, comings and goings. It’s important to remember that. It makes all that dying business much less scary.”
Which it did. Late at night, lying in the dark, I often feel them close, my ancestors, my beloved dead. Once long ago I had said to my daughter on a plane that seemed to be crashing but thankfully didn’t, “No matter what happens, I will always be your mom. I will always be there for you.” I had meant it, and now I know that my mother is still there for me too. All the dead are. All the dead since the beginning of time.