Talking With a Dead Father, Part 3 — Was it Real?

As I took notes on what I had just heard, Anderson said that he was hearing from a young woman named Melissa. He said this woman knew some people in the audience, but not very well. After he gave more details, a graying, serious-looking couple in the back approached the microphone.

“Melissa is saying that she has someone else with her who wants to talk with you,” Anderson said. “She’s going to bring him forward, but she wants to make a bargain first. She wants you to promise to go to her parents and tell them that she is all right. Will you agree to do that?”

The couple, looking skeptical, agreed. Anderson then said that the young man Melissa was bringing forward was the couple’s departed son. “I understand,” said the husband, emotion leaking into his voice.

This couple had indeed lost a son. He had committed suicide six months earlier, with a young woman named Melissa. Now their son wanted them to know that he was sorry, but also that he was okay.

Anderson gave readings for another 45 minutes.

When it was over, the fiftyish woman on my right asked me how long ago my father had died.

“Almost 16 years,” I said.

She looked pained. “My husband passed almost a year ago,” she said. “And I just keep hoping he’ll contact me and say something.”

I nodded gravely. At the time, I thought she might have felt some resentment that I had heard from my father at a time when I didn’t need as much reassurance as she did. Now, though, I think her pained look may have reflected the fear that she would have to wait 15 more years to hear from her husband. Hard to say.

In the dining hall, an interesting woman I’d met the night before called me over to sit at her table. Another woman at the table had experienced what I had — she, too, had seemed to speak with a loved one through Anderson. We compared notes, asking each other how much of it had rung true, whether we had thought it was really them.

A number of women and a few men approached us from other tables as we ate our vegetarian lunch, apologizing for the interruption and asking us about the details. “Sorry to bother you,” one would say, “but did your father have a hard time seeing?” Yes, I’d say. “What about the lemons?” I explained their significance. “Did you think it was really him?” I’m not sure, I said, but it felt pretty good; I’m grateful for the experience.

Psychic powerball winners

People looked at me as if I was famous. My new friend Patricia said, “It’s like you won the psychic lottery!”

The other woman at the table who appeared to have made contact — in her case, with a former husband – was more relaxed than I was. She said she’d heard from him before, through other mediums, and wasn’t at all surprised when he “came through” today.

The people who were asking me about my experience were collecting details about others, too. It turned out that the sweetheart to whom Anderson had given the ribbon-wearing teddy bear had not left her house in four months, ever since the accident had killed her boyfriend. As for the teddy bear, she told someone, “I have a drawer full of those. He always used to give me those when he came by.”

We agreed that the bear was an unusual gift. If Anderson had said, “He wants you to have this rose” – well, a lot of guys give roses to their girlfriends. Not so many give them fist-sized teddy bears.

Patricia and my other new friend, Peg, told me how happy they were for me. I told them how glad I was to have met them the night before, so I had someone to talk to about this unexpected event. Pat and I walked around the beautiful grounds of Omega, talking about our fathers, both of whom tended to be distant and to erupt into rages.

As we walked down stone steps and gravel paths, over streams and grass, we found that neither of our fathers drank, but that both had often behaved as if they did. Pat works as an assistant superintendent of an upstate New York school district, and her intelligence and humanity put me at ease. She didn’t need me to either accept all that had happened or to deny it; we could just talk about it, and that was just what I needed right then.

* * *

During the train ride back to New York, I wondered something I hadn’t for many years: Was my dad watching me?

That thought led to others. If I became grouchy toward a stranger who wouldn’t move their bag so I could sit down, did my dad disapprove of my temper? Or was he glad I was sticking up for myself?

Or did he care?

How had his values changed?

Most importantly: Was he really coming to me in friendship?

* * *

When I got home, I rested for a bit, just thinking about it all. I looked at my notes, took a breath and began to call my family.

My mom wasn’t home, which was just as well. I was nervous about telling her this story. She is a born-again Christian, and had told me many times over the years that mediums and psychics drew their powers from the devil. I felt good about what had happened, but it was a fragile feeling; I was not ready to feel that sort of disapproval.

My brother wasn’t home either.

One of my sisters was on her honeymoon, hiking the Inca trail in Peru.

My other sister was in her suburban New Jersey home. She tends to be fairly grounded. I told her the story, not quite sure what she’d think — either of the story or of me, for going to see such a medium.

She said, “Well, I think that’s really nice. I’m not really all that surprised. I feel Dad around sometimes; I talk to him. I think he’s with us.”

“Really?” I asked. I was surprised. “I never feel him around. I really don’t. That’s great, though, that you do.”

Hmm, I thought. How come she never told me she felt his presence? And how come she could feel it, but I couldn’t?

* * *

I called my father’s mother – my grandmother. My dad had been her firstborn son, and her grief may be stronger, at this point, than that felt by the rest of us. She is from a generation that does not believe in sharing pain openly, though, so it’s hard to tell.

I hoped this story would comfort her – this image of her son standing, smiling, with her former husband. I told the story from start to finish, and waited.

“Did you give them your name, Bill?” she asked.

“Uh, well, yeah,” I said. “I mean, I had to fill out a form, to register. Not specifically for this guy Anderson, but for the weekend as a whole.”

“Yeah,” she said. “See, those people, they send out scouts to investigate people. That’s how they learn these things. Then they make you think it’s real. They send out scouts. I saw a program on TV about it once.”

I pictured a couple of solitary men in fedoras, driving sedans in the dead of night toward my hometown and that of 15 or 20 other people, ready to ask a few questions, take a few notes.

After she put the doubt in those terms, I believed, more than I had before, that I had actually spoken with my father.

If Anderson had used scouts, he could have been a lot more specific; I would have been much more easily convinced.

* * *

I called my father’s brother, my uncle. I began to tell him the story, but didn’t make it to the end.

A heart attack had left their father slumped over in a chair when my uncle was 15; that was a year younger than I had been when I lost mine.

When I said that Anderson had said that my dad was proud of me, I could hear the wistfulness in my uncle’s voice. My uncle said, “Geez, I’d sure like to hear my father tell me he was proud of me.”

I tried to keep going with the story, but my desire to do so was fading – the way you might tone down your excitement about a new bike, when you realize your listener still has to walk.

* * *

I called my brother in Philadelphia, where he was at business school. He’d been 11, a Little League baseball star, when the boat had overturned. A neighbor had driven him to the hospital from practice when the news came in. He was so young that he had just looked confused when we told him the news, and that expression had stayed on his face, underlined by pain, into the evening of that day.

My brother asked me now if Dad had mentioned him. My sister had asked the same thing. It hurt me to have to say ‘no’ to them both.

My brother was happy overall, though. Shortly after I had begun the story, I could hear him saying to his fiancee, “Hey — Bill talked to Dad. I’ll tell you about it in a minute.” He was laughing.

* * *

The next night, my mom called me. My uncle had told her part of it, but she wanted her to hear the rest from me.

I could hear a strain in her voice, and I could feel my own anxiety. I decided to ignore both, and just tell it straight. As I did so, my mom asked a few questions: “Where did this guy say he was getting the information from?” Well, he said he was getting it from the people themselves, Ma. “How was he saying things — was it all in one burst?” No, he spoke as if he were translating, from one language to another. One sentence at a time, maybe two, and then he would wait for a response.

When I finished the story I paused, bracing myself. “So what do you think, Ma — was it the devil?”

“I don’t know,” she said, her voice high. She sounded genuinely unsure, in a way that I hadn’t expected. “I mean, I don’t know what to think. It sounds like it was a really nice thing.”

I felt great relief. “Well,” I said, gently, “I guess the way I was looking at it, was — why would the devil work this way? I mean, it was a bunch of really good things that he told me – the type of things any son would want to hear. There wasn’t anything evil in what the man said. And he made the sign of the cross, before and afterward. He’s very Catholic — almost too Catholic, one woman said.”

“He did say some really nice things. But of course you knew your father would be proud of you,” my mom said.

“Well, no, mom, I didn’t know that at all,” I said. “I’m still not sure of it, in fact. You remember how he was.” I laughed.

“Yes, I do,” she said. She laughed, too.

“Maybe God allowed me to hear these things, so I could feel better about Dad,” I said.

“Maybe so,” she said. “And about yourself. Well, maybe you could pray about it, and ask God what He thinks of it all. Ask Him how He wants you to take it.”

“That sounds like a good idea, Mom,” I said. “I’ll do it. And could you pray for me, too, so that I’ll know how to take it?”

She said she would. And the next time we talked — maybe a week later — we both said we thought it was very nice.

* * *

My sister came back from Peru, and I told her what happened. But she had heard part of it already from my other sister, and by now it was getting to be an old story. It’s amazing how quickly our feelings shift, as time separates us from important happenings. We can’t even feel the same way twice about a movie we see two different times.

I asked her what she thought of the story. She said, “Gosh, Billy, I don’t know what to think. I mean, half the time I don’t even know if I believe in God. But it’s quite a story, anyway.”

* * *

For myself, now, more time has passed. For two weeks or so after I heard these things from George Anderson, I glowed inside. I felt something I had forgotten I’d ever felt at all: I felt like a son. A good son, at that. It was possible, I told myself, that my father was happy with me.

For those two weeks, I felt young and optimistic again, the way I had felt when I was 16 years old, just before the boat went under.

Gradually, the glow faded, as glows must. Walking on Brooklyn sidewalks sped the process along; the sight of a homeless alcoholic can disrupt the joy of even the happiest honeymooner.

Something remains, though. When I think of my dad now, I’m less afraid than I once was. When I talk to him, I do so as a potential friend.

I look at him as someone who recently popped in to say hello after a long time away. He no longer shows the burden of disciplining me, and I no longer show the burden of rebelling against him. It’s easy now, between us.

And if it’s a fantasy, so what? At least it’s a good one.

(Originally published on The Guy Code, June 25, 2000.)

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