Do Psychics Prey on Sadness?

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A few months after my daughter died, I joined a Facebook group comprised of parents who, like me, want to believe that our child’s soul lives on.

There are nearly four thousand members in this group. We have lost children of all ages, in every imaginable way.

It’s a place for grieving parents to share signs of their dead children — or our hope of receiving signs — without judgement. One of the group’s main purposes is to connect psychics and mediums with bereaved parents and this is the real reason I joined.

I’m always looking for signs.

I don’t consider myself an atheist, but I’m not religious, so I was unprepared for the deep spiritual crisis I experienced when my daughter was dying. I had no way to convincingly reassure her that her soul would survive death because, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure it would.

I told her that there is a place I believe all our souls go to after we die, a place of joy and solace. I wanted this to be true, but she knew me better than anyone. She saw the doubt in my eyes.

She was fifteen — too old for fairytales.

After she died, the idea that nothing was left of her — not even her soul — was impossible for me to believe. She felt so close, as though she was at the periphery of my vision or around the next corner.

In the weeks after her death, I watched for signs constantly, testing the idea of faith for the first time in my life. I collected feathers, heart-shaped stones, and other trinkets that I imagined she’d left in my path. Still, I doubted that these were actual messages from my daughter. A thought kept running through my head — a desperate heart sees what it wants to see.

The rituals of grief comfort me, but they’re not enough.

I talk to my daughter all the time. I light a candle almost every day and whisper her name. Each night I draw a heart on the chalkboard wall in her old bedroom and say goodnight, hoping she can hear me.

I go through these rituals even now — two years after her death — though they fill me with doubt. I feel guilty.

What if my doubt is what’s keeping her from contacting me?

This is exactly the frame of mind that drew me to that Facebook group in the first place.

Grieving parents want to believe.

According to a 2018 study by Pew Research, roughly 4 in 10 Americans believe in psychics. The “psychic service industry” reached over $2 billion in revenue in 2018, which begs the question, who is paying for these services?

Some of them are bereaved parents, like me, desperate to speak to their children again. It leaves us vulnerable to people who can easily dupe us out of a lot of money.

I saw a medium about six months after my daughter died. His standard fee was $225 for a one-hour session. (Full disclosure: he didn’t charge me because I promised to write about him in an essay I was working on at the time.)

It was a lackluster session. He got almost everything wrong, but the things he got right could’ve easily been gleaned from the wealth of content I have posted online over the years in blogs, essays and on social media.

Even so, I was glad I went. I’d recorded his session and listened to it a few times afterwards, clinging to the few bits of it that rang true. I wanted so much to believe that my daughter had reached out from the great beyond and spoken to me.

Is it harmless fun?

It’s fun to go to a psychic and get a palm or tarot card reading, but the members of my Facebook group are in it for more than that. We’re a group of heartbroken parents who are desperate for a sign, any sign.

The psychics and mediums that visit the group seem sincere. They seem legitimate. They livestream readings for free, generously offering their time to the parents who eagerly tune in. They call out our names, and our children’s names, and offer up very real hope that our children are happy, that their souls are nearby.

They are always one click away from someone’s Facebook profile where they could (I assume) gather a lot of personal information, but no one brings that up. It feels good to believe that a stranger on the other side of a screen is speaking to your dead child, bringing a message of love and closure.

But it rings false to me.

This is a closed group. It is supposed to be a safe space to share our grief. But unlike other parental bereavement groups I’ve participated in, there are outsiders — the mediums themselves — who have not experienced the loss of a child.

Do psychics and mediums prey on grief?

Just as there are people that profit from death, there are those that profit from grief. While it may be true that real psychic abilities exist, people who claim to have the gift of speaking to the dead are in a unique position to make a lot of money.

Grieving parents are in a vulnerable place, desperate to alleviate the daily pain of missing our children. This was particularly true for me during the first year after my daughter’s death. There have been moments since my daughter died, that I would have gladly paid hundreds (or thousands) of dollars to get a message from her.

If I wasn’t such a skeptic (and my experience with a medium had gone a little better), I would likely have gone back to that first $225/hour psychic and paid his full fee.

A year after that first reading, I saw another medium. Our paths crossed via the Facebook group. One tearful night, I’d logged into the group while the medium was giving a free livestream reading. At the end of it, she offered a discounted rate for a thirty minute session to members of the group, so I reached out.

We set up a Skype call and I paid her the money before our session. My second reading was nearly as lackluster as my first, but she’d touched on a few things that seemed promising, enough so that I scheduled another session (at her full hourly rate).

The second session was a disaster. Our video conferencing connection was terrible. She seemed flustered and distracted as she kept getting things wrong. That was our last interaction, but if the reading had gone even a little better, I probably would have scheduled another one. I still want to believe.

Psychics and grieving parents are a toxic mix.

I don’t begrudge psychics, mediums, or the people who enjoy going to them for guidance, I really don’t. But I think that we can be hurt by people who claim to have the ability to speak with our dead children.

On the other hand, mediums can provide the solace and peace we crave. They can help us open our hearts to the possibility that the soul survives and this is a priceless gift for desolate parents. But, we need to be aware that not everyone has the best intentions. Our grief can make us easy prey.

My advice to newly bereaved parents, in particular, is be mindful of not only what a medium is able to promise you, but how much they’re charging.

Some mediums charge hundreds of dollars per hour — or more — for the promise of connecting you with your child’s spirit. Familiarize yourself with common techniques that phony psychics use, like hot and cold readings, and get references from people you trust before spending a dime.

I want to believe that my daughter’s soul lives on and that she’s leaving me signs to let me know she’s okay. I’m pretty sure that the path I need to travel doesn’t involve emptying my bank account in exchange for a sixty-minute reading with a complete stranger who claims to know my daughter’s spirit better than I do.

Occasional poet. Writer of sad essays. Novelist. Birder and amateur photographer. I enjoy trees.

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