Reprinted from Elle. All rights reserved to Elle Magazine.
Losing My Husband―and Finding Him Again Through a Medium
The medium delivered the message that eased her unrelenting grief. Then the doubt set in. Lisa Chase went searching for the truth and found life and death merging and converging in ways unforeseen.
|Author Lisa Chase and Medium Lisa Kay Photo: KATHERINE WOLKOFF|
OCT 5, 2015
..... (excerpted) My dreams were invaded regularly by Peter in the first months after his death, with an insistence that woke me at four in the morning almost daily. Frankly, that's how he was in life. If he called me and I didn't pick up the phone, he'd call again. And again. And again. And again. He didn't really care what I was doing that might be keeping me from calling him back; when he wanted to talk, he wanted to talk. Davey, then nine, was dreaming of him, too. One morning, he said, "Last night Daddy and I had fun."
"What'd you do in the dream?"
"We went to Game 7 of the Yankees–Red Sox World Series," Davey said.
"Who won, Boo-boo?"
"What was the score?"
"Eight hundred and three to zero."
It was Peter's sense of humor…and his idea of heaven. There's a pretty obscure film clip of him at 23, having talked himself and his younger brother, Rob, into the Yankees locker room after they won Game 6 of the 1977 World Series. Peter stands there, pretending to take notes, but he's really just gazing prettily into the camera—he was a beautiful boy—pleased for the world to see that he's in the red-hot center. In these days, Davey was sure he was communicating with his father. On New Year's Eve, as we walked down our silent suburban block, coming home from a friend's, he said, "This is the gateway to next year, Mommy. Next year at this time, we'll still be sad, but maybe we won't have the crazy thoughts in our heads."
Then he said, "Daddy is with us now. He says he wants you to hold his hand."
I was holding Davey's hand in my right, with my keys in my left—an old habit from living in the city: When walking home late at night, have your keys out. Again, Davey asked me to do it, and so I put the keys in my coat pocket and held out my left hand in the cold air.
You may be wondering what this has to do with the para- and the meta-, and I'm getting to it right about now. Because at this point, the coincidences began to occur. You may be able to explain some of them away, but not all, I'll wager. It started on Christmas Eve, when we flew to Seattle to see Peter's brother Rob. The car in front of us on the way to the airport was the same color, make, and model as Peter's, and the license plate was nearly identical to his—off by one number. The flight attendants were pouring out Aquarius water. A few weeks later, Peter's daughter Caroline got her first big break as an actor on a new TV show called Proof, about a group of people trying to determine definitively whether there's life after death. Around this time, Davey, his friend, and I were waiting in the high school hallway for baseball tryouts. Davey and the other boy were talking about what year their dads graduated from college. He asked me about Peter as he was bending down to pick up a couple of pennies he'd spotted on the floor.
"Well, Dad was supposed to graduate in 1976, but he actually graduated in '77," I said. The dates on the pennies were 1976 and 1977. On the evening of February 10, 2014, which would have been Peter's sixtieth birthday, I went out to dinner with the kids and two good friends. Because I was with everyone I wanted to talk to, I left my cell phone in my bag. Three weeks later I discovered a text, sent from my phone number to my phone number, dated February 10, 8:18 P.M.: "Lisa I cannot believe I'm funny I sent you the message love you see I."
....In the first three to four months after he'd died, I couldn't escape the feeling that Peter was calling, calling, calling, until I picked up. I had two friends who'd faced unspeakably horrible deaths: One lost her fiancé in the war in Afghanistan. The other lost a child. Both had called a medium named Lisa Kay, and I'd known of their remarkable conversations. So on a Saturday morning in March 2014, I dialed her number and left a message: "Hi, my name is Lisa Chase. I'm a friend of X and Y, and I know you've worked with them. My husband died, and I'd like to make an appointment to talk to you."
I hung up and then walked next door to my neighbor's to borrow some sugar; when I got back, there was a missed call from a Manhattan number on my phone. I called it, and Lisa Kay answered. "I don't usually work on Saturdays," she said, "but I felt compelled to call you back now." I also knew, from others who've called her, that she usually makes a phone appointment for a couple of weeks out and then asks you to send her a check.
But on the line with me now, Lisa all of a sudden sounded a little peeved and said, "I don't like to do it this way."
"What do you mean, 'I don't do it this way'?" I was confused.
"He's here," she said. "He wants to talk now." Then, as if she were talking to someone else: "I like to get paid first." Then, addressing me, "Can you even do this now? Are you free?" Terrified and exhilarated, I said yes. This is how it began:
Lisa Kay: Who's David? Who's David? He has grown. He says, "He has grown." Testing, trial control. He's talking about goldfish. And marzipan. He doesn't like it.
Lisa Chase: I have no idea what that means….
LK: Acknowledging James. He's acknowledging someone named James. Are you writing this down? You should write this all down. Even if it doesn't make sense now, it will later.
James, of course, was Peter's brother. I was running around my house, looking for scraps of paper to write on. I found a bill from a local stationery store, forms sent home from Davey's school, a confirmation for a flight to Atlanta. I was frantically scribbling on the backs of all of them, grateful I knew how to take shorthand notes from my years as a reporter, because she was talking so fast, her melodic voice—she once thought about pursuing a career as a singer—stopping and starting, darting from subject to subject.
LK: He's talking about a ball. He says, 'Find the signed ball in the bag and give it to David.'
While Peter was in the hospital, a good friend, knowing he loved the Yankees and particularly Joe Torre, their longtime manager, got Torre to sign a baseball—a talisman. But the day I brought it in, Peter shook his head. "I can't," he said. "Put it away." I didn't know why it upset him, but I put the ball in his closet, in a canvas bag that I'd packed with his clothes and toiletries to bring to the hospital.
LK: He's showing me blood. Did he die of a blood clot? Something about blood. I'm seeing the word 'genetic.' She said it in an almost staccato fashion: Ge-net-ic.
LC: He died of a blood cancer. And his doctors told us it was probably related to the lymphoma his father died from.
LK: The reason—David will not get it. That's what he's telling me. Good for you, Peter! I like this guy. [In a different voice]: 'You can call me Pete!'
He says, 'Go ahead. You can have the red wine.'
I began to laugh. For the first time, I felt some relief from the cruelty of the way he died. This call had begun to do for me what the best antianxiety medicine and therapy had not been able to, which was pull me out of the whirlpool and see the beginning of a way out of my sadness.
Lisa would be talking to me directly, then talking to…Peter? And sometimes it was if she were Peter, talking to us both. Channeling would probably be the best verb. Sometimes she said things that made no sense to me. Maybe a third of what she said could apply to anyone who'd lost a spouse; things like, "I want you to marry again," and "It's okay that you cried in front of me." But there were many more specific things she said that she couldn't have known or Googled, as several people have suggested to me.
Anyway, try Googling the name of a person you know nothing about. It takes a lot more than five minutes to navigate to the page with the right information and absorb it all—the names and details and events.
LK: He says he controlled too much. He says, 'Take the good with the bad. I had my faults.' He's learning to be better at not criticizing.
Then she said something that shocked me.
LK: 'I'm a lucky guoy. I got the better end of the deal.'
What was amazing about this was the way Lisa pronounced it: "guoy," not "guy." It was precisely the way Peter said it, with an exaggerated Brooklyn accent. He'd use that expression when we were making up after a fight: I'm a lucky guoy…to have you. At this point I began speaking directly to him; I couldn't help myself.
LC: Peter, you weren't lucky! You died!
LK: I hear a dog barking. There's a dog with him. Did you have a dog?
LC: Yes, we did. Gracie was our dog. She died of Lyme disease. Peter felt super guilty about it—
LK: [In a grouchy tone] 'It was our dog, but it was MY dog.'
Was he social? Because people are calling out to him over there. Someone's yelling 'Pete! Peter!' I gotta calm him down.
He says, 'I was lucky to have someone so pretty and young.'
LC: I was lucky to have someone so handsome.
LK: 'That's true.'
Even in the afterlife, I was competing with others for his time. But I was weirdly comforted by the joking and grouchiness and grandiosity. It felt like my husband.
Lisa's cell phone started to die, so she gave me her home number, and I called her back. We'd been on the phone for about 45 minutes.
LK: Who met you?
LK: I'm asking Peter; who met you? Mom. He says mom. But he was clearly met by his father. He was starting his transition that last week.
'Did you touch my face? I wasn't in my body when you did.'
Until that last week, I hadn't been able to touch Peter's skin with my fingers or lips for three months; I wore rubber gloves and kissed him from behind a mask. A stem-cell transplant takes a patient down to zero immunity; a kiss from a wife with even a nascent cold sore can be deadly. But once we knew he was not going to survive, I took off the mask and gloves, climbed into the bed with him—he was in a morphine sleep by this time—and I did touch his face. After he died, I kissed his face and tried to close his eyes.
LK: He says, 'You did what you knew was right. I am well here.'
LC: Do you swear, Peter?
LK: 'No. But you do.'
A joke! It's true; I swear like a sailor. He hardly ever did.
LK: Who's Boo-boo?
At this I shrieked loudly enough that Davey ran into the room to make sure I was okay. Then I told Lisa that Boo-boo was Peter's baby name for Davey.
LK: He was a seal-the-deal kind of guy. He says, 'XOXO.'
LC: He didn't do that! I did that. I do that.
LK: He said, 'That's one for you.'
We'd been on the phone for a little over an hour. I thanked her and took down her address to mail a check for her $350 fee. I asked her if people ever called for another reading, and she said yes, but that she didn't encourage it. She didn't want people to become dependent; they had to move through their grief and maybe learn to recognize the signs themselves. We were hanging up when she said suddenly, "Who's Paul? Who's Paul? 'Give a hug to Paul.'"
Wherever Peter was—and let's say for the sake of argument that he was—the dog was barking, and his sense of humor was intact, as was his self-regard, and I was still trying to get his attention. The picture of life, or death, or whatever state it might be that Lisa was depicting, felt incredibly familiar. It was funny. It was almost earthy, not profound, not woo-woo. I could not shake the notion that after we hung up, he was off to a gathering with his friends Eric and Sarah, and Lem and Clay, his dad and mom. Abraham Lincoln? George and Ira Gershwin? Ava Gardner? Peter loved history, and he loved meeting famous people, and it occurred to me that the ranks of the dead could make up the best cocktail party ever. In the immediate aftermath of the call, I was filled with euphoria and flooded with an intense wave of love for him.
I began to tell people about the reading. "Wait, he's still learning not to criticize?" my friend Shonna said. "Don't you think it's weird to think of him still learning?" I called psychotherapists to try to get some kind of plausible explanation—something rooted in psychology rather than parapsychology—for why this call made me immediately feel so much better. Sameet M. Kumar, PhD, who counsels dying patients and then, afterward, their families (this is brilliant; why don't more therapists work with both the dying and their families?), and who wrote a wondrous little book called Grieving Mindfully, listened to me cast around for reasons that didn't involve spirits in an afterlife and then gently said, "Are you trying to get me to tell you that I don't believe in this? Because I do…. I've heard hundreds of these stories over the years." Another, a very respected psychiatrist, confided (though not for attribution) that he'd had his own experience talking to his father via a medium.
Peter and I had become friendly with a young physician's assistant on the lymphoma service at New York-Presbyterian. I wrote her and asked if she or anyone there had an opinion about life after death. I half expected to never hear from her again. But the next morning, this was in my inbox: "I love that you asked this question. At risk of possibly sounding 'out there' or 'psychedelic,' I absolutely believe in some form of afterlife and/or spirit activity. I think I believed in it before I started working here, but over the past 2 years, my awareness has only become heightened, as I deal with more and more life-to-death transitions. I asked some of my colleagues too and they all agreed—there is definitely something after death, but no one is sure exactly what. Some spirits of my patients are more 'active' than others, I've noticed. Not quite sure why that is either."
Lisa Kay works only over the phone, she says, in part to keep the reading "more pure," to avoid the "distractions" of an in-person reading. But precisely because I'm a left brainer, because I've spent my professional life as a journalist, I became determined to meet her, to report her out, to use one of my profession's terms of art. I was convinced that if I observed her body language, looked her in the eye, that if I grilled her about her job and how it works, I'd know if what had happened between us was real. I wanted to demystify the mystery.
I called her and invited her to lunch. Somewhat reluctantly, she agreed.
We met in an Upper East Side Manhattan restaurant Lisa picked; I told her what kind of bag I'd be carrying and she spotted me first. She was not the New Agey lady I was expecting. She was attractive, well-coiffed, and beautifully turned out in pink cashmere, black pants, and flats. I'm guessing that she's a few years older than I, but her age remains a state secret.
"I knew you'd call again," she said as we sat down among all the ladies who lunch and ordered a salad Niçoise and a frittata. How did she know?
"Well, I'm a medium." She giggled.
I began to ask her about how it works, the mechanics of reading, of seeing spirits.
"First," she said, "I don't talk to dead people. I don't see dead people. I hate that." It drives her nuts. "Spirits are energy—energy can't be destroyed, just read the quantum physicists. Max Planck. They're just on a higher vibrational frequency, and I have to tune in to that."
What did she do to prepare? "I meditate. I quiet my mind. I connect to my heart, set an intention to read. I make sure I'm well hydrated. I leave my problems at the door, making myself completely available to be a receiver." What happens when the signs, or "hits," as she calls them, start to come? "Sometimes it's a little movie. Sometimes a picture. A symbol. Sometimes it's just one sign—a smell." Or a sharp, fleeting pain in her head if, say, the deceased had a brain tumor.
She says she gets some of her best hits in the shower: "Water conducts energy." And at Bloomingdale's! She's quite funny. "I'm joking, but truthfully, I will go to Bloomingdale's when it's empty and walk around, and I get some of the biggest hits that way."
.............But I was getting to know Lisa. One day it occurred to me that she was more or less in the same cycle of grief as I. Because 11 weeks before Peter died, her brother Patrick had died suddenly. "I'm human, too," she's said more than once. "Sometimes people say to me, 'Oh, you can just talk to Patrick anytime you want.' It doesn't work that way."
I decided to report out Patrick. I felt sneaky and deceitful. But it seemed to me that if there were any untruths in that story, it would cast doubt over everything. One day I gingerly asked Lisa, "What record company did he run?" Gotham Records, she said. Another time, "What was his last name again?" I asked her how old he was when he died: 41. Then I Googled him.
What emerged from the Internet—and this took a lot longer than five minutes—were images of a young man with wire-rimmed glasses, a gregarious smile, and close-cropped sandy hair, his strong arms wrapped affectionately around the other people in the pictures.
Patrick Arn was the founder and president of Gotham Records and Vital Music. I listened to a podcast interview with him about his innovations at his label; he was figuring out ways to place his artists' music in video games, movies, commercials—a creative business model in a time of iTunes and Spotify disruptions. He sounded smart, scrappy, principled, vibrant. He died, at the age of 41, on September 7, 2013, from a seizure in his sleep. I found his death notice in the New York Times, and read, "Beloved son…adored brother…an inestimable, crushing loss."
Everything Lisa had said about him and her family was true. But there was something about the last phrase, in the tiny agate type of the Times, that put an end to my questioning. Lisa lost her kid brother. She says she feels some guilt that she couldn't prevent it. What a terrible burden that must be.
"Peter brought us together," Lisa says, and she means it literally. But I think that it was our shared grief, that most terrestrial of emotions, that kept us connected.
Last April her number popped up on my cell while I was grocery shopping one Saturday morning. She said, "I'm calling you because I got a sign from Peter." It was the only time she'd done this in our yearlong acquaintance. "He keeps saying the word wife. Very emphatically. Does that make sense?"
I'd always referred to Peter as my husband. What I hadn't told her was that he and I were together 17 years but only married the last 11 months of his life. He'd resisted getting married a second time. He liked calling me his girlfriend. He thought it was sexier. But I always wondered, and worried, if part of him just wanted the out. We got married, in the end, out of hope, when we thought he was at last cancer free. Not that some of the old ambivalence wasn't in effect: He was 45 minutes late to the ceremony.
"He says, 'Wife. Wife. Wife.' He wants you to know you were his wife," Lisa said.
In our early days of grieving, my son said something that I've often thought about since. We were sitting at our kitchen table, and he was heartbreakingly sad. "I wish we lived in a magic world," he said, "where science wasn't the answer to everything."
He was thinking about miracles and medicine and death. But from this distance, I think it's a lovely theory of everything.
This piece originally appeared in the October 2015 issue of ELLE.