Hello, goodbye

crossroads

Not long after my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in December of 2012, she converted to Catholicism.  I can’t speak to how devout she was and it doesn’t matter to me – I believe the idea of faith and the trappings of belief and ritual gave her great comfort during her last year – so who cares if she never made it to church or attended a single mass.

And so what if she collected blingy rosaries alongside gorgeously rendered gilt-edged tarot decks in her final days- can’t a soul have room for more than one set of beliefs, more than one way for communicating with the divine? Or maybe she was hedging her bets, who knows.  Her relationship with her creator and her spirituality were no business of mine.

For as long as I can remember my mother cultivated a strange system of beliefs.  I recall, at the age of six or seven, sitting silently in a kitchen chair across a ouija board from my mother, my small hands on one edge of the planchette, her slim fingers on the other, and a phone cradled between her ear and shoulder as she chatted with a friend at the same time we were attempting to make contact with spirits.  At a very tender age I learned that my mother just didn’t do things the way other people did, I guess.  I imagine I grew up thinking if you weren’t carrying on conversations with both the dead and the living at the same time, you were probably doing it wrong.

Books on astrology and mediumship were always stacked precariously on our kitchen table; I can picture my mother’s face through a haze of smoke over breakfast as I picked at my Wheat Chex, while she thoughtfully read the paper and drank her coffee, a dangerously long ash from her cigarette dangling over the cover of a Linda Goodman title on Love Signs or perhaps something by Louise Huebner.

I grew up thinking that in every house there were hidden chest of tarot cards, that every stray slip of paper was a piece of an astrological chart, that candles and incense and yoga circles were every family’s Wednesday night. This was a huge part of the curiously fascinating, terrifyingly intense woman that my mother was in life, this yearning for hidden knowledge and a connection to a plane beyond our own.  So it only made sense to my sisters and I to honor that facet of her personality in death: with a visit to a medium, almost a year after her passing.

Welcome Center at Cassadaga

Despite the fact we had been bandying the idea back and forth for almost a year now, we were ill-prepared for this.  We realized we didn’t even have a code word.  As in, I suppose, some absurd word or phrase or inside joke that only we would understand, and we  would recognize immediately if the medium in question was the real deal if he or she were to utter it.  (Since then we have all come up with individual code words and phrases. If you intend to communicate with your loved ones from beyond the veil, I suggest that you take a moment or two to mull it over and do the same!)

Furthermore, we really didn’t even know how to go about finding a recommended spiritualist. We were terrified we were going to get a dud.  You know the kind: “I see a color…a number…a man! …or maybe a woman!” OKAY THAT’S $250 NOW SCRAM”.

Fortunately for us on the day of our intended sojourn, one of my sisters recalled a medium she visited a few years ago in Cassadaga.  “She wasn’t …too bad…?”, she offered doubtfully. And with that, we decided that not too bad was just good enough for us, and proceeded to make an appointment for later that afternoon.

I am really not sure how to talk about the afternoon that followed.  Much of it – two thirds of it, really – is not my story to tell, and that ventures into sharing -details-that-are-none-of-my-business-to-share territory. I can, however share some of my impressions of the reading.

Our medium/psychic, Birdie, lived in a small, unassuming house at the edge of the spiritualist camp -you’ll recognize it by the “Spiritual Garden” sign outside, beside the small dirt driveway which guests can park in.  The rickety screen door, wood-paneled walls and crocheted throws seemed to belong to any other older Florida home, and as we took our seats around a small desk at the rear of the house, I could hear Birdies’ husband mowing the lawn or doing related noisy things in the backyard. It was perfectly ordinary and absolutely surreal all at once.  As if on cue, the three of us giggled nervously.

Birdie seated herself, turned to us, and without missing a beat, asked “why do I see bananas?” This threw us for a bit of a loop.  Why WOULD she see bananas? It then dawned on me that my mother despised bananas (as do I! wretched fruits.) and I offered that piece of information.  Birdie seemed to take this as a sign that we were indeed talking with our mother.  I wish I had thought to ask how this all works.  I mean, was our mother’s spirit there, like an ectoplasmic parrot on Birdie’s shoulder, whispering things in her ear?  Or was it more like a crackly, static-y connection to the next world and maybe our mother made some sort of collect call? Even if I had the wherewithal to ask…how do you even ask that?  Is that too personal, or some sort of spiritualist faux-pas?  I am still pondering this.  Feel free to weigh in.

I am not too certain that I should have been concerned about any hurt feelings though, as Birdie herself was not terribly diplomatic with the messages she delivered.  Maybe it’s a “don’t shoot the messenger sort of thing”, or how you can’t be terribly upset with a translator for passing on the unintentionally rude mumblings of diplomats.  An example of this: at some point during the reading she looked at my two sisters, and then me. “You”, she said, pointing at me “you don’t seem to think as much as these other two girls do”. Well!
But the funny thing is…she isn’t wrong.

But I am jumping ahead. One of the next things that happened is that she glanced at my youngest sister, who was wearing a tee shirt that said something about Indiana and asked “why do I look at you and see California? Does that make sense?”  I don’t mean to be stereotypical, but I don’t think anyone could really look at my sister and see California; she is pale and small with shocking red hair and a penchant for historical fiction and a love for rainy afternoons. However, she has lived out in the deserts of California for the past 7 years, working as a librarian.  Birdie was spot-on. How did she know? Weird.  We had not told her anything about ourselves ahead of time, and other than showing her a picture of our mother (it was actually a 50+ year old photo of a graduation), she had nothing at all to go on.

The next 45 minutes was peppered with those sorts of instances. Birdie asked if we knew a “Sandy or a Sandra”.  Our mother, she said, was apparently spending a lot of time visiting this person. Sandy was my mother’s best friend, and they’d had a bit of a falling out in the months before she passed. Aha!  Another question: “does the name Rose or Rosemary make any sense to you?  She’s with your mother right now.”  A chill ran down my spine when I heard this, for Rosemary Denise Kelly (or Kelly Denise, I can never remember which) was my mother’s much beloved, very pampered cat, who died many years ago. It sounds silly, but whatever other nonsense or baloney we heard during the session (and there was a fair amount of it), *this* was the small thing I had been waiting to hear.  Picturing my mother with that dumb fluffy cat in the afterlife was more comforting than I could possible explain.

Another thing that she said, that gave us all a laugh, and a profound sense of relief I imagine, was when Birdie asked “did your mother ….curse a lot? I get the feeling she swore like a sailor ”  Ha! Did she ever! That was such a huge part of who she was, and if Birdie hadn’t picked up on that, I think we would have been concerned.

Our time was up before long and we silently shuffled out and drove up the road for lunch.
Over a bottle of wine at the Cassadaga hotel we discussed our thoughts.  It was nothing like any of us had expected and yet I think, each in different ways, we found a bit of peace from something we had heard.

wine

I suspect that we were all hoping for an experience that was maybe a little more…atmospheric?  Swaying curtains and lit candles and maybe a cold spot or two, knocks on the walls, something to indicate the…presence of…something?  We’ve probably seen too many movies. I know I’ve for certain read Richard Peck’s Ghosts I Have Been too often; I was really hoping for a crazy Blossom Culp-like encounter.

Although not much changes from year to year – and I do visit Cassadaga once a year now, usually every October – we did take some time to walk around the town, to sort of decompress (it was rather nerve-wracking, at least for me) and to absorb everything we had been told and our thoughts on it. This was our first time visiting the town, all three of us together, and so we bought some tee shirts to commemorate the occasion, and I picked up a pendant that sort of looked like a cross between some far-off nebula and a really girly eye of Sauron.

Though I don’t know for certain how our mother might have felt in her final days about us consulting a medium, and if she would be able to reconcile that with her newfound love of The Lord, I do know beyond the shadow of a doubt that as a lifelong shopping addict, she would have approved of a few purchases and shiny baubles to end the day with.

 

14 Comments on Hello, goodbye

  1. annie
    December 15, 2014 at 5:33 pm (3 years ago)

    oh my gosh, i have been waiting for this post – and actually ran in my head our very brief twiiter exchange about this just this morning lying in bed! hm.

    i really really hoped you walked away from your experience with something, some sense of relief, and i’m so glad you did! even if came in drips and drabs from madame birdie. i wish we could sit over drinks and discuss all of these things, mothers, death, spiritualism, at great length. i feel like we could both go on forever on these subjects. <3

    Reply
    • S. Elizabeth
      December 15, 2014 at 6:06 pm (3 years ago)

      Annie! You know, I really did. Our mother (if it was really her, I dunno how it all works) seemed to have the most to say to our youngest sister. And that did make a great deal of sense;aside from living at opposite ends of the country, they were, I think, the least emotionally close of all of us. I can understand how maybe there might have been more unresolved stuff between the two of them or maybe how “mom” maybe thought that she needed more attention than myself or our middle sister during the reading – if that makes any sense.

      But yes, I agree! If we ever end up in the other’s vicinity, we must take an afternoon and sequester ourselves away with a pot of tea or a glass of wine and talk deep into the wee hours about all of these things!

      Reply
  2. lau
    December 15, 2014 at 6:03 pm (3 years ago)

    you’re braver than i! i would be terrified by what my father would have to say to me through a medium. though, i do wonder.

    much love to you on this day. <3

    Reply
    • S. Elizabeth
      December 15, 2014 at 6:11 pm (3 years ago)

      Lau, honestly, when my sisters asked me about this last year, my answer was an unequivocal NO. I had been lying to my mother about where I was living (she thought I still lived in Orlando, but I was actually maybe 25 minutes away from her) because I knew that if she knew I was close by, she would take terrible advantage of me. After she passed I felt HORRIBLE about this, so incredibly guilty, and I was certain she would be so angry at me. A year later those feelings and guilt was less intense and I decided that I wouldn’t let being frightened make me miss this opportunity.

      At the end of the session, Birdie looked specifically at me and asked if there was anything I wanted to ask/tell my mom. I choked up and tearfully asked if she was mad at me about lying to her and Birdie was like “nahhhh, don’t even worry about that”.

      Still not sure how to interpret that o_O

      Reply
  3. OTB
    December 15, 2014 at 11:08 pm (3 years ago)

    Wow! I think your mother would have loved it and loved that you and your sisters spent this time together and have a sense of wonder.

    I never feel like I can feel any of my ancestors giving a hoot about me and I wonder if they just go on to something else. Well, perhaps my one grandmother, she would have turned 100 in a few months, and I think she would be happy I even remember that.

    I certainly think people can pick up things not necessarily known and whether or not it is from beyond the pale or being given off somehow by the seeker, well, I am happy to embrace the mystery. I think maybe it is better to not know for sure after all.

    Reply
    • S. Elizabeth
      December 16, 2014 at 1:37 am (3 years ago)

      Yes! Agreed! I got really freaked out and disappointed when I’d halfway convinced myself that Birdie was just super observant, like Sherlock Holmes. Imagining her eyes darting around the room, to and fro and picking up on all sorts of unconscious signals we were giving off was really bumming me out. I prefer my theory of ghost parrot mom on her shoulder!

      I’d like to think my grandma might give a hoot about me in the afterlife, but seeing as how she is 94 and outlived all of her children so far, I am fairly certain that she is a vampire or some sort of immortal and she’ll elude the afterlife for eternity!

      Reply
  4. Shana
    December 18, 2014 at 8:04 pm (3 years ago)

    This is wonderful. I am still wanting to go and have my tarot read and possibly talk to my Grandmother. I have one girlfriend that I think is game, so expect 2015 to see a Cassadaga trip from me as well. Thank you for sharing this.

    Side note: I’d also love for 2015 to be the year we finally meet….since I realized we’ve been talking for a good number of years and St. Augustine seems to be a middle point for us!

    Reply
    • S. Elizabeth
      December 19, 2014 at 3:32 pm (3 years ago)

      Yes! I think that is an excellent idea Shana! (If we don’t meet up at my sister’s proposed drunken viewing of 50 Shades of Grey, first!)
      And definitely report back on your Cassadaga trip, if you are comfortable doing so. Birdie may do Tarot readings, I am not sure. She was absently shuffling a deck of tarot cards the entire time we were there.

      Reply
  5. Amy
    July 21, 2015 at 4:22 pm (2 years ago)

    I love this. I have such fond memories of your mother and of that house. Sleepovers with milkshakes, pizza and Headbanger’s Ball! Your mom was an amazing spirit…I was so sorry to hear of her passing. I do remember her cursing! Thank you so much for sharing this.

    Reply
  6. sherry
    April 12, 2016 at 10:29 pm (1 year ago)

    Just have to say my husband just passed away and I’m thinking about again seeing Birdie. First time was 17 years ago at Cassadaga Hotel. I wasn’t supposed to see her, but at last minute my husband decided he didn’t want to go. Let me tell you, when I sat down in her room, my arms were crossed over my chest, attitude like, don’t even TRY it!! I gave her nothing to work with. Skeptical wouldn’t even be close to how to describe me. When I left that room I felt like she had SEEN inside me. On the way home, the four other people in the car sat in stunned silence. Swear to God she knew things, DETAILED, no one knew. Chills, still!

    Reply
    • S. Elizabeth
      April 13, 2016 at 7:44 am (1 year ago)

      I am so sorry to hear about your husband, Sherry. My condolences to you. But yes, I would say DEFINITELY go back. I don’t think my experience was quite the same as yours. My sisters and I aren’t all that skeptical, I think. We WANT to believe! So while Birdie didn’t exactly wow us, I do feel like she had her finger on the pulse of a few things that happened, or that were happening. Best of luck!

      Reply
  7. Stehanie
    April 28, 2016 at 11:32 am (1 year ago)

    I was just in cassadega 2 days ago, birdies place just out of town is up for sale. Not sure if she passed away or just moved. I saw birdie myself August 2014. I too wasn’t wowed immediately and brought up a brother in law that I just couldn’t stand in life and surely didn’t want to waste my precious allocated time discussing him. She did wow me as I was handing over my money with a comment that blew me away. I had sent a silent prayer to the person I was wanting to contact to please make her say something that I would know it was him for sure. So as I’m handing over my money she said what’s this about snowballs/snowcones? I began to squall…. I had just started a mobile shaved ice business prior to my loved ones death. He was so stoked about it and we worked together to get it up and running. Needless to say I listened to my recorded session and numerous thing she had said have come to fruition.

    Reply
    • S. Elizabeth
      April 28, 2016 at 2:43 pm (1 year ago)

      Oh my goodness Stephanie…that’s an eerie and wonderful experience. I’m of course sorry to hear about the loss of your loved one, though. That’s odd and concerning about madame Birdie though–I hope everything is okay with her. Thanks for the head’s up.

      Reply
    • Tamara
      August 1, 2016 at 12:41 am (1 year ago)

      I just went and saw Birdie today. She does readings out of her home now just around the corner off of Lake Helen rd. I have been to Birdie on several occasions, I am a skeptic but I keep going back because she always manages to tell me things that no one should know. I will continue to see her when I need some guidance.

      Reply

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