Authors: Jackie Barrett
When I was eight years old, I died. I died on the operating table as doctors tried to take out my appendix. It had ruptured, and the contamination caused me to go into shock. I flatlined for more than three minutes. A large and immediate blood transfusion was the only thing that brought me back, the doctors said.
But they hadn't gone where I had. They hadn't followed me into the bright tunnel. Yes, it was indeed a tunnel, where I felt happy and weightless. A dog came running toward me, barking cheerfully, and he was followed by my grandfatherâmy father's father, a Native American medicine man who had passed away years before. I ran forward and hugged him. He reached up and took a medicine bag from around his neck and put it around mine.
The tunnel began to fill with people, standing behind my grandfather and blocking the way through to the other side. One appeared off to the side, a very tall man dressed in black. My grandfather bent down toward me. “You must fight this man,” he said, as the man began walking toward me. “You must go back and follow your spirit. Never forget who you are.” Then he turned around and walked away from me, fading away, along with the protective crowd of people. “You shall win,” he said as he vanished, leaving me alone with the tall man in black.
I wanted desperately to run after my grandfather, but I couldn't move. The tall man took my hand and grinned at me. “Jackie, you'll grow to realize that things are already set. If I let you go now, it will change everything else.” He turned me back the way I'd come. I tried to resist. “Cheer up,” he said. “I thought you would like a good fight. I will watch you as you watch me, and when certain deeds are done, we'll meet again.”
He pushed me out of the tunnel, his laughter following me as I returned to life.
*Â *Â *
Part of my work as a psychic medium comes from families desperate to contact loved ones who have passed away. Most of the time, these are not good deaths. They are people who have died suddenlyâthrough something like accident, suicide, or murderâor who have died while distanced from their relatives by some force, like drugs or estrangement. Always, there are things left unsaid. That is where I come in. I am the communications link between the two sides. The living and the dead. And helping one side also helps the other. I have stopped being surprised at how much both sides still have to say, even after it's too late. So then they find meâbecause I help it be never too late.
I have spoken with the dead since I was a little girl, even before my own brush with death as a child. I know them well. I often hear people say, “No time for sleepâI'll sleep when I'm dead.” I just smile to myself. If only they knew the truth: it is the living who rest. The dead don't need to. Some of them work and play, or relive their lives, or stay to comfort the grieving loved ones left behind. Some go on long journeys, traveling over hills and roads, doing everything that was restricted during life. They are free.
But some are not. This is especially true for those who die violently or much too young. They come to me the most, I think because they know I can communicate what they were robbed of the chance to say. Can you imagine walking around and having no one see or hear you, not even those you loved the most while alive? They try to get back, they try to break through. It takes a gentle hand, a kind heart, and patience to help them face what they often haven't been able to acceptâtheir own deaths.
And so, when I meet these spirits, they give me clues about what their lives were like, signs that only their closest loved ones would recognize, so that the living will know that the spirits really are communicating through me.
I always start with a photograph. I don't go by names. It's the imprint of the face that I take with me as I go on my personal journey to the other side. I stare at the picture and sit back in my office chair. That and a bright light are all I needânone of that other fancy crap psychics on television use.
The journey usually comes with a bump. I smell flowers, or cologne, or cigar smokeâanything that was their favorite. The walls of my office often change, and the world turns into wavy lines and lights before my eyes. I look past the photo and go through the door of death. I feel weightless. The temporal world no longer holds me. I travel down that familiar tunnel. The lights turn into a steady stream, illuminating the walls as I pass crowds of people slowly walking toward me. I hear the whispers, voices reaching out to me with enduring messages.
Have you seen my son?
Tell my daddy I love him.
Tell my daughter I saw her wedding. I was right there in my favorite dress.
Has my girlfriend cried yet? I don't want to scare her by coming around.
How can the living think that the dead don't feel? The body is just a house for a short time. The soul lives forever. When they come through me, I begin to write. After I get what I need, I pull myself out as fast as I can. Sometimes their sufferings are more than I can bear. The pain of the families and the dead is now mine as well. If only I had the ability to prevent such tragedies, to bring the dead back. But, unfortunately, death is an industry that never stops.
And I can never say no. So I was at work two days into the new year, my holiday break over. I sat in my office and stared at the photograph of a middle-aged man. The attached note from his children and sister said he had passed away almost three years earlier. They hoped to make contact with him.
I had three hours before their call. I didn't need that much time to travel to the beyond and back. I stared at his face. “What happened to you?” I asked out loud. This time, there was no bump, no scent of the past. I went through the door anyway, and down that tunnel. I searched and searched, but I knew I would not find him. I kept going because I wanted to have something to tell the grieving family. But he was not there.
Gradually, the crowds of people thinned until there was no one, and the empty tunnel began to echo with dripping water. The floor started to feel thick and pulled at my feet, making my footsteps heavy and unsure. A ball came bouncing toward meâthe red rubber ball of a childâand I looked toward the end of the tunnel to see a little girl in a yellow raincoat appear. The sludgy water dripped all around her, but not a drop actually touched her. She covered her eyes and cried out for her mother. She choked back her sobs and looked at me. “Will you please play with me?”
As she spoke, a light shone behind her like a storm had lifted and the heavens were smiling down. I took a step forward, but my Forever Guardianâmy younger self who died on the operating table and has continued to appear to me throughout my life, protecting me alwaysâstopped me and told me not to go. I stood with her and looked at the little girl in the raincoat, who waited there at the end of the tunnel for my decision. I hesitated, and my Forever Guardian yanked me back. I fell into the air, twisting and turning, then landed with a thump in my own office chair. I gasped for breath and held my now-pounding head. I looked down and saw that my feet were covered with mud and slime from my journey. I staggered into the bathroom and threw some water on my face, wiped my feet off, and reached for the ibuprofen.
That was not how that travel was supposed to have gone. I did not know whom I had found, but it most definitely was not the man I'd been searching for. That family's father and brother was most definitely
dead. Why would his children and sister ask for this? They certainly had some explaining to do. I sat back down and began to write out my questions for them.
As I wrote, I looked at the man's photo again and began to think that I might be able to answer the questions better than his family could. I stopped taking notes and put my hand over his face. “Where are you?” I called out loudly.
I did this over and over, and slowly the answer came as the story of his life started to unfold. First I saw a little boy in a white shirt and blue short pants held up by suspenders, riding a tricycle. Then an adoring mom standing next to him at his high school graduation. I could smell the gardenia in the corsage she wore pinned to her dress. I knew I was on the right track now. His first kiss to a cute little redheadÂ .Â .Â . his dad taking a picture of him standing alongside what I assumed had to be his first carÂ .Â .Â . so far, the picture-perfect family life.
But then it began to change. I saw him slumped over a steering wheel, a syringe and spoon on the seat next to himÂ .Â .Â . again and again over the years as the drugs took overÂ .Â .Â . his attendance at what must have been a daughter's wedding, a train wreck of a father bringing no joyÂ .Â .Â . a flash of his family, sitting in a kitchen and mourning what they thought was his deathÂ .Â .Â . and then there he was, sitting on a park bench with some other homeless people. Yes, he was definitely one of themâdirty clothes, ripped sneakers and no socks to cover his swollen ankles, a cigarette butt behind his ear, wrapped in a worn blanket. He showed signs of schizophrenia, which is very common for someone living in those conditions. My heart went out to him. A lost man at rock bottom, huddled in the cold, thinking no one cared anymore.
I looked at the bench, at the city around him, and sat up straight in astonishment. It was Union Square Park, near Greenwich Village, in the city. It was no more than a thirty-minute train ride from my house. Man, did I have a wonderful belated Christmas gift for this family! Their father and brother was alive, and we could help him. I would gladly give my assistance in reuniting them.
I put down the pen with which I had furiously been taking notes and pushed the intercom button to speak to my daughter, Joanne. “Get this family on the phone now! I have good news for them!”
Her voice came back at me. “Are you kidding me? You always change the schedule.” I knew I had other people waiting to see me. “It takes me days to fit people in,” she said.
I knew that. I knew how I made her work as my assistant much more difficult. I was always changing things up at the last minute. And that wonderful daughter of mine is always my miracle worker, somehow finding a way to make everything still run smoothly. As she did again this timeâthe family called me within five minutes.
We greeted each other, and I could tell that I was on speaker phone. Normally, I hate that. I feel a reading is very personal, and I should be talking only to that person, not a whole audience.
But in this case, everyone on the other end of the phone wanted to know about their dear, “departed” father and brother. I saw them sitting around a kitchen table, passing a box of tissues before the questions started.
“Does he have a message?”
“How is he?”
“Does he know we love him?”
As I listened to the questions, I closed my eyes and left my body, until I was standing outside a back door and looking into a kitchen. Leaning against a counter was an older man, probably in his eighties but still quite sharp. He looked a little nervous. Ah, that was because he was wanting meâon the other end of the phone lineâto prove him right. He was the one who had arranged this reading for his son's daughters and sister. He wanted me to say some otherworldly gibberish, some kind of hogwash, and confirm that his son was dead. His very much alive and homeless son.
Well, since I am not a fraud, I was unable to do what he had hoped that I would. I opened my eyes and was back in my office. I stopped the family's questions with one of my own.
“Who is the older gentleman standing to the back of you?”
I could feel them turning around and looking at him as if to say, “How did you know that?” Now that I had their full attention, I began to explain about their son, father, and brother. I described his whereabouts, his drug use, his likely mental illness, his desperate need of help. I could hear the tears falling on the other end of the phone. One daughter said she always had a feeling that he was still alive. They had been told he had died in an accident years ago. I asked why there was no funeral, and they said that their grandfather had taken care of the arrangements and felt it best to just have him quickly cremated.
There were heavy questions in the air around that kitchen table. The grandfather began to yell. “I don't need this. I gave you girls everything that deadbeat son of mine couldn't.” I could feel his pain. In a way, he was right. He gave everything he could, and he couldn't forgive his son. Instead of the joy I'd expected, I ended the call feeling horrible for everyone involved.
The grandfather contacted me the next day to instruct me to leave things alone. In his eyes, his son had died a long time ago. I tried to talk to the daughters. They said they were happy to know that their father was not dead, but there was nothing they could do for him alive. And then they hung up. I was left confused by the whole situation. How could they have this new knowledge and not act on it?
This was such an unusual result for me. I almost never get to deliver the news that there is life instead of death. I don't often get to tell people that amends can be made now, in this world, before anyone crosses over to the other side. I rarely get to tell clients that they still have time and can do the communicating on their own.