Afterward you find the recipient of the most specific message, the girl with the ring. Her name is Sarah Treanor. The dead boy, Andrew, was her fiancé. He died in a helicopter crash last year. The older woman, Claudia Briell, is his mother. They traveled here from Texas. They spoke to Comtois briefly in the conference bookstore yesterday and mentioned that Andrew had been a helicopter pilot, but they never said anything about the ring (specifically that Andrew had commissioned Briell to buy it) or about the crash.

"He was normally very bold," Treanor says, wiping her eyes, "but I didn't think he'd be so obvious." She pulls one of Comtois' purple papers out of her bag. In the middle is a scribbled squiggle, which could be identified as the path of a helicopter rotor. "He said he made this back in April."

Treanor and Briell start crying again, and you feel like crying with them — though mostly because you can't imagine what it's like to lose someone so suddenly and miss them so desperately.

RFT Photo-illustration. Illustrated elements by Mark Andresen.

One of Julie Beischel's planned studies is about grief and mediums, specifically whether messages from the dead really do help the bereaved. Based on what you see here, it does seem to help, at least in the short run.


They Walk Among Us, Part 2

Suzane Northrop is more plainspoken and blunt than Comtois. The dead people she sees are sometimes demanding and rude — a pair visited earlier today while she was taking a shower — and sometimes kind of gross. "There's a big guy back there who's taking his teeth out of his mouth," she informs the audience. "Will you tell him not to do that, please?"

Northrop usually identifies people by calling out names and seeing who responds, though one audience member's mother makes herself known by singing "Goodnight, Irene," the same song she used to sing to him when he was small. Some people come in bringing animals. A little girl tells her mother that she's wearing lipstick and is that OK? ("She wouldn't have asked before," the mother says, laughing and crying at the same time.) A man tells his sister he's grateful she buried him with their mother. A young boy holding a fishing pole tells his mother he visits his father on his boat all the time and they go fishing. A man asks his mother if his living brother Bobby is taking good care of her, or does he need an ass-kicking?

In a phone interview, Northrop says she can only see people who have a connection of love with someone in the room, which is why she can't call up dead celebrities. Also most contact happens within the first year of a person's death, particularly the first three days. Unfortunately, she says, most of the time the living are still too sunk in grief too see the signs. The people who feel the most intense sense of loss are usually mothers.

About halfway through the 90-minute demonstration, you start wishing Northrop had a message for you, preferably from your grandma, who, you are sure, is the only dead person who really loved you. But in life your grandma wasn't the sort of person to shove her way through a crowd. And the two of you said everything you needed to say (unless she forgot to mention the money buried beneath the floorboards of her house — in which case it's too late now; the house has been sold), and what you feel for her isn't grief, just a nostalgic ache.

In short, you are not Northrop's or Comtois' target audience. Not because you are a skeptic, but because you don't need to believe that it's possible to talk to dead people or that the afterlife really is a better place than where we are now so that you'll be able to rationalize that there is maybe one good thing about the death of a child.

You still wonder, though, what the scientific explanation for the mediums might be. 

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