I’d longed for my mother many times in the more than twenty years since she’d died, but since March I have felt a fresh intensity. While the pandemic was revealing deep cracks in American culture, it was also revealing cracks in my relationship with my longtime partner. Desperate for my mother’s wisdom, I was willing to reach beyond the usual channels—into the great beyond. When the opportunity came to join a Zoom event hosted by a renowned psychic, I cast aside my Before Times skepticism and grabbed it.

I hoped to draw my mother’s attention by putting on a pair of her favorite earrings, pretty, dangling faux pearls encircled by gold wires. They were clip-ons, and as I snapped them over my ear lobes, I recalled the long-ago sting of getting my ears pierced. But these were painful in a different way.

I signed into the gathering to find hundreds of people across multiple screens, from New York to as far as Dubai (where it was 5 a.m.), everyone yearning to hear from their dearly departeds. Our amiable host requested patience as he took in our faces, while those on the “other side” guided him to the people for whom they had messages. “If you’re not chosen,” he reassured, “it just means it’s not your time.”

The chosen, it turned out, were mostly women wearing eyeglasses. I wondered if I should put on a pair but decided against it. On other calls, I’d been complimented on my Zoom background: a red brick wall against which hung two paintings that belonged to my mother, neoclassical scenes on tile surrounded by royal blue velvet and golden frames. But this did not catch the host’s eye, nor, apparently, my mother’s or my late father’s. The dead, it seemed, had nothing to say to me.

Still, I was captivated by the communications penetrating the ether: children lost too early had comforting words for their grieving parents; a father sent applause for the accomplishments of his wheelchair-bound daughter; a beloved grandmother soothed the adult grandchild barred from her nursing home deathbed due to the virus. My matters of the heart soon paled in comparison.

Afterward I tried not to feel dejected, as I stood before the bathroom mirror and removed the earrings, like a woman alone again after a disappointing date. Ironic, since what I’d hoped for from my beloved mother—the one person I would obey without question—was a clear directive: leave him.

The next morning, I awoke with a deep certainty—an angel thought, my mother would’ve called it. Of course, I didn’t need clairvoyance to know what she would say. The dead, some believe, ultimately evolve so far beyond the living that to connect with us would keep them tied to the material world, this mortal coil. I didn’t want my mother tied. In her silence I now heard a bolstering message: she had moved on, and I should too.

Published on September 17, 2020