How do I handle this "medium"?
January 14, 2016 7:31 AM   Subscribe

My brother died a little over a month ago. My mom recently went to see a medium who said my brother confirmed something I know to be false. It greatly upsets me that this woman is exploiting my brother('s death) and my mother('s emotional vulnerability). Is there anything I can do?

Concerning what I know to be false: about a week after my brother passed my mom was taking pictures of his son. When she was done she called out to me and said my brother's spirit appeared in the pictures. She showed them to me and through out the series of pictures, around my nephew, were the exact same "orb" looking things. They were in the same spot of every picture. I took the phone, looked at the lense and sure enough there was a smudge on it. I wiped it off and my mother took a picture where my nephew had been sitting before. Of course there were no more orbs, I had wiped off the smudge. But she looked it as further proof because my nephew was no longer sitting there and the orbs were gone. I decided I couldn't convince her and it wouldn't be helpful to try so I dropped it. Meanwhile she posted the picture on Facebook and got over a hundred likes and comments saying things like, "Wow! You can't deny that!" I let it go.

Last night, however, she saw a medium and that medium apparently got through to my brother. She told my mom that my brother confirmed that those orbs were him. This makes me sick to my stomach and honestly pretty angry. I didn't say anything but "That's nice" to my mom.

I want to at least send this "medium" a message and tell her I think what she's doing - preying on those who lost loved ones - is disgusting. Should I bother? Should I do more? If I can convince one person and prevent them from giving money to this fraud that would make me happy. But I don't know how my mom will react if I were to post a story about this onto, say, Facebook. It'll likely hurt her feelings, and make me look like an asshole. I'm not sure that I can sit by and do nothing at all.
posted by blackzinfandel to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think you might just have to let it go. When people pass away, especially someone's child, I think it's important that they are able to find solace wherever they can.

Your Mum probably knows the "truth" deep down, but I suspect she's grieving deeper than you know and needs to take comfort where she can.

Of course, if your mum continues going back to and giving more money to this Medium, then you might have to intervene.. but if it's only a one off, I'd let it go.

So sorry for your loss.
posted by JenThePro at 7:44 AM on January 14, 2016 [29 favorites]

Trying to say this carefully. I hear you (and am on your side) 100% when it comes to the non-science side of things, and this falls into it.

By the same token, I'd view your mother as dealing with this in whatever way works for her. If it is not a medium, it would be a leaf falling on the ground in the same shape of the blob on a photo...going through the internet and finding a similar report somewhere in the last 20 years..We'll find things to distort and help us deal with our emotions in our own way. For whatever reason, this is what she wants and needs right now. I would let her deal with death in her own way. I would absolutely not post FB (even if you hide it from her) bc someone somewhere might pass it on to her, especially if that is how she disseminates her information. From your description, it is highly highly likely it will come back and she will see it if she shares with all her friends on FB and you saw the original post.

However, are there other venues that she does not typically use or view? Yelp? Better Business Bureau? What if you post a review on yelp with no identifying info that can point back to you or your mother? BBB sometimes involves conversations back and forth between the person registering a complaint, the actual business (my guess the medium), and a moderator/arbitrator - and that could be done behind doors that are not public. But either of those 2 other situations might help you do the right thing in your mind, while not hurting your mother.

Sorry about your loss..
posted by Wolfster at 7:45 AM on January 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

It makes your mom feel better to believe the smudges are your brother. It makes your mom feel better to have others confirm this belief. Unless she starts giving life-altering sums of money to this medium, let her make herself feel better. Focus on finding ways that you can feel better.
posted by kelseyq at 7:45 AM on January 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

Best answer: grief is a motherfucker. your mom needs this obviously untrue thing to get her through hers. do you need her to acknowledge that you're right about this to get you through yours?

were it me, i'd scream and yell and thrash about to my friends and non-mom-connected loved ones. there's no benefit to you approaching the medium, they're entire business is fraudulent. there's no benefit to stopping someone from going to this "fraud" because if someone is going to a medium, they're going to a fraud. there's no benefit to talking about this with your mom, her belief is stronger than evidence at this point.

the best thing you can probably do for your mental health is to disconnect yourself some from your mom and facebook for a while. if she tries to talk with you again about the orbs, you are well within your rights to set your boundary and tell her it's too upsetting to talk about.

i am so sorry for your loss. you're not wrong to react like this. i'd be spitting mad were this my relative. take care of yourself first and most.
posted by nadawi at 7:47 AM on January 14, 2016 [13 favorites]

If yur mom believed your brother had "floated up to heaven" and was now spending time with Grandma and Grandad or other lost loved ones, and you "knew that to be false", would you try to disabuse her of that notion?

Let it go. Honestly, it seems like your wanting to take down this medium is a part of yor own processing of grief. You might want to examine that aspect, when you are ready.
posted by Brittanie at 7:55 AM on January 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

This is awful. I agree with others that you should say nothing to your mother and let her use this to process her grief. Do whatever you need to disengage from seeing or hearing about the photos and the medium.

As for the medium, there's nothing wrong with talking to that person directly without your mother involved. At least that's what I did when a predatory doctor convinced my mentally ill and pathologically hypochondriac mother that she has an unverifiable quack "disease" that will take thousands of dollars to treat. (He doesn't take insurance, of course.) I told him in no uncertain terms that he may have fooled my mother, but he hadn't fooled me. It doesn't change him, of course, but I felt an amount of psychic justice in saying out loud that I knew this guy was a fraud. And I removed myself from the situation.

Don't post about it on Facebook, though. That's asking for conflict with your mother, which neither one of you needs. If the person is on Yelp or Google Maps or anywhere else, do it there, if you don't want to talk to them in person.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:59 AM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are two sides to this, on one, she's offering comfort and solace to a grieving parent, on the other, she's exploiting a tragedy.
Where the line falls, IMO, depends on how much she's charging. A modest fee, one-off that your mum can easily afford - that's solace. A large fee or insisting additional follow up sessions are needed etc - that's exploitation.

If it makes your mum happy and she's not being manipulated into spending more than she can afford on this medium, leave her be. You may not agree with what the medium has chosen to do for a living but that doesn't mean that being a medium is inherently wrong or evil. They can bring great hope and joy to people. Its probably false hope but that doesn't make the feeling any less real.
posted by missmagenta at 8:01 AM on January 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

This really, really sucks, and I'm sorry about that. But I think you have to let it go. When one person is fulfilling a crucial emotional need for another, 99% of the time they can't hear criticism of that person. Trying to open her eyes will only drive her away from you and toward the medium. Try instead to make your mom feel that she can turn to you when she wants to talk about your brother.
posted by Diablevert at 8:17 AM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You have to let this go. This is what mediums do, they know they're doing it, and you informing them they're doing it is not going to give you the satisfaction you're imagining right now. (Among other things, she may use the knowledge that this is a family disagreement to further "astound" your mother with her magical insight.)

Your mother paid her money and got told what she wanted to hear, she exchanged money for a service. If she keeps doing it, you'll have to have some hard conversations with your mother, but talking to the medium isn't going to stop it.

And here's the thing: there's a good chance one day your mother is going to wake up deeply, horribly embarrassed by this. It's pretty common with big grief - the stuff you did in the anger, bargaining, and denial stages, even if they don't have lasting consequences, can't be erased from everyone's minds. She's going to need you then, and ideally this will not be a significant hitch in your relationship when that time comes.

It seems counter-intuitive, but people don't grieve alike and the grieving of people around you can be enormously upsetting, frustrating, and just plain done wrong as far as you're concerned. Make sure you are putting your own mask on first - get yourself some support that is way further out on the grief graph, and let that person hear about the medium and stuff like that.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:18 AM on January 14, 2016 [10 favorites]

I am acquainted with a number of practicing mediums in my spiritual community. Regardless of your views on how scientifically valid their practices are, and whether or not their clientele come to them with concerns based in "truth": What I have observed is that by and large (at least in those I've known) a medium is, at her very essence, a minister and a counselor. Whether or not you believe in their ways -- the primary role of a medium is to comfort those who come to them in need. They provide solace, they provide guidance and comfort, to those grasping for something to hold onto in times of tumult. You may not like what the medium says, and it may not have been based on the reality of the situation; but that your Mom found some small measure of comfort in her experience is what made it worth it for her. This to me is no different than someone seeking counsel from their clergy person. Whether it's Jesus coming down to lay a soothing celestial hand on Mom's shoulder, or your dearly lost brother appearing as "orbs" -- this is your mom's healing process. Let her have this small thing.

Now, as others above has said: If this person is extracting large sums of money from your mom to the level that it becomes a financial burden, then the problem is no longer that she is seeing a medium/minister/counselor, but is being taken advantage of by a scammer. I would also heartily agree with Brittanie above about examining why this makes you so angry.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 8:25 AM on January 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

"Where the line falls, IMO, depends on how much she's charging. A modest fee, one-off that your mum can easily afford - that's solace. A large fee or insisting additional follow up sessions are needed etc - that's exploitation."

Yes. As long as it doesn't turn into a lot of money and very frequent visits, I'd let it go and let your mom grieve as she wishes. If it DOES turn into an exploitation situation -- I see that you're in the US; most states have restrictions on fortune telling, and if the medium starts straying beyond those "entertainment" guidelines and/or charging your mom a lot of money, I would look into that for your mom's state and see if you can report the medium to the state attorney general for fraud. Nothing may come of it, but a phone call from the state AG makes a lot of shady businesses straighten up and fly right for a few months anyway.

There may also be an eldercare hotline in your mom's state that could help you find resources for dealing with this type of business preying upon the elderly.

If your mom is religious, and this continues, another option would be to speak with her pastor (ideally together with her, not behind her back), as someone who can provide her some spiritual comfort -- as it sounds like she is seeking spiritual answers -- as well as grief counseling (most mainline pastors have some training in counseling) that is a little more appropriate and a little less predatory.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:27 AM on January 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: You a thousand times a thousand do not have to stay out of this if she continues to see this person! These people defraud grieving/desperate "customers" all the time.

So this one time, fine, I wouldn't say anything negative to your mom. But if she goes back I would show her articles like this on what's really going on when they ask for more money/gifts to contact spirits, etc.

Like I get that people here are saying it's a harmless way to process grief... and it totally can be, except that often these businesses don't stop after 1 session and feed on the hope/needs of their clients. Grief counselors don't.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:08 AM on January 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

The grief that comes from losing a child is immense. Like, bigger than you can possibly fathom unless you've been through it yourself. I have. After our baby died I found comfort with other people who had also been through a similar situation to my own. Everyone found their own ways to grieve. I wrote about my loss. Some folk raised money or set up non-profits. Many (most) sought solace in some sort of spirituality. They believed their babies grew wings and went to Heaven to be Angels. They believed their babies were reborn as their subsequent child. They believed the spirit of their baby visited them in the form of a lady bug. I don't believe any of these things to be true but I have/had no right to impose my incredulity on their grieving process.

You are hurting. You lost someone too. You love your mother. You fear for her mental well being. But unless you fear the medium is trying to fleece your mother out of copious amounts of money my advice to you is to keep your judgments to yourself. Let her grieve in a way that feels right to her.
posted by teamnap at 10:03 AM on January 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

What age is your nephew? I would be more concerned by his feelings about this. Let your mother grieve in her own way, but check what your nephew thinks about his father's spirit supposedly appearing beside him. He may need to vent his feelings about being dragged into this.
posted by Azara at 10:09 AM on January 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Just to touch on something else. If your mom senses disapproval from you in her belief that your brother is communicating to her from the afterlife she may be less open to talking to you about her interactions with this medium. I do think it's a very good idea to keep abreast on her interactions so that if their relationship gets unhealthy, particularly financially, you may be able to help. That will be much harder to do if you are already in an adversarial relationship with your mother about it.
posted by teamnap at 10:10 AM on January 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I agree that it's best I leave this alone unless it becomes an ongoing money problem. Thank you, guys.

I think it's a little strange to be asked why this makes me angry. Does it offer my mom comfort? Sure. Should I leave it be? Fine. But it's not irrational to be upset that my mom is being manipulated emotionally and financially and that this woman undoubtedly does it to many others. It's not just her seeing a medium, it's the fact that she blatantly lied to her about the orbs. That's proof that this medium, at the very least, is a fraud. And yes, my mom is bad with money and barely lives paycheck to paycheck. I don't believe this is an anger that needs to be explored, it's completely rational.
posted by blackzinfandel at 10:35 AM on January 14, 2016 [8 favorites]

To address your update OP, you say ".... It's not just her seeing a medium, it's the fact that she blatantly lied to her about the orbs" -- the same could be said about the preacher who "blatantly lies" about personally talking to Jesus (or insert your deity here) or a minister saying they can see the departed waving at you from beyond the pearly gates, or a shaman who went on a vision quest and spoke with the spirit of the departed. It goes on and on -- what makes the medium a liar but not the preacher or the cleric or the shaman? It's all a matter of perspective. Spirituality may not be your cup of tea, but across cultures, its use of symbols, archetypes, and ethereal thoughtforms are a balm to those who aren't finding what they seek in the physical, visible world. You could call it a band-aid, but even a simple band-aid is helpful to cover & soothe a wound as the Self rebuilds and heals.

I am so very sorry for your loss.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 10:52 AM on January 14, 2016 [10 favorites]

You're right to be angry about this. What the medium is doing is exploitative, fucked up and gross. But I wouldn't approach your mom or the medium about it. Like others said, the medium is well aware that she's propagating lies. Better to try to take your rage out with things like intense exercise, venting to friends, writing, whatever outlet you can find.
posted by a strong female character at 3:27 PM on January 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I read My mom recently went to see a medium who said my brother confirmed something I know to be false, I clicked into this question expecting something that retroactively changed the truth about your relationship with your mother and brother. For instance, your brother completely forgives his uncle for stealing Grandma's heirloom jewelry and leaving the family destitute! or something along those lines.

As others have said, the medium seems to be giving your mother what she's hoping for: a connection to your brother after his death. Unless their relationship changes and the medium starts making promises about the future or somesuch, I would view it as a particular form of grief therapy.

I would, however, let your mother know that these anecdotes might be confusing or troubling for your nephew right now, and to save the stories for a later date when he'd be better equipped to process them.
posted by redsparkler at 3:30 PM on January 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: To address your update OP, you say ".... It's not just her seeing a medium, it's the fact that she blatantly lied to her about the orbs" -- the same could be said about the preacher who "blatantly lies" about personally talking to Jesus (or insert your deity here) or a minister saying they can see the departed waving at you from beyond the pearly gates, or a shaman who went on a vision quest and spoke with the spirit of the departed.

Some people would be upset or annoyed about being told such things by any preacher, minister, or shaman after a loved one's death. Assuming people observe religious beliefs and practices is a bad assumption.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:35 AM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

This psychic is offering your mother consolation and comfort that you could not, and you know it's a sham, and it sounds like you're being constantly reminded of it.

Your mom desperately wants to believe that her son is still, in some sense, around for his son. She got to watch her kids grow up, her son did not get to. This is not a thing she wants to live with, and she has found a way that she doesn't have to.

You wouldn't tell your mother what she wanted to hear, so she found someone who would. If this medium had not, I'm confident she would have found another - medium, spiritualist, mystic, minister, etc., - who would.

This makes your mother both foolish and vulnerable. That is a terrifying thing to see in a parent. It's much easier to be mad at this one medium (who had probably been doing this to/for other people's mothers for ages without drawing your ire), than it is to face a parent's weakness.

Do what you can to prevent your mother from making any irreversible costly choices. But I think your time would be better spent being with your fatherless nephew and your bereaved mother, and a therapist of your own, than with a righteous campaign against the random psychic your mother happened upon.
posted by Salamandrous at 1:51 PM on January 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

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