All humans share two life events – birth and death. However, people deal with death in many different ways. Culture, religion, personal beliefs and fear all influence our reactions. Sometimes death seems so sad that we look for help, for comfort, sometimes in unusual ways.
Abigail McCarthy remembers awakening and walking outside her bedroom one night during childhood in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“As a small child I remember, in the house we were staying, and it was quite an old house, waking and I saw a woman at the top of the passage. I thought it was my mother, so I called for her. But when the woman turned around, I saw it wasn’t my mother.”
Later, people told her that the woman she said she saw had died in the house years before.
Today, Abigail McCarthy is in her early 40s with long, dark hair and intense blue-green eyes. She was about six years old when she believes she started seeing dead people.
She says that at first, she felt very afraid of talking with what she call spirits of the dead. But she got over her fear. She became a medium, a person in the middle, so to speak, of the world of the living and the world of the dead. She says being a medium, a bridge to the after-life, did not come easily to her.
She says the more contact she had with the dead, the more she understood that she was helping people deal with death.
Ms. McCarthy says that people often struggle to accept the deaths of their loved ones. This is especially true of those who die in terrible circumstances or terrible situations.
People in mourning come to Ms. McCarthy
Ms. McCarthy now works as a medium at a spiritual healing center in Johannesburg. There, she has dealt with people at the lowest points in their lives -- people who have lost their life partners or parents who have lost all their children in auto accidents.
“I’ve had a father who lost his children, you know, people who have lost their parents recently. When that happens, the pain is unbearable … or somebody losing their partner. You do find a desperation with them. They are lost.”
Ms. McCarthy says her clients often ask her to finish unfinished business – things like unsettled anger or hurtful words that may have been said. Some people come to her looking for forgiveness.
How Does a Medium Work?
Abigail McCarthy says her communication with dead people begins on a blank, empty page. She asks her clients – people who come to her -- to tell as little as possible about the person they want her to reach. Then she says she just starts talking.
She says she does not really see dead people in the room. Instead, she says she feels their presence and sees them in her mind. She adds that what she sees is not like in the movies .
“I literally see in my mind a person or a place or how they look, what they are wearing, what they are saying or trying to get across. Nothing bizarre happens. The room doesn’t shake. Things don’t get knocked over.”
Ms. McCarthy does not hurry to call her ability to communicate with dead people a gift.
“I hesitate to call it a gift. But yeah, I do believe we’ve all got our gifts. I don’t agree that it’s something that’s special or that you’re above others. I think it’s got to be used in the right way; I think you’ve got to be very careful that you don’t become arrogant with it.”
Some religions condemn or forbid attempts to contact dead people. And even working with a medium is considered a sin. Ms. McCarthy feels that it is up to the individual.
“I have had a couple of readings with people that are religious and have been a bit nervous and have said, ‘Is this okay; should I maybe not be here?’ And I always say: ‘Well, that’s up to you. I certainly don’t believe what I’m doing is evil. But if you really are that uncomfortable then maybe you mustn’t do it.’”
Ms. McCarthy says that in the past she often wished that she was not a medium. She wished she had a “more normal” career. But she says she has learned to accept her ability. And she says she enjoys helping other people.
“I don't run around preaching love and life. I just do what I do in the time that I do it. And I’ve learned to see that it’s helpful for others, and I’m seeing that as the good side. And actually, if I had to stop now it would be a little disappointing. I enjoy helping people.”
Ms. McCarthy understands that some people do not believe her. But that does not change the fact that she believes she is helping people by giving them peace of mind.
I’m Anna Matteo.
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This broadcast was adapted into Learning English by Anna Matteo. It is based on a report by VOA Johannesburg correspondent Darren Taylor.
Words in the News
medium – n. an individual who is supposed to be a channel of communication between the earthly world and a world of spirits
afterlife - n. a life that some people believe exists after death
circumstance - n. a condition or fact that affects a situation
forgive - v. to pardon; to excuse; to remove guilt (“forgiveness” n.)
condemn - v. to say in a strong and definite way that someone or something is bad or wrong (“condemnation” n.)
Practice with one of these words in our comments section.