ENCOUNTERING A MEDIUM, AND OTHERS
New York Times, July 5, 1995
By Elaine Louie
There is nothing about Rosemary Altea that would suggest she speaks to people "on the other side" - people who have, in earthly parlance, died.
Ms. Altea (pronounced al-TEE-ah), a 49-year-old English spiritualist, doesn't look like a fortuneteller or a seer. She doesn't wrap silk scarves around her head, drape herself in robes or finger crystal amulets strung around her neck.
But she has a waiting list of 500 people in Britain who want to communicate, through her, with loved ones who have died (at $200 a consultation). In the United States, where she is on a 12-city
book tour for her autobiography, "The Eagle and the Rose" (Warner Books), she gets 100 requests a week from people who want to see her.
In May, she went on the ABC program "Prime Time Live," where she tried to get in touch with deceased relatives of four guests. Ms. Altea's editor at Warner, Joann Davis, and her agent, Joni Evans of William Morris, vouch for her, which is no surprise. And they swear they have communicated with deceased relatives.
"Sure," I thought.
At a recent dinner with the author, Ms. Evans and spirits - which were seen by Ms. Altea but not by others - I asked her to speak to my late husband, Gerry Sussman. Proof, of course, would be in the details - place of death, cause of death and other facts. Was she or was she not possessed of a sixth sense?
I walked through the front door of Ms. Evans's Manhattan town house, where Ms. Altea has been staying, as a skeptic my purse empty of handkerchiefs and tissues. I walked out two and a half hours later, leaving dozens of sopping wet tissues behind; "Our house is full of people crying," Ms. Altea's 25-year-old daughter, Samantha, said calmly from her vantage point on a sofa. "She makes you want to go and use tissues."
We sat around a coffee table. Ms. Altea and I on a sofa, Ms. Evans on a chair across from us. I asked Ms. Altea the standard Interviewer's questions for about 20 minutes, and then she gazed beyond my right shoulder and said:
"I see 'a man biding his time. His problem was in his lungs and in breathing, and you and he talked of illness. But the illness was short. There was no time to say goodbye -the end was so swift."
She was speaking of Gerry. She knew.
More than five years ago, at 10 on what would be the last night of his life, Gerry had a severe asthma attack, which he fended off with inhalators. Later, at 1 A.M., he said, "I nearly died tonight." We chatted briefly about it and at 3 we went to sleep. At 5, two hours later, he was. dead, An autopsy revealed he had died of a heart attack.
Where were those tissues? Ms. Evans Jumped from the chair and brought a box and put them on the coffee table.
Ms. Altea, speaking for Gerry, talked about our daughter, whom he said had Just asked, to change schools,
She had, at 11 that morning.
He also said it wasn't a good idea at this moment.
"It's out of the question," I had said a mere 10 hours earlier.
"He's showing me a photograph," Ms. Altea said. "Is herS hair In braids? It's long enough to pull back."
When Gerry was alive, Anna, now 13, had never worn her hair braided. But a couple of weeks before this dinner, she had started making a braid that wound around the back, to keep the rest of her hair off her face.
More tissues, please.
Then he analyzed my relationship with our daughter.
He said that she was very bright, very strong willed and had temper tantru ms.
She is. And does, And that I give An to her, I do.
As Ms. Aitea spoke to me, and as she does with others, she interspersed the comments with descriptions of what the spirit was doing. He was planting a kiss on, my cheek. More tissues. He was stroking my arm as he said that he loved us. (She knows what people want.) Yet more tissues.
Some time later, Ms. Evans and I asked, "What is he was doing now?"
"Drawing cartoons - and there's something about a big nose," she said;- "Does that mean anything to you?"
Yes. Lots. Gerry thought he looked like a cross between Harvey Keitel and Walter Matthau. And like the two actors, he was endowed with a funny, fleshy nose.
And although Gerry. wrote humor, he couldn't draw humorously, much as he wanted to (he was a fan of R. Crumb). Sc one year I gave him a book on how to draw cartoons; a pad of drawing paper and a packet of pencils. A year or two passed and the book remained unread, the drawing paper still wrapped. He always said that someday he would find the time to learn.
Maybe he had finally found the time.
Maybe I had become a believer.
Two years ago, Ms. Evans, until then a skeptic on all things psychic, became a believer. At their first meeting, as Ms. Altea was leaving, she told Ms. Evans that she saw a robust man who had died of a heart attack and who was talking about the water. And that Ms. Evans had Just moved his widow into a new home.
"I flushed," Ms. Evans recalled. "I had Just put my aunt, Shirley Sale, in the Trump Tower,' and It was my uncle, Nat Sale, who was fat, who died of a heart attack and who took us fishing at Montauk every summer." With Ms. Altea's heip, Ms. Evans says, she has been able to get in touch with a son, a child who died 25 years ago and was named David.
Not all believe in Ms. Altea, In May, on "Prime Time Live," the host, Diane Sawyer, introduced Ms. Altea to four guests, all strangers to the psychic, Two of the guests left convinced of. Ms. Altea's powers. Two did not. One of them, Jim Christy, an associate producer of videos at Bami Software, a software design group in Manhattan, remains skeptical..
"There was an Uncle John and some house in a mountain or a hillside with a stream running by - and the details on me didn't hit," Mr. Christy said. "I have a couple of Uncle Jacks, which is the same name as John - and what are the chances of someone having an Uncle John? If I were to make a guess, I'd make the most likely guess. It wasn't too personal with me, so I'm still kind of skeptical."
Ms. Sawyer is still suspicious. On the show, Ms. Altea said she saw a man named Mark or Mike (Ms. Sawyer's husband is Mike Nichols, the film and theater director), who was disorganized.
Ms. Sawyer was not impressed. "There were no lightning bolts for me," she said on the show.
But for many, there have been. Ms. Altea sees three people a day and also consults over the telephone. (The rich and the famous cannof. Jump the queue ahead of ordinary needy mortals.) She also has five
"healing centers" in Britain, where she and a staff of 30 unpaid healers perform a laying-on-of-hands ritual, for spiritual healing.
She writes in her book that since she was a little girl, she has heard voices, had visions and seen people who have died. She has a spirit guide an Apache named Grey Eagle, who has enabled her to work professionally as a medium for the last 15 years. She said it was Grey Eagle who told her to have the book published in the United States first and England second, Americans are very open and more enthusiastic Ms. Altea said.
Warner Books gave a $150,000 advance for the book and, since publication in May has 112,000 copIes in print (Grey Eagle knows his marketing.) Together Ms. Altea and Grey Eagle have a message - that there is life after death, that people are spiritual beings passing through the earthly plane.
The message is not new. But this messenger is, at least in the United States. And she seems so, well, normal. She lives in the north of England, is divorced, has had a kidney removed, tills her garden and laughes easily.
"I never tell anything terrible," she said. If she thinks it will helpful, she tells people to beware certain illnesses or accidents, but what resembles a psychic's Hippocratic oath, she does not tell people impending catastrophe. Speaking her gift, she said, "It's not to put the fear of God, but to give hope and comfort."
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