Since childhood, Concetta Bertoldi says, she has been a conduit through which the dead contact the living. TIME chatted with the popular author about how ordinary folk can commune with deceased relatives, what it's like on the Other Side, and other supernatural insights from her book Do Dead People Watch You Shower? (And yes, it turns out they do.)
You liken the experience of communing with spirits to "going on automatic pilot." Can you explain what it feels like?
It's like going on automatic pilot in the sense that you go into a subconscious state. Think of the way you can fold laundry or empty the dishwasher without even thinking. I go very deep, into a relaxed state of mind. I'm not sleeping, but I'm not awake. I'm very conscious but very relaxed. It requires a lot of concentration.
You've been described as "clairsentient." What does that mean?
It just means you can feel things beyond normal sensing. Everyone has this ability to a certain extent; other people call it a gut feeling. For those people, something "just tells you to do this." But for me, it's not some thing it's someone. I never refer to this as a power because I don't like to put myself on a pedestal. I prefer to say that I have an ability that's more fine-tuned.
How does that ability manifest itself?
There are a lot of different ways I come to "know" things. I got a call today from friends of mine in Mexico. They have a friend whose daughter is away at camp, and had an accident in which her hand was severed. They didn't have much more information they just knew it had been severed, and they wanted to know where it was. I said, "I'm so sorry, but I see her hand in deep water." It turned out she was water-skiing on a lake, and her hand was severed in an accident and sank in a lake. I only saw the hand in deep water. I felt badly that I couldn't do more; my heart broke for this girl. But I'm human. I just have this ability that puts me in touch with something beyond this dimension. It's walked me through some very dark times in my life as well as the wonderful ones.
Some of those dark times were early in your life you say you were "told" that your brother would die, and, separately, that you wouldn't bear children. I'd imagine learning things like this, especially at a young age, can be pretty upsetting.
They were. I was about 11 years old. I didn't really understand what was happening. My mother was petrified of this ability. My grandfather had it, so my father knew what was happening. He used to tell me things like, "Remember, you're not like other people." He loved me, so I knew what he was saying wasn't negative. But I wanted to be like other people. He'd tell me, "Be careful what you think about. Your mind is very strong." He didn't come out and say, "You hear dead people." He must have known I was too young to hear that at 11 years old. And I was a normal child growing up. All I wanted to do was find boys. I didn't want to know anything about dead people, or share this ability with anybody.
How does the ability to connect with the dead inform the way you live your life?
It's been wonderful in many ways. In the beginning of my marriage, my husband's family was ruthless to me. Karmically, we must have known each other in a past life. I was terribly unhappy about their treatment. For years, [spirits] encouraged me and told me how to handle it to use patience, rise above it, and have faith in my husband, which wasn't always easy in the beginning. I doubted so many things about life where I would go, and how and they would teach me things. They taught me the secrets of life. And they helped me to overcome tragedies. I lost my brother when I was 37 years old. I lost my father, who was the love of my life. If it weren't for my ability, these losses would have been horrifying. I learned and it's a greatly important thing to know that people don't really die.
What is the afterlife like?
It's a magnificent miracle. Our love for people stays in tact. We don't lose our memories. And in fact, we gain knowledge of whatever it was we were supposed to do, what the purpose of life is. The other side is so beautiful. Look, you hear about people who have "near-death experiences," and doctors will tell you it's because something happened to their brain. That's a bunch of bullshit. The fact is, the Other Side exists. It's a paradise. God is there. There's no suffering, no mortgage payments, no tears, no tyranny. It's a place of harmony.
Does everybody go there?
Not everybody. You and I are going. And believe me, I'm not perfect. But there are people who are plain evil.
Where do they go?
I would have to think that there's another place. Spiritually, we're all at different levels. I'm sure there's a level for people who are evil. But I don't commune with those people. I only speak to those in the light.
Do spirits ever resist communicating with you?
There have only been two times I can remember going to listen for someone and getting nothing but silence. There was something karmically wrong. What was going on there, I could not tell you.
You say that everyone can see ghosts, but that's it's not common. What should you do if you want to initiate contact with the afterlife?
It's important to be careful what you wish for. It can be unsettling. Even I still don't like seeing them when I'm not ready. But we are in charge. You should tell the other side that you want to be shown some sign of, for example, your grandmother. Tell her: "Let me see you. I'm not afraid." Assure the souls on the other side that you can handle a sign, that you're not afraid. And they will show it to you. It will happen when they want; you can't call them up on a dime. I tell people, you can have communication if you want to. But make sure you're prepared for whatever it is they show you.
How do you persuade skeptics?
When we married, my husband was the biggest skeptic there was. He's a very scientific, intelligent man, and he's got to see the science in everything. But he has seen a lot. And now, 25 years later, he can't say he's a skeptic anymore. So he taught me patience. I don't argue with skeptics. They have a right to believe what they want to believe. I respect their opinions and feelings. I just want the same in return.
What are the benefits of going to a medium or the benefits you get from being one?
The great benefit is knowing that we don't die. It's wonderful to know that life is eternal, and love is eternal. But additionally, it's taught me respect for others. Don't give someone the finger while driving. Pick up that garbage. I want to make a difference in the world. I want to make it a little happier, a little nicer. If I can do that, I'll be thrilled.