What better subject to tackle on Halloween than ghosts? And who better to tell us about them than the real life Ghost Whisperer. No, I'm not talking about Jennifer Love Hewitt, who plays a version of her on TV; I'm talking about Mary Ann Winkowski, whose new book, When Ghosts Speak: Understanding the World of Earthbound Spirits (Grand Central Publishing, 238 pages, $24.99), gives us her version of her "gift," in three parts.
In Part I: Listening to Spirits, Winkowski tells the story of how her maternal grandmother discovered that her young granddaughter shared her gift of communicating with spirits. Apparently it's passed down through generations but somehow skipped Winkowski's mother...
Now, I'm not a total skeptic when it comes to this stuff — I actually want to believe in a spirit world; I want to believe that these spirits can indeed communicate with the living; I want to believe something more is out there after we die — but I have to admit I had a hard time buying what Winkowski is selling, even though she seems like a perfectly normal, rational person.
In Part II: Understanding Earthbound Spirits, Winkowski explains things like how she convinces the ghosts to leave the people they're haunting and cross over into the white Light (yes, she capitalizes this). She also tells us in Chapter 5 that we should expect to attend our own memorial services after we die; that we'll likely stand at the foot of our own casket during a wake, or next to the speakers if we've been cremated.
"It's rare that I've been called to a funeral home to find that the ghost wasn't also there," she writes, so matter-of-fact, so reasonable, so seemingly sane. "They can see how their hair looks, inspect the makeup job, and check out their outfit. Women, in particular, can be extremely critical about these things."
She gives countless examples and anecdotes about her ghostbusting adventures, always careful not to alert unsuspecting folks of ghosts in their midsts unless they asked directly, like Jennifer Love Hewitt. Winkowski visited Hewitt at her home and said that Lon Chaney Jr.'s ex-wife was there. "Lon Chaney Jr. used to own this house!" Hewitt cried.
OK, call me skeptical again. Anyone with a computer or the wherewithal to check public records would know who used to live in the house. In Winkowski's defense, she does give plenty of non-celebrity stories.
Winkowski is well aware of non-believers and it doesn't deter her from her mission. I applaud her for that. What makes any of it believable at all is that she's an everyday, normal person, like you and me — she's been married to the same man for years, lives in the suburbs of Cleveland, has two grown daughters. She's startlingly earnest and sincerely just wants to educate folks on how to deal with spirits on their own (probably because she doesn't have time for house calls anymore since she consults on CBS's "The Ghost Whisperer").
And if there's one thing she wants you to take away from the book: Don't hesitate in heading toward the Light after you die — it's the right thing to do!