Monday, August 24, 2015

“Guidance from Beyond”: A Review of I’m Not Dead, Am I?: A Paranormal Family Living in Rural New York,

 by Josette L. Berardi (Foreword, Elizabeth Tucker) (2012) ISBN: 147769336X
When I first heard about the experiences of the Berardi family, through a mutual contact, I was immediately drawn to the core elements of their story because of certain similarities in my own life: Italian Catholics, the Berardis have experienced paranormal events, in their case, through the gift of mediumship that runs through the maternal side of the family and through their many clients for readings and house clearings.
As readers of my reviews, blog essays, plays, and fiction are aware, I have had a lifetime of paranormal experiences, some of which have involved visitations from deceased family members, and I believe that, although I am no longer a practicing Catholic, my experiences growing up in the Roman Catholic  Church (complete with Catholic school, CCD, and church on Sundays and Holy Days) have informed my relationship with the paranormal.
With all of this in mind I welcomed the opportunity to read and review both I’m Not Dead, Am I? and the book Berardi wrote a year earlier, The Man at the Foot of the Bed, which I am currently reading and will also review.
Although Berardi is clear that she is not a writer (per se), her prose is engaging, well-paced, and passionate. She has the natural gift of many Italians for storytelling, which her grandmother  and mother also possessed. She interweaves geography, relevant New York State history, and larger family history with the through-line of the narrative (her mother’s severe illness and recovery) as seamlessly as the most skilled of memoirists and biographers.
I’m Not Dead, Am I?, because of these larger perspectives, appeals to the reader on multiple levels: it is both a detailed examination and indictment of the American health care system (especially for the elderly); it is a primer on the possibilities of life after death, and the role that mediums play in navigating the exchange of the living and the deceased; and a moving story of a single mother of three whose commitment to taking care of her family leads her on a journey that would cause many others to give up. Her mother had a Living Will that Berardi, as her only child, was solely responsible for possibly executing. I think about the Living Will entrusted to me by my parents that sits in a fireproof lock box with other valuable documents. Reading Berardi’s tale of lack of support from the doctors (none supportive of exercising her mother’s wishes and one of which was heartless and cruel) and the confusion she felt as her mother deteriorated but she considered her daughter Nicole’s certainty (related to messages from the other side) that her grandmother would indeed recover evokes sympathy and admiration, especially when her mother awakens from the coma and, frustrated at her lack of memory of what had happened and the numerous physical limitations she experienced, accused her daughter, for a time, of abandoning and betraying her.
Berardi tells her story with brutal honesty, with the anger and frustration at times bubbling off the page in palpable waves. She is as hard on herself as on the doctors, the System, and the circumstances that surround her mother’s surgery to repair her perforated intestines and subsequent, hard-fought recovery from complications that led to a coma, colostomy bag, and permanent damage to the nerves in her feet that confined her to a wheelchair, and, like many Catholics, she experiences the prolonged guilt that comes when she questioned not only the paranormal experiences of her daughters, mother, and grandmother, but, most poignantly, her own crises of Faith.
Since The Man at the Foot of the Bed centers on her daughter Nicole’s experiences of communicating with the deceased and seeing other entities less benevolent, I am not going to go into detail in this review about those types of experiences. As Berardi says several times in I’m Not Dead, Am I?, that’s not primarily what this book is about. Like a well-crafted novel or film, Berardi’s story is about a loving, tight-knit family whose connection is so strong that it overcomes the life/death barrier to reach across multiple generations and other dimensions. The paranormal is part of the story, but in no way the story itself, which is refreshing and not always the case when individuals and families go public about what they’ve experienced in these realms.
As I complete the second draft of my latest non-fiction book, on the importance of storytelling in our lives for both our own health and the health of our communities and humankind, I believe that this is just one of the reasons why Josette Berardi and these books about her family have come into my life at this time. Because of its honesty and breadth, this book can touch countless lives with its messages of Belief , Family, and Perseverance.
You can order I’m Not Dead, Am I? and The Man at the Foot of the Bed at

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