What do you wear to visit a psychic?
I pondered the question as I stood in the mirror, practicing my poker face.
Would she see through my Uggs to my mismatched socks? Will she know that I dug these jeans from the bottom of my hamper?
I'd made an appointment to meet with the psychic because I'd been worrying over a dream. It featured my late husband and my dead mother, who both passed many years ago and barely knew each other.
In the dream, they looked serene. Neither of them spoke. She was standing at the bottom of my stairs, he was outside on the porch.
I was overjoyed to see them together. Then I woke up and had to accept they are still dead. I pulled the covers over my head and stayed in bed.
I couldn't shake the memory of how happy I'd been, and wound up ruminating for months over what the dream might mean.
Was the visit just a friendly 'hello' from the people I missed most? Or was it some sort of omen that I'd be joining them soon?
I was surprised to discover I felt oddly OK with the thought of dying — but bothered by all that I'd leave undone.
I grappled with the practical issues the prospect presented: Should I increase my life insurance, use up my vacation days, teach my daughters to cook? I embarked on a flurry of medical visits.
The dream had stoked a longing I could not seem to quiet.
I wanted to know the unknowable. More than that, I wanted to summon my loved ones back.
I started my search for clarity the way searches always begin: I Googled "dream of dead mother and husband," and wound up looking for insight on "Your Online Spirituality Destination."
The website said my dream might simply have been "a way of resolving your sorrow psychologically while you slept." Then it confirmed my fears with this: "Some psychics who interpret dreams would say that such a dream could bode that you may die soon."
I can buy into the concept of psychics, but I have trouble with the specifics. I think some people may be blessed with celestial gifts. But I doubt they're the ones charging for mind-reading on websites like this.
I needed a psychic with references. A friend suggested Sabrina.
The blurb on her website sounded good, vaguely scientific: "Sabrina offers psychic readings through use of the tarot deck, clairvoyance and clairsentience."
The market for psychic readings is bigger than skeptics might think. Three-quarters of Americans believe in life after death, and almost half of those surveyed think it's possible to communicate with spirits or be visited by ghosts.
That's what draws us to reality shows like "Long Island Medium," where wisecracking star Theresa Caputo can't even get her teeth cleaned without picking up a message from a dead relative of some stranger in the waiting room.
Three million people watch her show on cable TV. She has a two-year waiting list for private readings.
My medium, on the other hand, just happened to have an afternoon free.
I didn't know what to expect, maybe incense and Addams Family. But there was nothing weird about her. She lived in a cheery apartment on a tree-lined street, with Christmas decorations dangling from her front door and two small dogs barking greetings.
She calls herself a spiritual life coach — combination reader, psychic and medium. As we walked up the stairs to her studio, she could sense a crowd of spirits, she said, traveling with me.
We sat down at a desk crowded with crystals and totems. She set her iPhone to record our session and shuffled a deck of tarot cards. The pair she drew directed me to trust my emotions and let my spirit lead.
Then I told her about my dream. She tried but couldn't patch me through. But when she closed her eyes, she told me she saw visions.
My husband was reading a lot. My mother was doing something with her hands, the psychic said, mimicking the motion. "Did she like to knit or sew?"
My poker face cracked. My mother could hardly sew a button on. My husband never read much beyond Street and Smith's, the sports magazines.
And if they were looking down on me at that moment, they were probably laughing hard.
I don't think Sabrina was a charlatan. She was thoughtful and comforting and kind. When she did a reading of my daughters, after studying their photos, she was remarkably on point about things that I thought only a mother would know.
Still, I felt embarrassed as I walked back to my car. I'd plunked down $95 when I might have done just as well with one of the $10 spells she sells online.
I knew my visit would invite judgment from buddies: The "I told you so" crowd sees me as a gullible mark. The New-Agers blame my skepticism for my failure to connect. And then there are my tut-tutting friends who worry that dabbling in mysticism has invited demons in.
But I came home, at least, to a daughter who was glad that Sabrina believes I'm going to stick around — and who is psychic enough herself to sense my mix of relief and disappointment.
My daughter was ready with the bundle of sage we bought at Venice Beach during a rough patch last summer. We lit it and walked from room to room, banishing whatever negative energy might be there, just in case.
My daughter is not so sure the psychic failed to connect. Maybe my mother has learned to knit. Maybe my husband's dyslexia faded. Maybe reinvention is what heaven is all about.
We'll just have to wait, she said.