Wellesley - It's an ordinary Thursday night at the Warren Recreation Center. In the gym, the weekly pickup volleyball game is about to get under way. Down the hall, a group of women is playing cards. And in a nearby classroom, the spirits of those who have passed over to the other side are hovering, waiting their turn to connect with friends and family members attending a session called Messages from Heaven."

The spirits don't wear white sheets, slam doors or make eerie sounds to get attention. In fact, they can't be seen or heard at all, at least not by those who have signed up for "Messages." But 48-year-old psychic/medium Gayle Kirk, who will lead the session, insists they are there and she can help them reunite people on this side.

With nine people in the class and only two hours to make the connection, Kirk is out front about the fact that some attendees may not hear from a loved one — or if they do, it may not be the person they had in mind when they signed up. In fact, they may even "hear" from a departed pet or a long-ago ancestor who lived in the Old Country. (Kirk once gave a reading to a woman who recognized an ancestor from Kirk's description of a man in a Cossack uniform.)

Neatly dressed and coiffed, Kirk looks every bit the suburban matron about to deliver a Sunday school lesson. But by the time she has mastered the CD player, read an introduction, dimmed the lights and turned on the New Age music, her audience of eight women and one man is listening intently, with hope and perhaps a bit of skepticism showing on their faces. But if they do have doubts, Kirk is not put off - she asks only that participants arrive "with an open mind and a loving heart."

An Ohio native who now lives in Belmont with her software-engineer husband and their cat, Kirk has been in the medium/psychic business professionally for about 10 years. She said she tried to find happiness through traditional corporate jobs, but something was missing. "I just decided to do some soul-searching" to find out what she really cared about, she said in a later interview.

Today, her psychic gifts are her business. While some celebrity psychics do very well financially, Kirk said she does not charge exorbitant rates — she wants to keep her work accessible to people who need it.

Even as a child, she talked to spirits in the bedroom and passed on their messages to her younger brother, Greg. "It seemed like an everyday, normal thing," she recalled. Not surprisingly, their parents thought they were playing make-believe, and their siblings weren't buying in. As a teenager, Kirk and a friend used the Ouija board for other-world communications, but she doesn't recommend that approach to other people. She said these days, she prefers a more educated and spiritual process.

Life on the other side

At the Recreation Center, Kirks tells her audience, "You never get over the loss of your loved one ... only learn to get through it, really." Loved ones in Heaven know that you are thinking about them, she added, and "They think about you also." Mediumship allows the communication of words left unspoken, and for apologies to be made.

People who experienced severe physical or mental damage during their lives on Earth - like the woman in the Wellesley group whose friend had suffered brain damage — are not excluded from this communication. In their new spiritual state, "They are now healthy, happy, at peace and well," Kirk said. Even those who were in comas or suffering from conditions such as Alzheimer's disease recover once they've passed over, she said reassuringly. In Heaven, they are with family members and friends who have gone before them, including pets. "When it's your time to pass, you will all be together," Kirk told her audience. Meanwhile, they are all around us, well aware of the big and little events in our lives, such as births, divorces and promotions.

Simply going to Heaven does not change their personalities, Kirk said. If people were funny or mischievous or caring in life, they're probably the same way on the other side. And if they were grouchy or opinioned or obnoxious, well, don't look for any radical changes. Nevertheless, they may become more spiritual, and they may appear wiser or more loving because they've grown, according to Kirk.

Kirk, who does individual readings as well as group sessions, recalled one reading with a woman whose father had passed over. Hearing the words, "the bastard, the bastard" repeated over and over, she debated with herself whether to tell the daughter. "They say, 'the bastard' on the other side?" she wondered. But she finally opted to tell the daughter, who exclaimed. "Oh, my God, that's just like him. Everybody was a bastard. He loved his family, but everybody else was a bastard."

Like anyone else, Kirk has experienced losses, and she tells the group about one of them. Her brother Greg took his own life last summer, at the age of 45. "When I began this work over 10 years ago, I never expected to be talking about my brother's suicide," she said. The family had tried, without success, to help him, but alcohol and depression were more powerful. Yet Kirk said she knows he is OK, because she has connected with him in dreams and other ways.

At the Wellesley session, after a brief period of meditation, Kirk begins circulating through the room, sometimes standing behind a person, occasionally caressing a face or hair. She warns the group that while she is working with one person, a message intended for another might come through.

The spirits do not carry on full conversations, at least with Kirk. Nor does she get full visuals. Sometimes, as in the case of one of her Wellesley images, she might see only a hand with a lot of jewelry.

She may just detect the first letter of a name, or a fragment of music — at one point, she heard a Johnny-Cash-like song, although no one in the room claims ownership of this particular hint from the beyond. In fact, not everything Kirk heard and repeated at the Wellesley session resonated. Some names or images draw only blank stares or a shake of the head. But some of the spirits are apparently particularly adept at finding ways to let their loved ones know they are around. When Kirk said she smells popcorn, one woman said she eats popcorn every day. When Kirk heard the lyrics to the Mary Poppins song "Chim Chim Cher-ee," a woman whose sister had died said, "I sang that today in my classroom." (Although the cause of the sister's death - a snorkeling accident - does not emerge until later in the session, Kirk experiences a sense of choking or difficulty breathing.)

As the evening progressed, it became clear that many, or perhaps most, of those in the group are struggling with unresolved losses. Kirk can provide more direction to some people than others. For a woman whose twins died at birth, Kirk has little to offer because the babies' time on Earth was so short. But in the case of the woman whose sister had died, she taps into the woman's sense of resentment and injustice about her sister being on the other side, even though the spirit herself has no such regrets.

Kirk told the group it's important not to rush a reunion after a loss. That's partly because people on this side need to first overcome some of their grief, she explained, but also because people who have passed over need time to do their own work. They may still need to complete a life review — a Heavenly requirement, apparently — or they may need to recover from a coma or some other devastating injury. In her brother's case, it took about six months to complete the life review, she said.

Regardless of their condition when they passed over, the next life reportedly offers some big advantages. "A fun thing about Heaven is that you can be any age you want to be," Kirk said.

Copyright © 2009 Wellesley Townsman