CHIP Coffey was on his riding mower in the yard of his Atlanta-area home a couple of years ago when he came around the side of the house and saw his mother standing there, grinning at him.
Although he'd been praying for that moment for years, his initial reaction wasn't exactly joy.
"My first thought was, 'I've just had a freakin' stroke,'" Coffey, 55, recalled during a phone interview. "But I reached up and felt my mouth and it wasn't drooping. And it wasn't hot enough for me to have had a heat stroke...
His mother, you see, died in the late '90s.
In retrospect, Coffey admits his reaction to seeing her -- "the most wonderful four or five seconds of my existence" -- may have been overly dramatic, considering he'd already been communicating with the dead for years at that point.
In fact, the bespectacled former travel agent quit his day job to work as a psychic and medium full time back in 2001, the year he began receiving messages from the deceased brother of a co-worker. Coffey considers that his first experience with "true interdimensional communication."
He's had many more encounters with the supernatural since, as witnessed by TV viewers during his regular appearances on two recent A&E Network series, Paranormal State and Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal.
Coffey will share some of those experiences and demonstrate his own psychic abilities at the Fort Garry Hotel on Monday, when his six-city Canadian tour visits Winnipeg. Tickets are $49.50 each through Ticketweb.ca or at 1-888-222-6608.
Go ahead and roll your eyes. Apparently people with extrasensory perception don't automatically believe everything they perceive, either.
"I remain skeptical," says Coffey, who, in addition to giving psychic and "crossing over" readings out of his home, is also a "certified" ghost hunter and paranormal investigator. TV audiences have watched him assist with exorcisms, investigate haunted houses and help children understand their psychic abilities.
"I always try to find explanations that are outside the realm of the paranormal because I don't want to completely give in to that part of myself," he says. "I urge everyone to exhaust, and I mean thoroughly exhaust, potential real-world causes for anything strange that happens."
So it was probably a coincidence when, in the middle of an Edmonton show last year, alarms rang out and the theatre filled with smoke (and had to be evacuated) just as Coffey and his Paranormal State co-star were showing a video on demonic possession?
"I found the timing to be a bit eerie," he says, laughing, "but I can't make everything a woo-woo experience."
Compared with the kid in The Sixth Sense, Coffey was a late bloomer. As a toddler, he would tell his parents when the phone was going to ring and who was on the other end, but he didn't see his first full-bodied apparition until he was an adult. Rather than see dead people, he feels the energies of spirits around him.
The difference between a ghost and a spirit, Coffey says, is that the latter has completed the journey between the world of the living and the world of the dead. Ghosts, on the other hand, are souls that, for whatever reason, have chosen to stick around. They may not know they're dead, he says, or they may fear judgment on the other side. Or sometimes it's the living who need to let go. "If the grief of our loved ones is immense, we might feel obligated to stay and comfort them," says Coffey, who InStyle magazine described as a cross between John Edward and Dr. Phil.
Unlike Edward and other celebrity mediums like Sylvia Browne, Coffey doesn't do open-channel readings where random spirits communicate through him spontaneously. So whether or not you get a message from beyond or an answer to a big life question at Monday's show will depend on whether Coffey's spirit guides lead him to you.
Coffey says he has no idea how he receives information during a psychic reading. "It's almost as though it's an afterthought, like the information completely bypasses my five senses and gets implanted in my brain," Coffey says. "Other times, it'll fly out of my mouth before I even get a chance to think about what I'm saying."
All he knows is that when he's not working, he can flip the psychic switch to "off."
"I don't want to be like Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost and have Patrick Swayze -- bless his heart -- singing to me at three in the morning," says Coffey. "I'm not running Western Union for the dead."
EXTRASENSORY PERCEPTION (ESP): The ability to acquire information without using the ordinary senses of the body and without depending on logical inference. The term includes phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition.
PARANORMAL: Phenomena that seem to defy the known laws of science.
PSYCHIC: An individual with exceptional gifts for telepathy, clairvoyance, mediumship or prophecy. They can intuit and reveal the future, or facts, thoughts and feelings unknown to him or her.
MEDIUM (also called a channel): One who is supposedly able to communicate with the dead while acting as a passive instrument of these spirits.
MENTALIST: Some who practises parapsychological activities, such as telepathy and mind reading, in a theatrical setting. Unlike a psychic, a mentalist doesn't predict the outcome of events.
GHOST: A form of apparition, usually considered to represent dead animals or humans. They can appear in forms such as transparent entities, foggy mists and smells.
SPIRIT GUIDE: A spirit who remains close to the earthly plane in order to assist humanity.
INTELLIGENT HAUNTING: When a spirit is shown to interact or respond to those in the physical world.
RESIDUAL HAUNTING: Entities do not show awareness of the living world. Residual activity generally involves "playing back" routines from an entity's daily life.
PSI: A term parapsychologists use to generically refer to all kinds of psychic phenomena, experiences or events that seem to be related to the psyche or mind and which cannot be explained by established physical principles.
(Sources: PsychicCenter.com, discovery.com, www.aetv.com)