Merritt the medium

Islander Dave Merritt communicates with the dead, reluctantly.

Dave Merritt relies on "spirit guides" who help him communicate with dead people. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Dave Merritt shows up as a working man: big-handed and fit, with close-cropped hair and startlingly clear blue eyes. Nothing in his open demeanor suggests an ability to connect with a spiritual world parallel to our physical one.

For the past decade, however, Mr. Merritt, 51, has accepted that he has the ability to serve as a medium between human beings in the physical world and family and friends who reside in a spiritual world.

Mr. Merritt provides readings for clients who wish to connect with the spirit of those who have died, in order to understand more about their relationships or to seek closure about them.

The study of whether a spiritual community exists, parallel to our physical world, has engaged scientists for several hundred years. Freud, Jung, Henry James, Alfred Einstein, and Stephen Hawking all concluded to varying degrees that a paranormal life exists or cannot be ruled out, given the nature of unexplained phenomena they observed. Einstein famously remarked that the single biggest question a person must answer for him or herself is “whether I believe the universe intends well for me.”

The majority of Americans today do believe we share the universe with a spiritual population, polls over the past 15 years show. Younger and more educated Americans are the biggest believers in the spiritual world. Oddly, Americans over age 65, arguably those who are closest to actually finding out whether there is a spiritual world, are less inclined to believe in a parallel spiritual universe with which we can communicate.

Dave Merritt resigned from that debate almost 15 years ago, when a slew of experiences made it abundantly clear to him that the spirit world exists. A 29-year member of Teamster Union Local 59 in New Bedford, and now a manager at the Steamship Authority in Vineyard Haven here, Mr. Merritt said that he neither intended — nor wanted  — a role as a medium, and spent several years avoiding the initial manifestations of his ability.

“I first became aware that something I didn’t understand was going on in 2000,” he said, at the Black Dog Cafe in Tisbury last Friday afternoon, of the time he first began to experience his sixth sense. “It was a particularly rough period in my life.

“I was feeling that my personal life was going down the tubes. My best friend also died in that period. I guess faith kicked in a little bit. I started praying for him. When we were about 17, we used to joke with each other that whoever went first would come back and tell the other one whether there was anything out there. So I asked him, just kind of out loud: “Chris, you went first. Is there anything out there?”

“Soon after that,” he said, “at 1:30 on Sunday morning, I woke up with that ‘ice cream freeze’ feeling in my head and chest. I turned on the TV and it went away. The following Sunday, 1:30 in the morning, I woke up. I’m paralyzed and my feet are bouncing on the bed by themselves. I’m just watching them. I turn on the TV and it goes away.

“The next Sunday, I’m dreaming that I’m having an argument with my sister when a blanket appeared between us, then it covered my head for a while and went away. I look to my side and see a man in a hologram of golden white lights. I turn away and say to myself, ‘When I look back there’ll be nothing there.’ But he had actually come closer, and his face was clear and his clothes, all in tan, were visible. I heard his voice in my mind saying ‘I’m real’ to me. That experience — three events happening on the same day [of the week] at the same time, validated the experience of a spiritual world [that] can communicate with us.”

Mr. Merritt began to analyze the phenomena, and realized they occurred after each time he prayed for his friend, and they stopped when he turned on his TV. Mr. Merritt was very uncomfortable. “So I stopped praying for him. Then at Christmas, I prayed for him again. And it happened again. I saw this bright white light. I’d heard about the white light that people say they see when they are dying. I yelled, ‘I’m not dead,’ pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” he said.

At this juncture, Mr. Merritt took action. “I started reading about these phenomena. I was very skeptical. If I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. I went to see an intuitive named Jackie Lopez, off-Island, who told me things about myself she could not have known, including the man in tan I’d seen, and a bald tire on my truck I’d noticed during the boat ride over to meet with her. ‘How did you know that?’ I asked. ‘Because you are like me,’ she said.

Being “like” Ms. Lopez can mean a variety of things to people who are called mediums, intuitives, psychics, and spiritualists. One definition defines them as people who have “knowledge of the paranormal,” as opposed to “knowledge of the measurable, usually referred to as science.”

Mr. Merritt said that to do the work, the medium must have belief, faith, and trust in the information he or she is receiving and passing on. He said that paranormals have different levels of acuity. Some receive information, others are able to see and to interact with spiritual beings. “Your abilities are what they are. You can’t develop additional abilities, but you can learn to better use what you have,” he said.

For example, he said, he has learned that meditation is an important part of his practice to prepare him to receive information to be passed to his clients.

As Mr. Merritt’s belief was growing between 2002 and 2006, he did additional research, took classroom instruction in the field and spent a week in England studying at the Arthur Finlay College in Essex with noted medium Glyn Edwards.

He said belief and faith were far easier for him to obtain than was trust. “I’m going to tell people what I’m experiencing about their lives. How do I know the information I’m getting is correct?” he said. He began trusting as he received positive feedback from readings he did in the classroom and in real-life settings over the past decade. His web site,, details his service and rates.

Clients come to him, or he goes to them. About 70 per cent of his clients are repeat customers, he said. “Most people come — some are open-minded and some are skeptical —

because they are grieving a loss,” he said, “generally a loved one or stuff in their lives, including relationships, finances. They want to know that a loved one who has passed is OK. I give them what I receive. When they leave, they are relieved. You can see a better energy about them.

“We don’t have to be face-to-face. I’ve done phone readings with people in India, Europe, Australia, all over the world. You don’t need anything else, just the connection,” Mr. Merritt said of his role as a conduit between the human and spiritual worlds.

He has a comfortable and social relationship with five or six “spirit guides” from “the other side,” who have provided the information he asked for in the several hundred readings he has done over the past decade.

“I try to relax before a reading, and I want the client to relax, get the heart rate down,” he said. “We talk about light stuff, nothing heavy until the client is comfortable. Then I sit quietly and wait for information to come. I don’t ask them questions. The spirit guides know what they’re looking for.”

He says his work as a medium doesn’t involve the brain. “It does require faith and trust on my part and on the client’s part, that the spirit guides will provide the answers they are looking for. Usually it takes a few minutes before information starts to come, though once I sat for 30 minutes … nothing. I apologized to the client. Didn’t charge her, of course. A few minutes after she left, the spirit guides showed up. ‘Where were you guys?’ I asked. ‘We were testing

your patience, and trust,’ they said. I called her and set up another reading, and it worked out fine,” he said.

If the clients have questions after the reading, they ask, and Mr. Merritt answers, based on the information he has received.

Mr. Merritt holds himself accountable for his work. “I’m not perfect. No one is. I will not charge anyone who does not feel validated after their reading. It doesn’t happen very often, but that’s my approach to it. I tell clients as many facts as I see or hear, and report them in as detailed and exact a manner as I can.

“I will never stop doing this work, because of a promise I made to a 77-year-old woman at readings I did for a group of about 80 people in Hyannis a few years ago. I’d finished a long reading related to the death of a 16-year-old girl.Her mother and aunt were in the audience. The girl had died seven or eight years prior.”

He had gotten a clear picture of the girl, her hair and complexion. “She had died in a car accident,” he said, “leaving a party with another girl who was driving. Other people at the party, including her boyfriend, had asked her not to go and to stay at the party. She

showed up at the reading to tell her family that she wanted them to know she was OK.

“That was an amazing experience for me. Her family was relieved. They had gotten relief and closure,” he said. “After the event concluded, this woman stayed behind. She said to me, ‘I came for a reading, but I didn’t get one. Instead, I saw what you were able to do to help those two women. Promise me right here and now, you’ll never stop doing this work.’ I did promise her that night, so I will keep doing the work,” he said.

Oh, the man in tan who appeared to Mr. Merritt in 2001?

Years later, describing the “tan man” to older family members led to a photograph of David John McBride, a past sheriff of Edgartown, in his tan uniform. Mr. Merritt recognized him as his “tan man.” Mr. McBride, who died in 1961, several years before Mr. Merritt was born, was a cousin of Mr. Merritt’s father, and was the man who asserted to Mr. Merritt that he was “real,” Mr. Merritt said.