SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — I’ve found myself in a lot of different rooms, with all sorts of people. It’s the nature of this job, and also the product of being a curious soul. With this in mind and as motivation, I recently found myself in the presence of Roland Comtois, a lifelong medium, and the company of many other souls hoping to receive some word from the spirit world.
We were gathered on the second floor of the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston on Monday night, nearly a hundred people seated in pairs or small groups; the event had sold out. I took a seat in the stands and chatted with those around me, a mix of people who had seen Comtois before, had attended events held by other mediums, or who had never been to something like this.
I fell into this latter category and wasn’t sure what to expect. The believer in me was ready to accept all of it, but my journalist voice was reminding me to be critical, a tad cynical. I was curious which voice would feel most satisfied by 9 p.m.
A mother-daughter duo behind me wasn’t sure what to expect either. The daughter was eager, the mother a little skeptical because of an underwhelming experience with another medium, who she found to be too theatrical. The daughter made an intriguing comment when she mentioned her father wouldn’t go with them, which she thinks is because he’s afraid to find out it’s all real.
All I knew of Roland Comtois was that he is a spiritual medium, meaning he connects with spirits and relays their messages to loved ones still among the living. His bio indicated that he’s an inspirational speaker, author, radio host, longtime gerontology nurse, Reiki Master, metaphysical teacher and a grief specialist, and also made mention of his Purple Papers, for which he’s become known. These are handwritten stories from spirits sent to Comtois, which he records on purple paper. He notes the date the message was received and brings these papers with him to events, sometimes for years, hoping to find the recipient for which they were intended.
When he entered the room on Monday evening, he had a stack of these papers under his arm. Dressed in dark jeans, a navy button down shirt, and a blazer with hints of deep purple, his demeanor was friendly. He welcomed the audience and began by telling a story of when he was about 10 years old, when he would hear voices and his mom didn’t know who he was running around the house talking to. He kept telling her he was communicating with his grandmother, and she thought he was simply an imaginative child. In time, this would change.
Comtois has been able to hear these voices always, he said. As a teenager, he was misunderstood and prescribed many medications. Now, he communicates with these voices as a way to help heal others. His purpose in life, his mission, he told the audience, is to show people that there is everlasting love, plain and simple. And so, for 50 years, he has been sharing the stories of spirits.
“If you’re not into guys like me, this is going to be the longest two hours of your life,” he said, which yielded much laughter from those seated.
This laughter would become tears soon enough, though, as Roland made his way around the room, approaching different people as he connected with certain spirits. There was a dad, another dad, a mom, grandparents, a whole group of ancestors acknowledged for their presence and support.
Most of the messages were spirits giving their assurance that all is well now; that they felt lighter in the days or hours before they passed, that they were ready; some offered well-wishes and messages to partners: you’re a good guy, take care of my daughter; others said they were proud; a few cracked jokes, and many said “I love you.”
“I can’t do anything but say what I feel,” Comtois said, explaining that he’s not a psychic, and that he wishes he could do more for people in the throes of grief. “I wish I had the power to take away your pain,” he said.
They way Comtois commands the room is theatrical to a degree. He’s emotional as he shares the stories conveyed to him, weaving around the room with purpose, getting close to the people with whom he’s talking. His mind wanders, sometimes rapidly, yet he remembers details. His voice is clear, congenial, comforting.
At one point in the evening, he said there was a spirit present belonging to someone who died by suicide in their mid-20s. It was an offhand comment, and I wondered if he would return to it. After a second break, he approached a woman sitting in the top row on one side of the room. He said that she had come to this event knowing she would make a connection, determined to receive a message. That she was sure of this when she parked her car.
The woman was already in tears. Comtois continued, saying he sensed that she was there to receive an apology. He asked who she was hoping to hear from, and she demurred, saying family. Eventually, through tears, she said she was there to hear from her brother.
Comtois asker her his first name, and she said it aloud to the room.
Around this time, the woman sitting at the table with the Purple Papers interrupted Comtois for the first time that evening. She had a paper she believed belonged to the woman. He read it and then asked the woman how her brother died. She told the room: by suicide. It was a powerful moment, and I have chills thinking about it again.
It was around this time that I decided: If you believe, you believe. And that’s all that matters.
“Everyone I meet wants a message,” he said, early on in the evening, “even the skeptics follow me to the car.”
I’m not sure if there will ever be empirical “proof” of a spirit realm or an afterlife. However, I think most people can admit to having experienced a moment of pure feeling — of deep knowing — that can’t be fully articulated or rationalized.
What Comtois does is foster these moments, acting as a conduit. That he refers to the messages he shares as stories rooted in feelings I believe is accurate, and honest.
For more information about the Courthouse Center for the Arts and future programming, visit courthousearts.org.