Road Trip with My Dad

'07 mustang


This is going to be a long post, so please make yourself comfortable and settle in for a bit 🙂

Just over a week ago I took a road trip with my Dad. It wasn’t your typical road trip, because my Dad was with me in spirit rather than in person. I lost him to suicide when I was 18, and our journey the Friday before last was planned as a spiritual foray into forgiveness. It was a way to immerse myself in our common loves, to remember the good things and explore the learnings/messages from the so-called “bad things”. I wrote out a list of the bad things the day before the road trip with the intention to burn it in a ceremony of release, at some point during the trip.

I wanted it to be a road trip, because my Dad was the one who taught me my love of cars! The trip began with me stopping at a gas station to get a pop (Cream Soda) and a bag of chips (my favourite Bar-B-Q flavour was not available, so I chose All-Dressed instead). This was how we started every road trip with my Dad when we were kids. Pop and chips were a special treat. Probably designed to keep us quiet for several minutes, but it was a treat, none the less! And there had to be music on this road trip, because I inherited my deep love of music from my Dad. The sound track for our trip was the incredibly gifted Denise Hagan’s “For Those Who Hear” album. I decided to head to the lake at Harrison Hot Springs, because so many of my happy childhood memories with my Dad took place around water. Other than that, I didn’t really have a plan for the day. I did my best to let Spirit guide me.

The road conditions were not great. The rain turned to wet snow fairly quickly. Normally I would have been afraid to drive on some of the winding roads and steeper passes in my car in that weather, but I felt held and guided all day…not only by my Dad, but by a whole realm of support in the unseen world. When I got to the lake at Harrison, I walked out on a long dock there, pausing for quite a while to admire the beauty of nature and feel the incredible gratitude I have for the gift of my life. I could imagine my Dad fishing off that dock 🙂

Peering into the clear water, I could see the rippled sandy bottom of the lake. It reminded me of our summer family vacations at Wasaga Beach, in Ontario. And then I remembered how my dad taught my brothers and me how to skip stones across the surface of the water at that beach. There was an art to achieving the exact angle at which to hold your body, the precise way you held the stone in your hand, the concentrated way you held your tongue clenched between your teeth and lips, the honed position of your hand and wrist as you launched the stone. The stone skipping practice held all the presence and skill of Jedi training! The water also had to play its part in the game by remaining fairly calm. Part of the thrill was the search for the perfect skipper stones; round and flat, with a bit of weight to them. And then, the excitement of counting whose stone skipped the highest number of times across the water before it sank from view. I don’t recall ever winning one of those contests. But winning really wasn’t the purpose of the game. Being let in to a part of my Dad’s world, and learning from him was the prize. He had such a unique way of being totally present with whatever he was doing. I looked for a skipper stone at Harrison Lake, but couldn’t find one. I then stopped into a couple of stores to see if I could find a memento of our trip, but I couldn’t find anything that spoke to me there either, so I started the trip home. The whole day I could feel myself searching for something that felt like it was eluding me. I often “hear” messages from Spirit, but there was radio silence up to that point in the journey.

stone from chehalis river

On the drive home I was guided to turn off the main highway onto a side road at Harrison Mills. The road eventually came to a one lane wooden bridge that crossed over the Chehalis River. I pulled my car off to the side of the road after the bridge, and started to climb down the embankment below the bridge toward the river. I could hear the roar of the water before I actually saw it. It was moving with incredible speed and power. For safety’s sake I was keeping an eye on the ground beneath my feet during my descent. And as if by magic…there was the “something” I’d been searching for. A skipper stone: not a perfect skipper stone, but its colour, shape, and design drew me in. I loved the greenish colour encircling the white centre. So many metaphysical meanings for that. The most important meaning for me was that it felt like the love of my Dad encircling the light of me. This was the perfect place to burn my list of the things I wanted to release. As soon as the list was burned, I picked up my new skipper stone, put it in my pocket, and headed down to the bank of the river. As I was watching the river careen wildly and boldly on its course, the message from my Dad came through loud and clear…”Don’t look back. That’s not where you’re heading. Face forward, surrender to the course of your life, and let Spirit carry you.” Thank you Dad for your love, your wisdom, and your grace…I hear you and I’m breathing your message in.

After I returned home, I started to see that my road trip journey of forgiveness around the devastating loss of my Dad had morphed into more of a journey of self-forgiveness. I thought I had healed most of the wounds around losing my Dad, but I was mistaken. When someone leaves your life by suicide, they leave behind a convoluted web of unanswerable questions. The biggest strand in the web is the question, “Why?” Followed closely by meandering and tangled strands of, “What Ifs?” The death of a loved one is often incredibly difficult. But when that loved one unexpectedly makes the choice to end their own life, there’s a part of the human psyche that desperately and incessantly tries to make sense of something that defies logic. In the case of my Dad, I came to an understanding of some of the “Whys” over the years. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t completely let go of the “What Ifs”. Some of the “Shoulds” that comprised the “What Ifs” were still alive and active in the young girl part of me who would have done anything to have just one more day with her Dad. These are some of the “Shoulds” that the young girl in me was holding on to: I should have been a better daughter and not left home so young, I should have visited my Dad more often, I should have been the one to find my Dad’s body so that I could have protected my brother from that indelible memory haunting his life.

In the aftermath of the road trip with my Dad and his message to me to surrender and not look back, I am beginning to release more of the “Whys, What Ifs, and Shoulds”. The bottom line is that my Dad made a decision that didn’t have anything to do with anyone else. From the black pit of his spiral into clinical depression, his view of the world, and his ability to see his incredible importance in it, were both severely limited. He forgot that his life had meaning and purpose, and that he was so loved. He forgot that there can be hope in all situations. And even with the above knowledge and understanding, my heart still wishes that he had been there to walk me down the aisle at my wedding, that he had met my daughters, and that they had been able feel the incredible unconditional love and kindness that I felt from him. And I’m okay with feeling what my heart needs to feel, for as long as it needs to feel it.

gil cunninghamdenise at the orpheum

This post wouldn’t be complete without a shout out to all who have experienced the suicide of a loved one. I carried you with me in my heart on the road trip. We are part of a club that no one willingly seeks membership in. And yet here we are, doing our best to carry on, and learn from and live a meaningful life in the aftermath of unspeakable pain. Thank you for being a part of my tribe. Thanks for accompanying me on this healing journey.

And I especially want to reach out to anyone who has, or is, contemplating suicide. Please stay with us if you can. There are only a few things in this life that I can say I know for sure. One is that even though it may be hard for you to believe right now, I hope you can hear my heart speak when I say to you that you matter. Your life has touched more lives than you will ever know, and you would be missed so much, by so many people, if you decided to leave. There is hope. Please reach out for help in whatever way you can. Talk to a counsellor, a friend, or someone else you feel you can trust. If you are in immediate crisis, this link will take you to crisis resources in Canada and worldwide:

My healing journey is a work in progress, and I am still receiving messages from the road trip with my Dad. I am very proud to be my Father’s daughter, and I miss his physical presence with every fibre of my being, every day. I am very grateful to have his spirit, and your presence, on this healing journey with me.

Much love,

Denise, xo

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