When I worked with Jack and Suzy Welch a few years ago, we had a conversation I’ll never forget. Suzy asked me about my childhood. After I described it, she responded, “So you’re the one.” The one what, I wondered. She explained: The one whose early years sound like an imaginary image of a “typical” happy family. Two kids, picket fence, mom and dad who stayed married.
It’s not that my memories are “touchy feely.” My dad wasn’t one to be emotionally expressive. But there was no doubt he loved us.
I always sought his approval. If I ever disappointed him with my behavior, the feeling of that cut deeper than any punishment he could have given me.
He used to tell me that he’d be shocked if he lived past 70. So when he died in early 2021 at the age of 82, as painful as it was, I also thought of it as having had 12 “extra” years with him.
I had one regret though. I wished I had gotten stoned with him and had a really cool conversation in that state. He wasn’t the type of person to go deep, even though he was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever known. He kept so much bottled up. I would have loved to have just a moment in which we could connect on that level.
As I traveled to Sedona this past spring for a “soul adventure,” I had a lot of heavy things weighing on me — life, work, and other losses as well. But I knew that a big part of what I had to do was process this unresolved emotion about my dad. I had no idea that it would lead me to speak to, and briefly hug, this tree.
Speaking aloud, with no one around
Sedona is a stunning town in Arizona, beloved for what many locals and tourists see as its unique spiritual energy. I had spent time there with my parents. My wife and I got married there. Our daughter’s middle name is Sedona.
On this, my first solo trip, a company guided me through all sorts of sessions meant to help me release and connect with my innermost feelings. As part of it, a guy who goes by the name Sitting Bear took me on a ride through some of the gorgeous canyons. We parked and walked to an overlook, where we sat down on some rocks.
As we discussed my goals for the trip, one of the topics I brought up was my dad. I said that I felt as though I was searching for anything that had to do with him, so I could feel a connection. Sitting Bear asked, “Why not talk to him right now?” He told me that anything could represent my dad, even a nearby tree, which he said was at the center of a vortex filled with swirling energy.
I quietly thought about my dad. Later, after I dropped Sitting Bear back at the office, I drove myself back to the same spot. This time, I sat by the tree, looking at it. And I spoke out loud. I told my dad about my wish for a deeper conversation. I told him how impressed I was with him. And I explained that I was trying to come to peace, to let go of this regret.
I spent about 10 minutes. Then I walked over to the tree and gave it a hug.
I admit it felt a little silly. But it felt far more cathartic. There was something about the physical connection that allowed me to release some of that emotional weight.
It’s not that I believe my dad was somehow literally in or near the tree itself. I imagine that in the spiritual realm, you can probably “be” anywhere you want at any time.
I also sprinkled some of my dad’s ashes in Sedona at spots with perfect views of the sunrise and sunset. I told myself that that way, he could “see” them. But you can’t hug ashes. I needed to give my dad that hug.
I have no idea whether he knows about all this. I hope so. I hope he sees that I’m moving forward in my life, that he doesn’t have to worry about me. That I’m in a good mental state. That the family is doing well as well.
I hope he understands that he provided me with a really good role model. To this day, memories of him help guide me as I raise my daughter. And now, I’ll have another reason to make regular visits to Sedona — and bring the family with me.
internal image courtesy of author