Erin Davis: love, loss and reclaiming joy

By Cece M. Scott

Sharing time with Erin Davis, the former 28-plus-years CHFI radio broadcaster, is like opening a box full of surprises, each one more intriguing than the next.

Well known to legions of Toronto area listeners as the voice of morning radio from the time she began her CHFI career in 1988, listeners took showers, ate breakfast and got ready for work enveloped in Davis’s modulated, off-the-cuff daily dialogues. Her co-hosts were many, including Don Daynard, (Daynard Drive-In), Bob Magee, Darren B. Lamb, Erin & Darren in the Morning, and Mike Cooper.

Having lived in an assortment of cities due to her father’s Air Force career, Davis eagerly embraced a gamut of experiences- several of them happening at the same time. For instance, when Davis was a radio broadcasting student at Belleville’s Loyalist College, she went to class in the morning, hosted a radio show on CIGL-FM in the afternoon, and then played piano at a local French restaurant in the evening. She was the first female co-host on CKLW Windsor, (aka The Big Eight). Before that, she worked as a newscaster at CFRA Ottawa, where, interestingly, her daughter Lauren worked as a news anchor, three decades later.

Fronting the rock tribute band, Generations, for more than a decade, (Davis’s husband, Rob Whitehead, was the bass player), Davis sang, played saxophone and the keyboard. She sang national anthems at Blue Jay, Maple Leafs and Argonaut games- boasting “winning records for each of the home teams.” 

In 2003, Davis debuted on two stages. She hosted her own national television show, W Live with Erin Davis, on the W Network. And, she appeared as the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella, in theatrical producer Ross Petty’s annual Christmas pantomime.

Life was good for Davis and family until that unfathomable day in May 2015, when Davis and Rob, who were in Jamaica on a listeners contest trip, received news that their 24-year-old daughter, Lauren, had died in her sleep, for no apparent reason. Lauren and husband, Phil Shirakawa’s infant son Colin, was only seven-months old.

Lauren had been an integral part of CHFI’s listener audience from the time that Davis announced on-air that she was expecting, to all the way through her childhood, teenage years, and adulthood. “It was a part of her growing up before listeners’ ears,” Davis says.

In fact, Davis did live radio cut-ins from the hospital right after Lauren was born. A week later, Davis, who eschewed maternity leave, was broadcasting full time from home, the first woman broadcaster to do so. “It was ground breaking,” Davis says. “It showed new moms that they didn’t have to stop working and completely change lanes, if that is what they chose.”

And while both Rob, (he is also his wife’s producer), and Davis’s psyche ache with this impossible loss, the compassion and outpouring of grief from the myriad of listeners that knew and loved both Davis and Lauren, continue to offer genuine comfort.

“The best connection you can make with someone is to share and have them realize that they are not alone, that there are others going through the same things. It is a common link that is so indelible,” Davis says. “People write to me saying they remember when Lauren died and they couldn’t imagine it, and now, some of them are going through something similar. I am seen as someone who is a healer, and I mean that in the humblest sense.”    

To that end, Davis shares the long journey around losing Lauren in her new book, released February, (2019), Mourning Has Broken: Love, Loss and Reclaiming Joy, (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.). It is a testament to the extraordinary connection with her legion of fans that many of Davis’s book tour dates are sold out. The book is also listed as a #1 Best Seller on the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star Canadian Non-Fiction category lists. (Davis also writes a daily internet journal at www.erindavis.com).

Questions that have haunted Davis since she received this mother’s-worse-nightmare-news include: “How could I have slept through the tearing away of part of myself from this life? How did my heart not stop too?”

As respite from the many lingering and ongoing painful memories, Davis and Rob have moved to Victoria, British Columbia, a serene and friendly place full of healing possibilities.

At 56, Davis is more grateful than nostalgic about her age. While she says she misses not having “bat wings on her arms’’ she is well rested, now that she no longer gets up at the “crack of stupid’’.

A lover of taking baths to decompress, Davis is all for aging gracefully on one’s own terms. “Don’t deny yourself, or put things off that bring you joy. Life is short – there are no guarantees,” Davis encourages.

With a profound understanding of depression, addiction, and now, the open wound of mourning her only child, Davis is open and supportive of others. “Grief knocks open the door to compassion in oneself. To be there for other people, to show them that they too can survive, is, I believe, the purpose this whole thing has given to Rob and myself.”

To that end, Davis is engaging in life. Along with many speaking engagements, Davis is hosting, with previous co-host Mike Cooper, a spring tulip river cruise in Amsterdam.

She and Rob recently bought a home in California, a getaway for the wintery months. Of course, frequent trips to Ontario are also planned to visit four-year-old Colin, whom Davis says, ‘‘looks like Lauren and has a sparkling sense of humour’’.

“Love many; trust few; and always paddle your own canoe,” Davis adds with a philosophical laugh.

– See page 11 for a chance to win Mourning Has Broken: Love, Loss and Reclaiming Joy.