This is Part 3 of a series of posts on “Walking the Way”, referring to the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route in Spain. This is only partly about the Camino, but mostly relates to the journey through grief. For Part 1 of this series, visit: Walking the Way – Part 1
If you read the first two posts in this series, you’ll guess that I would love to walk the Camino di Santiago, but at least at this time, this is not in the realm of possibility for me.
That’s one reason why I have been particularly touched with the story of “Phil’s Camino”.
I will copy this from his website about the documentary that was made of his story:
He’s a veteran, husband, father, outdoorsman, and Catholic. He also has Stage IV cancer.
For years, Phil dreamt of walking the 500-mile ancient pilgrimage route across Spain, El Camino de Santiago. Although this was an unattainable dream due to weekly chemo treatments, it did not stop him from walking. Crafting a path through wood and pasture on his 10-acre plot of land on Vashon Island, Seattle, Phil re-creates the Camino path in his own backyard. After each 0.88 km lap, Phil plots his progress on a Camino map. As he measures his daily steps towards the end destination of Santiago, Phil finds that the rhythm of walking presents healing in a way he had never experienced before.
Through the act of walking, Phil learns to stop fighting to cure his cancer, and embraces physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. For those who have the tremendous privilege of taking part in Phil’s journey, it is evident that he does not allow circumstances to define him; but views cancer as a catalyst to a life of rich moments in the tension of suffering and gratitude. Phil’s Camino captures Phil’s story from Vashon to Spain and back again. His determined character, life of simplicity, and joy in the everyday presents a story of what it means to live vibrantly in the face of adversity.
Thank you, Phil, for your story, and I hope sometime to find your DVD. (Here’s the link to his website.)
This story is very encouraging, because even though he did end up making it to Spain, the most important part – in my opinion – is when he wasn’t yet able to but he still went “virtually” – walking 0.88 km laps in the back of his property.
He found a way. It was his unique solution for something he really wanted to do.
It wasn’t as good as doing the real thing, but it was a solution nevertheless.
Not best, but better than nothing
There are lots of ideas out there about coping with grief, and lots of ideas for remembering loved ones, continuing bonds and so on. Well not just “out there” but here on this blog too! (See: Memories and Continuing Bonds)
I think sometimes as a grieving person, we can get frustrated about this and with ourselves. We might do a walk in memory of a loved one, and it was a good thing to do, but it doesn’t bring them back.
We could create a memorial garden or turn their ashes into jewelry or donate to a charity or arrange a visit to places they loved.
We could do any of those things and many more, and it still doesn’t bring them back.
I dreamt about my son Pax recently. I don’t often dream about him – it’s been 37 years since he died. The dream was vivid. He was alive again. And then, in the dream, he died again, we buried him again, we mourned him again. There was more to it but you get the picture.
I woke up unsure how to classify this dream. Was it a nightmare? In some sense, yes. But the fact that I saw him again and was able to talk with him again was just so good. So no, it wasn’t a nightmare. I will call it a vivid experience.
Only a dream, but parts of it still brought a lovely sensation, because I interacted with my little son.
For most of us – not all, because if our loved one had a very troubled life, we might not want to see them – but for most of us, that’s what we really want. We want them back. To come back. To have at least one more conversation but hopefully many more. To have another hug. Another chat. Another shared experience.
This is where the frustration can come in. “Continuing Bonds” and remembrance activities might be lovely and good but they do not bring them back.
Sharing a glass of wine in memory of my daughter is a remembrance activity but it is a poor substitute for her presence.
All of these activities are poor substitutes.
But they are what we have.
A bit like Phil, we can only have “virtual” experiences. Unlike Phil, who did eventually get to the physical place of his dreams, we aren’t going to have our departed loved ones join us for a drink again in this life. (But for those who believe in the afterlife, we will eventually, just not in this world.)
I don’t think we should pause or cease our remembrance activities because of our frustrations. Instead, we somehow need to accept that this isn’t the best but it’s what we’ve got.
It’s better to remember and experience our loved one’s presence “virtually”, than not at all.