“The shell that accompanied me all along The Way is on a decorative stake just in front of my wife’s gravestone, one last way to honor her memory.”
“After watching a segment on Rick Steve’s travel show that featured the Camino de Santiago, my wife Gabrielle and I commented that someday we would like to make the pilgrimage with our two sons. We mentioned it to our older son, who recommended that we watch the movie ‘The Way,’ which made us even more interested to go. Sadly, in late 2013, before were able to go on the Camino together, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. She survived for a year after her diagnosis, and died on November 4, 2013.
During the Christmas holidays that year, I thought of going on the Camino in her memory, and asked my sons if they would like to join me. Orion, who at the time was 21 and in graduate school, definitely wanted to come. My older son Jay, 29 at the time, had just taken on a new job and couldn’t find time, so he had to decline. Orion met me in Barcelona, and the next day we went by train to Pamplona and continued to St. Jean by bus. On May 12, 2014, we began our 35-day journey.
I must say that I was not ready for the hills and mountains that we faced on the first four days. I come from flat delta lands in Arkansas, and that in no way prepared me for what was in store for me. Also working against me was the fact that I was 62, overweight, out of shape and diabetic. On the first day, when I was ready to almost give up, I had my first encounter with my ‘Camino Angel,’ Carla, from South Africa. She gave me a pep talk that encouraged me to go on. I saw Carla two more times during the first five days, and miraculously this seemed to always happen when I was having a difficult time. I never got her last name or e-mail address. I wish I had so that I could thank her for helping me accomplish my goal. As so many walkers say, ‘the Camino provides.’
I enjoyed spending real time with my son, but I’ll admit being together all day, every day, was sometimes a little bit too much togetherness. We definitely had a few disagreements! But, many people on the trail asked if we were father and son and commented that they wished they could have hiked with a parent or a child. It gave us a chance to bond, and also to reflect and find closure from our too-recent loss. The Cruz de Ferro was a very special spot for me. Orion and I both left rocks as tokens to my wife’s memory. We also placed a rock that a dear friend of hers asked us to take.
As for the rest of the Camino, we had a wonderful time and met so many wonderful people along the way. I’ve kept in touch with a few in the past year, but as with Carla, there are many more whose e-mail addresses I wish I had taken down. The Pilgrim’s Mass in Santiago was a tremendous spectacle and a symbol of the end of our long journey. but the tearful goodbyes we had to make to so many of the special friends we made along the pilgrimage was a more memorable, special aspect of our time in Santiago.
After returning home I constructed my own concrete Camino marker, complete with the distance to Santiago – 4,333 miles from Lonoke, Arkansas! I placed it so that I can see it every time I back out of my driveway. This way, each time I leave the house, I have a reminder of the wonderful experience Orion and I had on the Camino. Just as important, it reminds me that I can accomplish anything that I set my mind to – even if it is a little difficult at first. The Camino was one of the greatest experiences in my life. It was all the more special that I could make the journey in Gabrielle’s memory. The shell that accompanied me all along The Way is on a decorative stake just in front of her gravestone, one last way to honor her memory.”