In January, my Dad was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Nothing could be done, so he decided to go on in-home hospice. He wanted to spend the time he had left at home- to die in his own bed surrounded by his wife and kids and animals. As my Dad began the process of dying, my mom and I quit our jobs and devoted our lives to his comfort and care.
I will always remember the great dignity and grace (not to mention the killer gallows humor) with which my Dad approached his fate- he met death with his head held high. He was a true hero, to the end.
Though this year has been the heaviest emotional experience I've ever experienced, there were plenty of good times, too. I got to meet his circle of friends- it was humbling to realize how many people held such love and respect for my father.
There were tears and breakdowns and fights, but ultimately, we got to tell each other all the things we'd kept inside since forever and share them together. We got to trace his family genealogy back to eight generations of Texans together. Towards the end, we even got to smoke and watch Spanish cartoons and color together.
That said, it was also a grueling experience of pain, suffering, and loss. Laying awake listening to the blood soaked cough of lung cancer coming from the next room; smiling through heartbreaking delusions brought on by brain cancer; watching a living legend waste away in pain and confusion with no way to ease his suffering.
I wouldn't want to trade the last six months that I got to spend with my Dad for anything, but now that he's passed, I need a break from tending to death and all of its messy side effects.
I need to go take a walk.
Specifically, I need to take a walk along the ancient pilgrim's path known as El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It is a 600-mile trek across northern Spain all the way to Finisterre- to the "end of the world."
The path of the Camino has been worn into the earth over the millennia (the Christian pilgrimage dates back 1,200 years) by the footprints of Charlemagne, Chaucer, Saint Francis of Assisi, and millions of others seeking a journey of spiritual reflection and rebirth.
Pilgrims traditionally identify themselves by two objects that they carry: a scallop seashell and a walking stick:
My Dad was a master craftsman, an artist who worked with wood, leather, rock, and bone. Knowing that I am a wanderer and a seeker of adventure just like he was, Dad wanted to make sure that I was protected wherever I traveled.
He made my staff four or five years ago, and it is one of the few material objects that is precious to me. It is made of solid yet springy wood that he hand carved and finished, wrapped with thick leather straps he formed to fit my hand, and topped with a crystal ball (the top of an antique wine decanter) that looks like something out of a fantasy legend.
I've always felt my Dad's protective energy within my staff and have taken it with me on countless midnight walks by myself. I recently filled the space that he hollowed out for the wine decanter full of his ashes.
I plan on taking this staff along with me on the Camino: my dad will be walking at my side, lending me his strength and support as he always did in life.
I have held this trip close to my heart for a long and difficult time. I see this journey as a way to both mourn my Dad's death and to celebrate the idea of living life to the fullest (as he always did). It will be a time of healing; an opportunity to write, reflect, and release.
The pilgrim's path across Spain lies directly beneath the path of the Milky Way galaxy- a path that terminates at Finisterre.
I will be carrying my Dad's ashes to Finisterre, a site which has long been held as a sacred by ancient Celtic peoples. They believed that the shoreline at the edge of the known world was the Sun's final resting point before slipping beyond our Earthly horizon. It is a place where the ashes of dead loved ones have been set free into the unknown for thousands of years.
I really need to take this walk. I need that release.
Nearly everyone I've shared my experiences over the past six months has asked if they can do anything to help. Yes! You can help me make this trip a reality!
I plan on walking the Camino for two months on a $5k budget.
I still need to raise $3,000 in order to take this trip (including hiking/backpacking gear, airfare, meals, accommodation, etc.).
Miracles are said to happen often around the Camino, so I'm asking all the angels in my life to help get me there with proper gear and enough money to survive on for 60 days.