The walking (for Rachel)

When someone close to us dies we grieve. And that grieving can take many forms. We cry, of course. We cross the earth to attend their funeral. We put together collections of photos of the departed one. Maybe of their writings. Sometimes we run. And maybe we’ll walk, ‘in remembrance of’ them. And in my experience there is an urgent need to do some or all of these things in the first year after the person has died. By year, I mean, the actual 12 months. I know from my father’s death that the first year was ‘special’ and the grief did not end at the one year point, but the marking of that year was important. You go through a cycle of grief because you pass ‘this time last year’ moments so often. Anniversaries arrive and catch you unawares, a birthday, the last time you were together; these moments have significance, especially so in the first year.

Of course the person I am thinking about this year is Rachel – it’s her birthday soon. And I’ve been thinking about doing a walk that would be like a pilgrimage – for Rach. For me. Yes I want to walk with Rachel, my beloved friend who died in February. And I have a feeling of ‘If I don’t do it now I may never do it’. It’s the grief, I know. A deeply personal need to in some way still be ‘with’ the one who has died. And I was wondering if you might like to walk with me?

So… this summer I’ve been entertaining fantasies of walking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela (also known in English as The Way of St James) in Northern Spain, maybe in October when the weather is cooler. It’s 485 miles (780km) in total from the start in France to the cathedral in Santiago in Spain, although you can walk part of it, or walk it in sections. So, nearly 500 miles? On foot. Why? Well, it started after I’d watched the film ‘The Way‘ starring Martin Sheen (Jed Bartlet from the TV series West Wing). He plays a father who doesn’t understand why his grown son has given up everything and gone to Europe to ‘find himself’, and they part angrily. Several months later the father ends up following his son to retrieve his ashes…. he’s died on the Camino in a storm. And so, of course, with it being Hollywood, Martin Sheen has a revelation and well, of course proceeds to walk the Camino himself and experiences enlightenment along the way, plus meets other ‘pilgrims’ and they talk about why they are walking and deeper questions about life. It’s well-filmed and has a great sense of place, but is also done without sentimentality. One of those films that makes you say, as the credits roll, ‘Mmm, I fancy going there.’

I’ve since mentioned it to a few people, some of whom have heard of the Camino, who have desires to walk it themselves. But it’s a big commitment, at least to walk it all. If you walk it in one go, it’ll take you about 40 days. On foot. Carrying all your possessions, well that is all your two pairs of socks and a change of underwear. Staying along the way in primitive ‘refugios‘ in dormitories. So to a lipstick-wearing, self-confessed co-ordinated dresser (ie me) does that still sound attractive?

Well, sort of. Continue reading