(Keeping my pledge to write thirty-four blogs on how walking the Camino keeps impacting my life, the same as the number of days that I walked this 500-mile pilgrimage.)
Last week I was musing and muddling on joy—what gives me joy, what it is as an experience, and what if– it is me? I’m still muddling about it. So, it’s strange that what comes this week in my awareness as I sit down to write is joy’s sister; she is beloved for her depth and way of honoring, but she is never entirely welcome; she is grief.
I learned this week of the accidental death of a friend from high school. We numbered just sixty-eight of us, so we all knew each other well. I’d stayed in touch with he and his wife over the years when I went back home, class reunions, and once when they came to Alaska. We weren’t close, but we had that rare treasure of being old friends who knew each other when we were young and figuring out life. It’s a way of being known that is never duplicated. He drowned in the Virgin Islands when a rogue wave threw him into the rocks, and it is assumed he was knocked unconscious. His brothers are still there waiting to bring the body home.
It was so sad to hear this news. Sad for the loss of this friend, Wayne, and sad for another high school friend, Joe, who was his best friend over all these years. I can sit here writing and remember how the two of them would laugh together—so full of life that a few shenanigans would inevitably unfold and get us all in trouble. Sad for his wife, his high school sweetheart.
Strange how one loss starts calling home all its friends, especially at Christmas time. I start remembering my other classmates who have died–four this year. And then my sister, Jayne who used to be my companion in creating Christmas Eve plays. My dad who loved Christmas more than any other time of the year and always bought way too many presents, probably to compensate for the Christmases he never had. My mom who baked and cooked nonstop through the holidays and passed on the love of lefse. My soul friend, Linda, gone now two years who always brought deviled eggs, Caesar salad and lemon meringue pie to our Christmas Eve parties. Their spirits all come clustering around now, waking up memories, sweet and painful.
I met so many fellow pilgrims on my Camino who were walking primarily to heal from the pain of loss of a loved one. It’s strange how the Camino calls them to take that walk with grief. One had just lost her mom and flew in from Belize after reading a book about it. Another had lost her husband just two weeks prior, and was urged to join her friends on their trip as a way to help assuage not only her grief, but her guilt. Had she done enough to care for him? One young girl was grieving both her parents, wondering where now “home” would be. I listened to each of them, knowing that grief too. Walking somehow did help. As if the movement forward kept life in front of them as they coped with death. Or was it that when a person is faced with the reality of physical death, the soul feels a need to seek the deeper meaning that pilgrimage often brings? Was it that the walking toward the holy site of Santiago, so renowned for miracles, bring the miracle of relief from the pain. I don’t know. But I know the walking helped. Grief takes many steps, and the Camino can hold the pain and struggle. That is its history and mystery.
My little Camino? To keep letting myself walk with the grief, whenever that unwelcome sister comes to visit my joy. She has things to tell me, teach me, and trust me to hold. Just keep walking.
Rest in peace, Wayne. I miss you. (You really shouldn’t have pulled out those cigars and started smoking at the back of the graduation bus—but then, I remember that, and not a single word of the speeches.)