The search for reason plays out in many different ways when a parent is faced with the prospect of losing a child. You look for reasons why and you seek some kind of structure where reason itself will prevail and bring order along with it. And you do some crazy things along the way to make it so.
I decided in my questionable wisdom, one summer day in 2008, that walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain would deliver the outcome I wanted most of all. I’d crawl on my hands and knees in penance for every possible sin I may or may not have committed in exchange for my daughter’s life, just as thousands of pilgrims have done for a thousand years. I’d put my faith in history’s hands – history and the Catholic Church. Did I mention I’m not Catholic? Turns out, I’m not much of a pilgrim, either.
The Camino Frances, a pilgrim trail that runs 780 kilometers from the south of France, over the top of the Pyrenees and across Spain to the cathedral city of Santiago de Compostela, is pretty much de rigueur these days. Everywhere you look, someone is writing a book about their Camino experience. In hindsight, however, it’s clear I had no business being there and you wouldn’t be the first person to wonder if I hadn’t lost my mind. No, the first person to look at me and say, “Um, really? Why would you do that?” was the daughter I imagined I was doing it for. She knew me well, this girl did, and when I told her that my plan included leaving offerings on her behalf at each creche of the Virgin Mary along the pilgrim trail, she didn’t bother to suppress her laugh. “Well o… kay,” she said and sent me off on the path of righteousness, polished stones as offerings in hand, with no illusions as to her thoughts on the matter.
That was then. This is now. Much has changed but symbols of love continue to dominate, as does the lesson I learned on my camino.
My daughter moved to another city to start her adult life eight years before her death last summer. We made the move from a big house to a small one and each of our children’s collections of memorabilia were separated, catalogued, boxed-up and put into one of those storage lockers that inhabit the 401 highway from one end of this country to the other. Following her death, we retrieved her things and slowly but surely reacquainted ourselves with the first 23 years of her life.
She was a collector extraordinaire, this daughter of ours; what we referred to as her bitty-bits. Scraps of paper with half-written song lyrics, every note surreptitiously received in high school classrooms, all the journals of her life – they were all there – along with her most treasured collection of all. She loved Hawaii and when she returned from the trip she took following high school graduation and before she started university, she brought home with her a box of beach shells. I made my decision the moment I held them in my hands.
The first trip we took after her death was to London, a city she adored. Shells in hand, I went about leaving them in the places that meant something to her there. I’ve done it many times now, and I’ll continue to leave her beloved shells in places special to her for the rest of my life. This is the meaning that was missing on my first pilgrimage. Walking, whether a camino or through life, must be purposeful, I think. As vital as the act of living is the company you keep while doing it. Who you walk for, then, becomes as important as where you go. I walk for her. I place a shell, I say a prayer, I shed a tear – finally the good pilgrim has arrived. Buen camino, mi hija. Buen camino.
© Kim Reynolds 2012