This letter was written by Lynda Corby to Betty Anderson, a Victoria Hospice bereavement counsellor
October 8, 2019
It’s been about 18 years since my book club read Shirley MacLaine’s The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit. While I had heard of the Camino before reading the book and I knew that it was a pilgrimage spanning over 500 miles along several routes, namely Spain, Portugal, Italy and France, all culminating in the city of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, I had never given it much thought as something that I would undertake.
That changed on September 7, 2018 when my husband, Al of almost 39 years died suddenly of a subdural hematoma, and my world was rocked to the core. Al was my rudder in life, my soulmate, and my very best friend. I had thought that we had many more years ahead of us to grow old together, to travel and make many more memories. But not so. Instead, I’ve spent the past year searching for a new identity through my grief and trying to piece together a new life as a widow – how I hate that word, nor can I identify with it. I prefer to think of myself as flying solo now, scary as that is at times.
“It’s such a comfort to be among others who “get it” and know what it feels like to have that big gaping hole in your heart that feels like it will never mend. You all give me hope that, with time, my grief will soften, and I’ll feel whole again.”
An opportunity presented itself to me last winter to pursue that search, when one of my longest-standing friends, Patti, invited me to walk the Camino with her. Not only have we been friends for over 45 years, but she also introduced me to Al those many years ago, and she gave a loving tribute to him at his celebration of life last December. It seemed like the perfect undertaking, not only to do some personal reflection to “find myself” through such a walk, but also to pay tribute to my dear Al and to honour his memory. I’ve always enjoyed walking as a way of keeping fit and enjoying nature, but with the plan in place to do the Camino, I began training in earnest, walking further distances and over more challenging terrain to prepare for what I was told would be an assault on my feet and endurance.
Let me set the record straight at this point regarding the distance we planned to undertake for our Camino. As one needs to walk a least 100 km to be credentialed as a “pilgrim”, Patti and I chose a kinder, gentler trek covering 125 km from Oia, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain – a portion of the Portuguese Coastal Camino route. As part of the tour that we enlisted in we were provided with a guide, twice daily yoga and transport of our luggage, leaving us only to carry a day pack and to focus on the walk itself.
“Betty, joining the VHS weekly bereavement group, facilitated with such insight and compassion by you, is helping me to cope with my grief and supporting me on my journey this past year.”
Each day we started out as a group of 7 pilgrims and our guide, but it was quickly evident that my goal of self-reflection wouldn’t be achieved by walking as a group. For one thing my walking pace and rhythm left the others behind to chatter among themselves. And I totally enjoyed the solitude of walking alone, meditating, telling Al about my journey and finding my way on my own. The often-rocky terrain up many steep inclines, interspersed with more moderate, grapevine covered pathways and forests was a metaphor for the challenges I’ve faced and will continue to encounter since being on my own. And even though the days were hot and tiring, walking on my own allowed me to still my mind, to be calm, and boost my self-confidence that I could indeed be alone and navigate solo.
Since coming home and reflecting on the journey, I’ve continued to feel that same calmness that I experienced on the Camino. I’ve discovered that walking is my therapy as an adjunct to the support and affirmation I receive from the Victoria Hospice Society (VHS), and the love and support of my family and friends.
Betty, joining the VHS weekly bereavement group, facilitated with such insight and compassion by you, is helping me to cope with my grief and supporting me on my journey this past year. I’m ever so grateful for the opportunity to share my feelings so openly with the members of the group, who have all suffered a tragic loss of loved ones. It’s such a comfort to be among others who “get it” and know what it feels like to have that big gaping hole in your heart that feels like it will never mend. You all give me hope that, with time, my grief will soften, and I’ll feel whole again.
With kind regards,
Victoria Hospice provides weekly bereavement drop-in groups, workshops on grief, and is launching a “Walking Through Grief Support Group” in January 2020. Click Here for more details.