this sunday, may 1, 2016 is a big day for me – in more ways than one.
at 5:00pm my husband and I will fly to spain, where we will bike the last 200 miles of the famous camino de santiago de compostela. referred to as “el camino,” or “the way,” the route is a historic pilgrimage dating back to the middle ages. millions of people have traveled the camino for millions of different reasons – some religious, some personal, some for pure adventure.
for me, this will be a journey that represents a journey of twenty years. a journey out of silence, a journey out of darkness.
on may 1, 1996, my dad lost his silent battle with depression. early in the stillness of a spring morning he took his own life in our home and i was the first to find him. as my dad’s journey ended my own journey as a survivor of suicide loss began. i feel so many emotions when i sit back and think that it really has been twenty years. sometimes it feels like he died yesterday and sometimes it feels like he never lived at all. one thing i know for sure is how far i have come since that most awful, unimaginable morning. my relationship with mental illness has come full circle – from being devastated by it to pushing it away to falling apart because of it and now accepting it and rebuilding a stronger, healthier life. i have come out of the darkness of silence and shame and am no longer afraid to speak my truth out loud.
i knew that i needed to do something to recognize this anniversary. something to symbolize my own growth and survival and also something to help me remember my father for the person he was – not just for the way he died. as i explored different ideas, the concept of a pilgrimage appealed to me. the route is infused with meaning and draws people together who seek healing. traveling the camino is active – it takes preparation and hard work. i liked the idea of pushing myself physically, as a reminder that i can do difficult things. i also wanted to go somewhere beautiful and sacred – somewhere i could reflect and feel connected to myself and hopefully connected to my dad.
most of all i liked that the camino is an adventure. i’ve never done anything like this before and i don’t know what it will be like. i am a planner – i like to organize and prepare and predict. trying something so new and out of my comfort zone has challenged my fear of the unknown and allowed me to build my confidence. i have to trust myself. i need to believe in my ability to handle whatever comes my way. i may get lost and will definitely get tired – but that’s ok. i can ask for help. i can stop and rest. and then i can keep going. something i’ve done many, many times before.
i asked my mom to sew me something special to wear around my neck as i ride – a tiny heart on a string, made out of fabric from one of his ties. i am also bringing along a few items of his that i will leave at a site along the way where pilgrims are encouraged to cast off some of their burdens. i can think of no better way to help release the heavy weight of silence and shame that burdened both my father and me.
over the next two weeks i will do my best to share photos and brief updates – i want you to be a part of this journey, too. i am motivated and empowered by every story, comment and conversation that you have shared with me. please think of me and send me *lots* of positive energy. i’m so proud of myself for taking this journey, and infinitely more proud of myself for holding on, standing tall and continually growing through the past twenty years.
as people say to one another along “the way”- buon camino!