Months before we sat across from each other picking out urns and niches, my husband and I sat next to each other convinced that we’d dodged another bullet. We’d just returned from San Francisco from a second round of radiating Gus’ entire body benignly called the “MIGB treatment”. It was not a painful procedure, just incredibly boring and uncomfortable for all of us. After receiving a high dose of radiation, Gus spent his time trapped behind a lead wall, while just outside his room, we sat on a padded chair that was provided and an office chair we stole, shoved into the corner of a small area between two patient rooms and the emergency exit. Gus’ bore his time with his usual good humor, chatting with his friends through his plastic covered i-pad and although we could get up and go at any time, we strapped ourselves into the chairs in solidarity. It might have only been ten days that we lived like this but when the time finally came to go, we pealed out of the parking lot as though we were breaking out of prison. Before we’d left, the doctor had filled our tank with hope. He’d announced that the “lights” (tumors appear on scans as lights) that once filled his body as though they were stars in the night sky had all gone out. Comforted by total darkness, we sped home towards a healthy future.
At home, we played what Gus wanted to play, watched what Gus wanted to watch and when we weren’t doing that – slept. On a rare Sunday that was not interrupted by cancer center check ups, we did what we used to do on Sundays, stayed home in our PJs and had a “lazy day”. Gus tired himself out that day trying to “prestige” on Call of Duty and went to bed early. For the first time in months my husband and I sat down to watch a movie of our choosing. We chose “The Way” with Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, a movie I’d picked but had not had a chance to watch. We almost turned it off immediately when in the opening scene the son, played by Emilio, dies sending his father, Martin, off to Spain to pick up his body, but we stuck with it because there was something alluring about all that walking. As a semi-practicing Catholic, I’d heard of the Marion sites like Lourdes and Fatima and seen the pilgrims arrive on their knees at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, but I’d never heard of a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and when the movie was over, my husband and I promised each other that when the boys were gone we’d go on this pilgrimage ourselves. I wonder sometimes if we’d not said that out loud if the future would have unfolded differently because what we didn’t know then was that Gus would leave us on different Sunday. As it was six months later, with Gus’ passing and the older boys on their own – our boys were gone…
We began flirting with the idea of doing the Camino again. It was just a thought at first that took root and seemed to be confirmed that the universe was pushing us to do it by everyone we met. We met a man who would be doing it on bike in October and another who said he had a friend who’d done it and others who were thinking about it themselves. By December of 2012 we’d decided to walk the Camino for Gus starting Easter of 2013. I should mention now that Gus was not our only loss that year. On June 14, 2012 just ten days before our Gus, his grandmother Robyn Deppe would leave us a victim of lung cancer and seven months later my grandfather would join them after a long bout with Alzheimer’s. Walking became a necessity.
If we were going to walk 135 miles in ten days from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela and then on to Finisterre we would need the right gear and lots of practice. We went to REI for backpacks, shoes and clothes. We practiced walking first up and down small hills, then on and around hiking trails and finally on two consecutive days just to get the feel for it. We took Gus’ prayer cards with us and left them everywhere we could. For Christmas that year, my brother-in-law made us little crosses with Gus’ name for us to leave on our trails and my sister gave us a pack with the words “Live for Gus” stitched in yellow. When we boarded the plane on March 28th last year bound for Spain, we wondered if we could do it. Could we actually walk thirteen miles a day over ten days? Over the next couple of weeks I will reprint the blog that was originally published just for family and friends. It is hard to believe that twelve months have passed since we walked the Camino.