What do you do when someone you love passes away?
It’s a universal question, something that we all must face. And yet we each may respond differently. The way I process grief and loss may contrast with how you do. It is also an erratic process. One day, I may feel stable and the next day life feels overwhelming and sad. Nevertheless, it absolutely requires taking a PAUSE to reflect on what that person meant (and means) to you.
I wrote my PAUSE story in Rachael’s book about another type of loss: getting laid off. I responded to my “forced PAUSE” by taking time off to tap into my interests, write a book and organize on a book tour. Eventually, I started my own marketing consulting company: Latino Link Advisors.
Following the publication of PAUSE, my father passed away. I realized that I needed to PAUSE again. But this time, I needed to take a deeper, more spiritual PAUSE. I needed quiet time. I needed headspace to reflect. I wanted to meditate and write in my journal.
One year after his passing, I wondered, “What can I do to honor him?” My Dad had loved biking, traveling, learning languages, and studying European history. I grew up biking with him. In addition, you could call me a hispanophile [a person who is fond of Spain and Spanish-speaking countries as well as its people, cultures and language.]
And then, shortly after I asked myself that question, serendipity took over…
Rev. Dr. Mark Cooper from St. James Episcopal Church (where I attend church) asked me, “Would you like to bike with us on the Camino de Santiago this May?” I took it as a sign of divine intervention. When the pastor of St. James Church asks you to go on The Way of St. James, I thought, how could I not say YES? (See PAUSE Chapter 2: Five Signs You Know You Need a Pause Sign No. 5: Opportunity Knocks!)
For years, I only dreamed about walking the 1200+ year old pilgrimage known as “Camino de Santiago,” or, “The Way of St. James” across Northern Spain, a journey leading to the central cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. I had scribbled it on the top of my bucket list years ago. But I thought, when will I really ever have the time to hike across Spain? To walk the “Camino Francés,” the traditional French route, usually requires about one month. But biking the trip meant it wouldn’t require as much time away from family and work.
So, in May 2017, I joined Rev. Dr. Mark Cooper and 26 parishioners from St. James Episcopal Church to traverse the paths along “El Camino de Santiago.” We met in León (in Central Spain) and biked the 200-mile route to Santiago de Compostela over seven days, traversing the mountains biking alongside farm fields or through lush forests. We meditated and did yoga in the mornings and read/discussed passages from the Bible before dinner.
In recent years, The Camino has surged in popularity since the release of Emilio Estevez’s movie, The Way, but now perhaps with a more spiritual emphasis. Emilio Estevez directs and acts in the film along with his father, Martin Sheen. They tell the story of a curmudgeonly, workaholic father going to Southern France to recover the body of his idealistic son, a Ph.D. dropout, who died as he was beginning the pilgrimage. The father ends up walking The Way to honor his son (using all of his gear). He meets seemingly random people along his journey. Yet, as each person shares their story, they uncover larger lessons of life, especially as each opens up about their obstacles and hardships. Watch the trailer here:
In speaking with other Americans on the Camino, many mentioned the movie The Way as the spark that ignited their interest in walking the Camino. Over 15,000 Americans complete the Camino every year, or nearly 10% of all pilgrims.
Millions of pilgrims have made the trek to Compostela. Walking this well-worn path humbled me. I felt small, as one among many, connected to all those who came before me as well as to everyone who will walk the pilgrimage after I’m gone. For some, the trip is an adventure and a vacation, albeit a physically challenging one. For others, it is a religious experience. Yet for nearly everyone, the journey represents a time to reflect on one’s life and connect with the spirit. It is not uncommon to meet a pilgrim and have them ask you, “Why are you walking the Camino?” And so, you can find yourself in a meaningful conversation, perhaps sharing your inner most thoughts and feelings with a complete stranger in the middle of the forest.
Upon return, I felt rejuvenated and satisfied that I made the time to honor my Dad and reflect on how he has impacted my life. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to PAUSE and process his passing with a very meaningful experience.
You can read my complete story about my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela HERE.
And you can see my gallery of photos of my Camino bike trip on Flickr here or click the images below.
About Joe: Joe Kutchera is a digital marketing and content advisor, working with clients including The BBC, Flipboard, Hanley-Wood, Health Net, and Mattel. Joe is featured in PAUSE the book as a case study about forced pauses, and has made the pursuit of pauses an important past time in service to his doing. Joe is the author of three books: Faces of a Fish Empire, E-X-I-T-O: Su estrategia de marketing digital en 5 pasos, and Latino Link: Building Brands Online with Hispanic Communities and Content.