As I began to walk along the Camino path, I stopped to spread some of Greg’s ashes by the first marker for our chosen route along the coastline just north of Portugal. It read km 147,560, a daunting number, I thought, gingerly trying out my new shoes with the special inserts, not at all confident in my ability to walk that far with my difficult feet.
As I walked over the coming days, I stopped here and there to spread more of his ashes—in the ocean, by a pretty waterfall in a forest, next to the stone where I sat to rub my feet. And every day, while I walked, I pondered, what am I doing out here? Why am I walking this pilgrimage? I’m not religious, so what does these represent for me? Where is the deeper meaning or understanding of my life that I’m supposed to gain from this? And every day we reached the next town before I found any answers.
The walk was timed to end the evening before our wedding anniversary and just days before the two-year anniversary of his death. I expected to be highly emotional during the walk. I wasn’t—except for that one moment when my friend was teasing me about how much I talk, and I quickly snapped back that maybe I’m just happy to have someone to talk to because it’s so lonely at home. I started crying, sobbing really, as I said it and continued to cry as I walked ahead of her on the path.
I was, frankly, surprised at my reaction. I’ve maintained since Greg’s death that I have a full life, with friends, work, philanthropy, travel, family, and more. I’ve written about getting comfortable being alone in my new house, finding my spot on the sofa to watch television, and enjoying the serene view from my bedroom deck. I’ve told friends having my bed to myself is glorious. And I’ve said at least a hundred times that I had no interest dating again. But still, could I actually be lonely, I wondered?
I finished the Camino walk—no tears, just a lot of cava and seafood and celebrating. I returned to Madrid on my anniversary and spent hours over meals and cocktails with the friends who helped me while I was there in 2016—no tears, just a lot of gratitude.
I went on from there to Sevilla to a large group trip with many of Greg’s and my friends. On the two year anniversary of his death, I cried more than I had in many months. First at breakfast when a woman asked how I was doing. Later in the day when some of our friends gave me that look—the we-know-this-is-a-hard-day-for-you look. Repeatedly that night, at the dinner party and flamenco show, as friends hugged me. I attributed the tears to being with some of Greg’s very best friends, to the obvious sadness that an anniversary like this can elicit, and to too much alcohol—but not to being lonely.
After Sevilla, one couple and I went to Lisbon. This had been our destination on that fated trip to Madrid in 2016, and now I was finally there. But not with Cindy and Peter as we had planned, and not with Greg by my side. We explored the city, we drank plenty of bubbly sitting on the hotel’s patio while watching the water, we talked about Greg, we ate great food, we laughed, we shopped. On the last day, after a decadent lunch by the river, I sprinkled some of Greg’s ashes in the water with my friends looking on—no tears.
Flying home from Portugal, I was still wrestling with my thoughts, trying to make some sense of the experiences of the prior three weeks. What exactly had been the learning? What did any of this mean? Was I different in any way?
And then, out of the blue, just one week after I was home, I decided to sign up for a dating app. I barely gave it any thought, just did it. I didn’t discuss it with anyone for the first few days except another friend who is widowed. I felt like a middle schooler waiting for responses and seeing the little notice that someone was interested in me. It has been terrifying, funny, disappointing, and gratifying—all that after just one short week of merely texting with men without any actual in person contact.
It isn’t really about online dating—it’s about finding my center again. It’s about being open minded enough to explore the possibility of a new relationship. And it’s about confidence, being brave enough to try. For many who know me, that will sound odd. People will say I’m strong, confident, independent, and accomplished. And although that might be true, I now see that I wasn’t yet strong enough after losing Greg to even consider another relationship. I lacked the confidence and felt off center.
Was it passing the two-year mark that made a difference? Was it my friend’s comment that made me realize that I really am lonely at times? Was it being with so many other couples in Sevilla and seeing their interaction? Was it coming home to my empty house after my trip? Why do I feel differently now?
I believe it was my walk on the Camino. When I had stood inside the cathedral in Santiago hugging the statue of St. James, I had felt silly and inauthentic. I’m not Catholic, and I didn’t know what, if anything, this man should mean to me. Greg used to try to get me to think of religion and the Bible as simply symbolic, instead of taking everything so literally. Now looking back, I get it. Standing there and hugging St. James wasn’t at all about religion for me, it was about challenging myself, rising to that challenge, and succeeding.
I thought I’d walk the Camino this one time then check that off my list. Instead, I’m already planning a return, to walk another portion, anxious to know what I’ll learn about myself the next time. Buen Camino? Yes it was.