“In 2002, after suffering for three months, my husband João died of cancer. It was horrible. He was in the prime of his life when he was told by the doctor that he was terminally ill. The doctor gave him 3 months at most and advised him to prepare for the inevitable end. João didn’t want to know anything about it. After all, he had reported to the doctor with only some back pain. Other than that, he felt he had nothing to worry about. He then went to another doctor for a second opinion. But he got the same answer. His only option was chemotherapy to prolong his life. I begged him to take this treatment, but he refused. He went into complete denial. It seemed as if he was challenging death. He was going to show who was boss. That’s what his whole life was like. He would stop at nothing. Any obstacle was a challenge to him.
That same week he asked for time off from work, and we went on vacation to Europe for four weeks with our two children. He refused to talk about his illness to me. While I wanted nothing more than to talk about it. Whenever I started talking about what was going on, he would cut me off or just start talking about something else.
I didn’t want to go to Europe, and I told him this. “Who is going to die here, you or I?” he replied gruffly. I tried to keep the peace, so I silently accepted our trip to Europe. I wanted the children to have happy memories of their last vacation with their father. But during the holiday, he was already visibly deteriorating. We ended our vacation in Lisbon, but he no longer had the energy to see the city with us.
When we returned home, he deteriorated rapidly. He became more and more withdrawn. One day, while I was shopping with the kids, the nurse who had been coming by every day for the last few weeks to administer morphine called. She had found him on his bed, where he had died with no one by his side. I felt pity, but strangely enough, no grief. I suppose I immediately went into survival mode; I had to be strong for the children.
In 2007, I read “O Diario de um Mago” [The Pilgrimage] by Paulo Coelho. It inspired me. I loved to walk long distances, and five years after my husband’s death, I thought I deserved a pilgrimage as a gift to myself. I bought a ticket to Europe that same year to walk the camino.
As tradition dictates, I had brought a stone to leave behind at Cruz de Ferro. The stone symbolized the end of my mourning period. At least, that’s what I thought. While walking, I was thinking a lot about João. But it didn’t seem like the end of my mourning period because I was mostly angry. I was furious because he had closed himself off to me in the weeks before his death. We had not been able to share our grief because of that. But what I found the worst was that the children and I had had no opportunity to create beautiful and intimate moments with him.
At Cruz de Ferro, I realized that João’s last weeks had been terrible not only for him but also for me. There had been no room for my grief, fears, and needs. It had been all about him. After all, he was going to die. When I put my stone down by the cross, I started to cry hard. It seemed to come from deep down. Five years after his death, I thought I had put the mourning period behind me. But I found out that I hadn’t started grieving at all. The event at Cruz de Ferro left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it was painful with a lot of sadness. On the other hand, the anger disappeared and the memories of the beautiful moments I had shared with João before his illness returned.”
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