Here I go...

Finding magic under the stars of the Camino Santiago de Compostela

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Missing Pilgrim - Denise Thiem

If you haven't heard by now, there is a female pilgrim missing.

Her name is Denise. Her brother posted this notice on the forum:

My sisters name is Denise Thiem, she's a Chinese American woman. Also known as Arizona

The reasons I'm worried is because I haven't communicated with her since the 4/1. I checked her email accounts and 4/4 was time she done anything and 4/6 when she last had any bank account activities.

I've been talking to someone that last saw her in Manila de las Mulas (just before Leon) on 3/31
Last email sent (4/4) She was in Astorga and heading for El Ganso the next day.
She asked around and no one has seen her since Astorga.

Since that post, photos of Denise have been discovered on a blog by an Australian woman but the photos are BEFORE Astorga. The story has been picked up by both Spanish and American press. Here are the latest photos of Denise.

Denise is in the hat with turquoise pack

Denise in back with hat on left

Denise in center with turquoise pack

This is from one of the local spanish news websites ( translated into English )...

The Civil Guard is investigating the disappearance of a pilgrim US citizen, Denise Thiem, 41, from which her whereabouts are unknown since last April 5, while conducting the Camino de Santiago in the province of León.

The family of the pilgrim been reported missing to the police and Civil Guard after they have not heard from her since last April 1, when she sent an email to reported sources of Armed Institute.

A brother of Denise Thiem has moved to Leon after the pilgrim trail on the night of 4th to April 5 was lost, when it found that she spent the night in a hostel in the village of Hospital Órbigo, before undertaking the road to Astorga.

Denise Thiem brunette with long hair, black eyes, 1.62 meters tall, has Asian features, according to the family, which has provided an email address,, to to gather clues that may lead to her whereabouts.

And from Tina Asher:

Denise Pikka Thiem is Chinese American . 41 years old and around 162cm and 54 kg weight. She has long black curly hair and black eyes. We lost contact with her since 4th Apr and her last email sent to her friend Lynley a British lady , mentioned that she planned to go to Mass at 11am in Astorga on 5th April and head to El Ganso. But she never reached El Ganso. And all her back account, email account, ATM and Visa card transaction stopped all activities after 4th Apr 2015.
Have you ever seen her on the trails or any hotels? Or Do you know anyone was in Astorga around 1st to 5th Aprl for their Semana Santa Holy week celebration? Or you can recognize anyone in her photos on the trails ? Or any name you can think so?
If you travel in March and April 2015, can you check all your pictures to see you can locate Denise in your pictures?
If you have any idea and clue that can help us to find Denise,

please contact us at

Every single small detail will help us and please contact us if you have any information.
Thank you so much for your kind attention! Together we will find Denise and bring her home safely!!!

* * * 

If you have friends on the Camino, or if you or friends were ON the Camino during these dates, can you please pass this information along.

If Denise is safe and has simply dropped out on her own, could you please ask her to contact her family.

Lastly, if you are planning to walk or know someone currently on the Camino, please advise them NOT to take the shortcut/alternative route from Murias de Rechivaldo through Castillo de Polvazares!  There have been two instances of solitary pilgrims being tazed. One man was robbed and a German woman managed to get away. Stick to the main route and walk this section in a group. This is Stage 23 in Brierley's book from Astorga to Rabanal del Camino.

Thank you,


Friday, April 24, 2015

Destination: Home

Yesterday morning,  Mike took his last breath.

We had asked hospice for a CNA to sit up with him so we could get some sleep. She was not allowed to give medications, so I woke up every 3 hours to give him his meds.  At 1:30 am, I gave him medication and turned him. I checked to see if he was dry and made him comfortable.

I set my clock for 4:30 am and went back to sleep.

At 4:01, the CNA awakened me, saying, "Your brother just stopped breathing."

I rushed into the living room, and he was just lying there quietly.
No strain on his face.
No struggled breathing.
Just peace.

I closed his eyes and kissed his face.
He was still very warm.
For the first time since this began, laid my head on his chest and I cried.

I woke mom up and told her Mike was gone.
My mother never cries.
She says she can't cry.
But she did...

We asked the CNA if he struggled.
She said, no, he simply quit breathing.
It was a blessing.

We called hospice.
They called the funeral home, who came out to retrieve his body.
We wrapped him in one of my grandmother's quilts.
The funeral people spread the American Flag over his body,
and as they wheeled him away,
I noticed a stain on the flag.
It seemed apropos.

Poor little Mike.
He had such rich opportunities
and he tossed them all away.
It was almost as though he didn't believe he could succeed.

I loved him dearly, but
I never understood the choices he made.
My mother spent much of her life and money rescuing him.
He never really had to live with the consequences of his decisions.

This time,
Mom couldn't rescue him.
There were consequences for his choices,
and they were final.

It was a hard lesson.
Some kids just have to touch the stove.

Well, Buen Camino, sweet boy.
You made it!

The Way, as all pilgrims know, can be rocky and hard.
There are days of sunshine and easy trails,
days of laughter and slaps on the back by new friends,
but also days of misery, of struggle, blisters, and bruised tendons,
days that cause you to cry out loud in pain
and wonder why you made the decision to walk this trail at all.

But the sight of the Holy City just over the hills
brings a thrill and a sense of completion.
All the pain is forgotten once you reach Santiago,
and yes, it was worth the effort,
and yes, you're glad you did it,
and yes, you'd do it again in an instant,
and yes, you are proud of yourself,
and yes...

We advise our pilgrims to not have any expectations,
to just put one foot in front of the other,
and you did that.
You did it.

Oh, my sweet little brother,
I'll miss your goofy smile and your weird jokes.

May your spirit fly free into the stars,
and may you finally find peace.

I'll miss you.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

You Can Count on Change

I guess the one thing you can count on in life is change.

Last night, all the signs indicated Mike would not make it another 24 hours.
Cyanosis had set in.
His fingernails and fingers were purple.
The skin on his neck was turning mottled and purple.
He was breathing like a fish out of water.

I sent mom to bed and stayed up all night to administer his meds and keep watch.

About 3:45 this morning, I gave him a dose of his medication, then couldn't keep my eyes open any longer. Forty-eight hours with 3 hours of sleep finally caught up on me, and I dozed off on the couch. I awoke at 5 am with Mike kicking and hollering. I called the hospice nurse who gave instructions for more medication.

Mom woke up about 7 am and told me to go get some sleep. I asked her, "Are you sure you can do this?"  She said yes, so I gratefully fell into bed and a deep sleep.

Twenty minutes later mom was nudging me in a panic, "He's twitching and yelling - I don't know what to do!"

I got up. Mike had kicked off the bedclothes. His feet were moving like he was running. He was groaning and his eyes were opening and closing.

The cyanosis had disappeared. His skin color was back to normal and he'd reached deep into himself and pulled up a second wind - a second will to live. It was almost as if he were saying, "I will NOT die!  I WILL NOT!"

We called the hospice nurse, who came right over.
We called Mike's eldest daughter, Heather, who was already on her way over.
"We need help!"

The nurse called the doctor and got permission to increase the dosages of medicine.
She gave him his meds, and after about 20 minutes, he did settle down a bit.
However, while turning him to administer an anal suppository, we realized with horror that the dark spot on his back that had been about the size of a dime yesterday now covered an area the size of a dessert plate. If we don't keep him off that back, a bed sore will result.

But it's nearly impossible. We have propped him to the left and to the right.  He wiggles and squirms until he is again on his back.

I feel hopeless.
We're all exhausted.

Siobhan, Mike's youngest daughter, had to leave this morning to return to her home at the coast.

With Heather here to support mom, I again fell into bed and managed to squeeze off 3 more hours of deep sleep.  I'm now a little punchy but am less numb.

One of mom's friends brought sandwiches.
My cousin brought donuts this morning.
Thank God for good people.

So that's where we are at 1 pm today.
Mike is restless,
and his fight continues.

Please keep us in your prayers.
We need the support.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Watching and Waiting

It's 10:42 pm on April 21.

Thank you all for your kind thoughts a prayers.
They are very much appreciated.

The girls have gone home to get some sleep and I've sent mom to bed for a few hours.
I managed to catch another 2 hours this afternoon to add to the 3 hours I got last night.

I'm sleepy but fear going to sleep and not being present when Mike decides to go.
He is sighing a lot and doing the fish-out-of-water breathing.
I've put quiet music on and am sitting next to his bed.
Every now and then he mumbles something.
I'm not sure if he's talking to me or himself.

He is not going gentle into that good night,
but is quietly raging against the dying of the light,
as Dylan Thomas says. 

It's not easy to let go.

It's hard, yet peaceful.
He is comfortable.
He'll go when he's ready.

* * *

Do not go gentle into that good night, 
Old age should burn and rage at close of day; 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 
Though wise men at their end know dark is right, 
Because their words had forked no lightning they 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright 
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, 
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight 
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

And you, my father, there on the sad height, 
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray. 
Do not go gentle into that good night. 
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The Last Few Kilometers

I think Mike is walking the last few kilometers today.
I wish he was sailing instead of walking.
The walking is awfully hard on him.
He seems to be in so much pain.

The nurse has told us she believes we are talking about hours, not days.
I have called his daughter to come from the coast if she wants to see him one last time.

He took a sudden turn this afternoon and has been in the bed unconscious since about 2 pm.

The hiccoughs have finally stopped, but he is loudly moaning with each breath.

We have had nurses here or calling about every 2 hours.

He has been given Ativan and Morphine, which pretty much did nothing.

He is now on Haldol to try to calm his agitation.
It doesn't seem to be working very well.
The nurse walked out the door and his moaning got louder and louder.

Deep breath -- loud moan...
Deep breath -- loud moan...
Deep breath -- loud moan...

I understand end stage liver disease, especially with cirrhosis, often ends like this.
It's a very tough thing to put the family through, and I'm fighting feelings of anger mixed with my sorrow.

I sent mom to bed about 11 pm - and hopefully she's getting some well-deserved sleep.

I think I've had a total of 3 hours this night. But I'll wait up with him until mom is up.
I'm hoping she will sleep until 7 am at least.

I wish we had more relief, but I'm very grateful for the hospice nurses.
We couldn't have done this without them.

I've put on a pot of coffee...
and am praying this gets easier for all of us.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Thoughts About Mike's Final Pilgrimage

My brother is on his final pilgrimage.
This one is not a road to a Cathedral, a new relationship, a new house, or a new family.
It is not to a new job or a new pair of jeans.
This is the journey home.

We are blessed to accompany him, however hard it may be.

There are surprises, and as I counsel all new pilgrims, we have no expectations.
We do not know how long the journey will take.
We do not know how many good days and how many painful days we will have.
We only know we began a week ago and we know we will eventually reach the destination.

Mike has had violent hiccoughs for over 36 hours now.
Nothing seems to help.
Occasionally they go away for 10 or 15 minutes.
But then they return.

I'm sure he is exhausted.
We are.
The sound grates on our nerves,
and no matter how kind, how compassionate, how patient we try to be,
the fact is it cuts to the core of my being every time he gasps.

Last night I went into the living room to check on him.
His eyes were wide open and staring at nothing.
He was not blinking.
But he was hiccoughing every 15 seconds.
I thought he was having a seizure.
I gently nudged him and called his name.
He was sleeping.

I was sorry I woke him.
I never knew people slept with their eyes wide open.
It was bizarre.

Today he goes in and out of lucidity.
He talks to invisible people and is reliving his memories.
He gets up to use the toilet and we hold our breath - will he make it without falling?
But this one last bit of independence is something I'm not yet willing to take from him.
So I follow a foot behind him, stand behind the door, escort him back to bed,
then go in to clean up the toilet.

Sometimes I feel angry.
What drives a person to waste their precious life with drugs and alcohol?
Why would someone abuse their body to this point?
Didn't he know this would be how it all ended?
Didn't he think about those of us who would be left to care for his broken and dying body?
Didn't he care?
The answer is, I don't know.
I don't understand.
But in the end, it doesn't matter.

This is my brother.
The one who I laughed with, played ball with, fought with, and cried with.
The one who I built tree forts with and protected when he was being bullied.
The one whose hand I held and whose stomach I punched.
The one who drove me nuts kicking the bottom of my mattress when he was mad because I got the top bunk.

My brother.
Little Mike.
The one who gave us such joy.
Where did he go?
Is he in there?
Is he packed inside that backpack, grizzled, worn out, dried up prune of a body?
Just waiting to burst free into the sunlight?
Is his spirit anxiously awaiting release from the painful glove holding him here?

I remind myself constantly, his life  - though it may seem wasted - was not a waste.
No life is wasted.
The good was there - and shone through every now and then.

He leaves behind a treasure for the future,
precious children and grandchildren
who hopefully will do a better job of caring for their temple,
who hopefully will have better sails and rudders,
whose pilgrimages will be less painful.

I wish Mike peace.
I wish us all peace.
A peaceful final journey.
One with dignity and love.

He will reach his final destination with our support and help.
Only God knows.

Buen Camino.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Settled In

Well, we're settled in.

We took my brother to VA Hospital last Monday and they approved him for home hospice care.
This week has been a flurry of activity as a hospital bed and other equipment was brought in and an army of RNs, LVNs, CNAs, Social and Spiritual Counselors dropped by to introduce themselves and set up schedules.  We have more help than we could ever use and honestly, I'm happy the telephone has stopped ringing every 30 minutes, waking Mike up and shattering the few moments of peace and quiet.

The kindness of people becomes apparent in times like this.  The man who returned mother's wallet, completely intact with credit cards and cash, when she absent-mindedly left it at a rest stop in Tulare on her way home after hearing about Mike. The man at Michael's Crafts who gave me his coupon for 50% off when I was flustered and couldn't find mine. Mom's church folks who brought food one night and my cousin Linda, who brought a big meal another night.   My friend at the LDS Church who has offered meals also. Pilgrim friends who I walked the Camino with who have offered up Masses for Michael's peaceful passing and spiritual support for the family. People really are good hearted and we've been blessed.

Mike goes through phases of being "out of it" where he lays in bed and groans to time when he sits up, reading his wish book catalogs and answering the phone. It's a little confusing to watch as he slips in and out of normalcy.  He doesn't have a lot of strength and so hearing and understanding what he says is difficult.  He mumbles. It doesn't help that the television is often blaring. Now I remember why I don't have one. But it keeps his mind off of his troubles when he's awake, so I'm even grateful for the television.

Mom is doing ok, but I can tell the invasion of her space by all these strangers, along with watching Mike's decline, is really hard on her. She rarely sits or rests, flitting from one job to another. She's either cleaning the kitchen, doing the mounds of laundry, vacuuming the floor, or cooking.  When she did finally lay down on the couch last night, that tiny little foot and leg of hers was just bobbing, bobbing, bobbing - she couldn't just be still.  I think I worry as much about her than about Mike. There's something just not right about having to watch your child die.

Mike's younger daughter did the best she could trying to care for him before we brought him here. She was sinking between caring for her father in a horrible situation and trying to meet her own needs. A new champion in our lives right now is his eldest daughter, who has stepped up to the plate when many would have turned their backs on the father who deserted them. She's grown into a beautiful, compassionate and brilliant woman, and we thank God for both girls.

I'm fine.

I know now why I had the gut feeling I shouldn't walk the Camino this year. Yes, my ankle was one reason, but there was just something else I couldn't put my finger on. It would have been terrible if I'd been in Spain when all this happened. Who would have helped my mother? I'm so glad I listened to my gut and didn't go.

This year has been strange, Camino-wise.  We began with 3 full groups and slowly they dwindled, as Ebola, the economy, then a couple of plane crashes seemed to trouble people enough to cancel. We had two ladies who were interested in leading groups, but in the end, we only had enough people for Joe's group. In the end, even this has been a blessing, as there is no way I would be able to deal with organizing lodging and transportation for 32 pilgrims, even if other people were leading the walks.

Joe leaves in less than a month to lead his group of ladies on the pilgrimage. As always, he's been a wonderful friend and support person. Joe took care of his own mother at home when she was dying of cancer, so he knows what we're going through. I can't thank him enough for just being there when I've needed the help.

So I guess that's it. It's the end of a very busy week. Things seems to be calming down and we're settling into a routine.

As always, I woke up this morning extremely grateful for another day. I sat outside in the cool morning air and watched the young doves building a new nest in mom's porch rafters and the hummingbirds fighting over the feeder. The sun is shining and the sky is blue. The trees have put out their leaves and the roses are blooming. I can see, smell, hear, taste, and feel.

And then there is love... I look at my mom and my brother and I feel such deep sorrow mixed with the immense love I feel for this brother who on the face of it has wasted his life. But then I remember his daughters, his grandchildren and I think, is any life really wasted? Maybe not.

Life is good.
Even when it's hard, it's good.

Thank you to all of you for your thoughts and prayers.


Sitting in mom's back yard. Blue California skies.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

What's Going On In Anniesantiago's Life?

A few weeks ago we got news that my younger brother was in Stage 4 Liver Failure. I picked up my mother and drove her to Santa Maria to see him.

It was a shock, to say the least.

My brother has shrunk down to nothing.
He is having trouble standing, walking, and is in constant pain.
It breaks my heart.

I got a call yesterday.
We're moving Mike to my mother's home.
She is in her 80's and unable to care for him alone.
So I'm taking a train down to California today to help care for him until we can get him into VA hospital or until we can get hospice care at home.

The strong feeling that I should not make plans to walk the Camino this year are now clearer than ever. It's important I be home during this hard time for our family.

It's hard to watch someone you love shrivel up and fade away...
If you pray, please pray for our family, my mother especially, and Mike.

If you send energy, we could use a bundle of it.
We're all fairly exhausted.

And if you're walking the Camino, please take prayers to St. James for a quick and easy passing for my brother.

Mike about 20 years ago

Last month