Saturday 25 May 2019

'He wanted to go there next year' - grieving widow scatters husband's ashes in Spain after his death on Camino

Claire McNeilly

The grief-stricken widow of a Northern Ireland man who died after walking part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain has carried his ashes to where he had previously hoped to end his pilgrimage.

Phillip Dunlop (53), a diving coach from Bangor, collapsed on a bus on the way to the airport shortly after completing a 252km section of the famous walk in eight days with his friend and work colleague.

He was on his way home at the time of his sudden death on April 13, although his plan had been to return next year with wife Joan, and follow another leg of the Camino to Finisterre - the medieval 'end of the world'.

But on Good Friday, having made the heartbreaking decision to have him cremated in Spain, Joan and the couple's three children travelled to Finisterre on his behalf and scattered some of his ashes in the sea there.

Mrs Dunlop (46), who worked alongside Phillip at Bangor's Aurora Aquatic and Leisure Complex, said "it was a beautiful and emotional day" for herself, their son Travis (18) and daughters Taylor (16) and Jordan (15).

"Phillip wanted to go to Finisterre next year so we walked a bit of the Camino to the beach where we scattered some of his ashes," she said.

Also travelling on that final journey were Joan's sisters Anne Quinn (50) and Carol McCullough (36) and Phillip's colleague Kevin (52), who walked the Camino with Phillip and was with him when he died.

"Phillip phoned me every night and told me how beautiful the place was," Joan said.

"He loved it that much he was planning to come back next May and do a 10-day trek, with me, Taylor and Jordan."

His sudden death was all the more shocking for his family because he was in great health.

"Kev said Phillip pushed him the whole way. He didn't struggle and they finished it two days early," Mrs Dunlop said.

"We still don't know what happened. We think it was either a massive heart attack or a brain aneurysm. I'll get an autopsy report in four to five months."

Joan described the terrifying moment on the coach when Phillip passed away.

"Phillip paid his money, then sat down and put his bag down and then he dropped his money on the floor..." she said.

"Kevin turned round and Phillip was gritting his teeth and he was frozen.

"They put him on the floor and did CPR. There were two German nurses who assisted Kevin and when the ambulance came they shocked him a couple of times. They just said he was gone, it was too severe.

"I can't get my head round it ...but he didn't suffer. It was instant. He was sitting talking one minute, it was just so sudden."

When Joan got the terrible news about Phillip's death she was shopping with her sister.

"My sister brought me to my mum's house straight afterwards," Joan recalled.

"My daughter was with me and my two sons were at home so I didn't stay at my mum's house for long. My friend Wendy came up and drove my car from Belfast to Bangor and then I had to tell my two sons once I got home."

She added: "We'd been so excited. I'd made his favourite dinner - sticky chicken and rice - for him coming home that night."

Joan and Phillip were due to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary in Australia with their children on December 11.

"We were travelling to Ningi in Brisbane. We were going to take the children on the boat that we got married on before everything happened," she said.

Being able to say goodbye to Phillip has helped them all find some peace in his passing.

"When we were at home we were devastated," Joan added.

"We just couldn't accept it and the thought of him being in another country. We ended up having him cremated in Spain as we couldn't get his body home until the end of April because of the Easter holidays. Originally he was meant to be coming home with us."

Before leaving for his trip, Joan revealed that Phillip had made her watch a film called The Way, about the Camino. In it, a man dies on the walk and his father then takes up the pilgrimage on his son's behalf, scattering his ashes along the way.

It is partly why she didn't believe it when her brother phoned with the news of Phillip's death.

"I was shocked. I thought he was pranking us because we knew he was on his way home in a few hours and I was going to go and pick him up," she said.

But Joan said that taking his ashes to Finisterre - which is the final destination for many pilgrims on the Way of St James - made her feel as though "I've fulfilled part of his dream for him".

"I loved Phillip so very much," she added through tears.

"He was a fantastic husband. From the day and hour we met there was a connection there. We were inseparable, we worked together, we were together every day.

"He was a fantastic father. He was very good with the kids. He took eight years off work to be a stay at home dad because he wanted to have that bond with the children because his father left him when he was only five and he didn't have a father figure. He wanted our children to experience what he missed.

"He was a doting dad. He encouraged them, he pushed them, he thought the world of them. He was a true family man."

A service to celebrate Phillip's life will be held on Wednesday at 2pm in Elim Church, Bangor.

Belfast Telegraph

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