As parents, Dewey and Donna Fladd have had to face their worst nightmare: the loss of their child.
The Canandaigua couple’s son, Marshall, died of an opiate overdose in March 2018. In the months since, they have struggled to cope and redefine a family narrative with their daughter, Sarah. Among the many memories they cherish, the Fladds have returned repeatedly to a trip the four had long discussed but never took: hiking the El Camino trail.
Also known as St. James’ Way, the historically Catholic pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, has found new life in recent decades as a test of endurance and a cleansing experience for people of all walks of life from around the world.
The Fladds have embraced this journey as a way to honor their son (brother) and raise awareness of the emotional struggles addicts and their families face. They are working with friends to create a documentary film, called “Marshall’s Way,” to explore their grief process, end the often self-imposed isolation of parents and siblings, and give voice to the pain of those left behind when a loved one dies of an overdose.
Production has already begun on the film, which will document the Fladds’ pilgrimage from their home in Canandaigua, NY, to Porto, Portugal, before embarking on a seven-day hike along the final 140 kilometers of the El Camino trail. It will serve as a visual and emotional metaphor for Marshall’s journey of addiction and recovery.
Like so many others, Marshall was first prescribed opiates by doctors, after he developed migraines at the age of 12.
“We talked frequently about taking the St. James Way (El Camino) pilgrimage together as a family, after watching the  movie, ‘The Way,’” Dewey said. “But, we waited too long. Until it was too late.”
Dewey, Donna and Sarah, a Marcus Whitman graduate living in Charlotte, North Carolina, have vowed to hike it now, as they try to come to terms with the loss of their son (and brother).
This intensely intimate portrayal of their grief journey, called “Marshall’s Way,” will involve interviewing Marshall’s friends and family and exploring the human side of addiction. Next May, the Fladds will then walk together, in Portugal and Spain, in honor of Marshall and as a counterpoint to the journey he was forced to walk alone.
The Fladds have launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover the production costs. Excess donations will benefit a memorial scholarship in Marshall’s name that has been established to fund educational training programs for addiction treatment.
They have also begun documenting their project on Facebook.
To donate and learn more about the Fladds’ campaign, go to GoFundMe.com/f/marshalls-way. For more information and to follow the Fladds’ journey, look for Marshall’s Way on Facebook.