Nathaniel’s spirit lives on

Denis walking 2012Who could have anticipated that when I took over a million steps last spring to get from Cheyney, PA to Boston in honor of Nathaniel and to raise awareness about BDD and OCD, that my experience would reap so many rewards? I talked with 250 people en route, received support from hundreds of donors, and raised over $30,000 for the International OCD Foundation. We have met and talked with many courageous families who have also been ravaged by these cruel disorders.

Building on the success of my walk last year, the International OCD Foundation has launched a nation-wide campaign 1,000,000+ Steps for OCD Awareness”a walk that will encompass supporters from across the county, culminating in a 5K walk in Boston on June 8. Our country walks annually for Aids, Diabetes, and Breast Cancer, because people still suffer from these illnesses. It is no different for OCD and BDD which continue to disrupt the lives of sufferers, their families and their friends. Until there is greater awareness of these disorders and more effective treatment or a cure, there is work to be done.

On the second anniversary of Nathaniel’s death, the void of his absence still profoundly affects our family and his friends. We miss him, and we want his life to matter. I thought last June I would be finished walking, but clearly the journey to find meaning and solace has only just begun. As part of the 1,000,000+ Steps for OCD Awareness,” I will start a new pilgrimage this May “Walking With Nathaniel South” from Cheyney, PA to Washington, D.C. I am thrilled to be adding 920,000 steps more to this important cause.

Will you join Nathaniel and me? Together we can take millions of step and dare to believe that something can change because of our collective efforts. Walk with me literally, or virtually through my blog, or create your own local team or join ours, or stroll with us around Jamaica Pond in Boston on June 8, 2013. Buen Camino!


When a spiritual seeker once asked the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh how to recover from the loss of her son, he pondered awhile, then answered, “Walk!” On April 15, 2011, my 24-year-old son Nathaniel took his own life after a 13-year struggle with BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder). This devastating illness robbed the world of a magnificent human being; Nathaniel was fiercely intelligent, unfailingly kind, and universally loved. He could make other people laugh like no one else. As my wife Judy, daughter Carrie, and I grappled with the injustice and enormity of our loss, we took Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice. We flew to Spain and walked the ancient pilgrimage route, the Camino de Santiago, to grieve and to honor Nathaniel’s life. While in Spain, I caught “Camino Fever” and developed symptoms back home––the irresistible urge to walk. During these peregrinations the “Walking with Nathaniel” project was born.

See a gallery of the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage


From April 24 to June 7, 2012 a second pilgrimage from my front door in Cheyney, PA took me to Boston, MA, home of the International OCD Foundation. The 500-mile route included stops at hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, and treatment facilities that were part of Nathaniel’s journey, as well as places of joy such as The Bryn Mawr Birth Center, Goshen Friends School, The Shipley School, Westtown School (where he was a student, teacher and coach), and the Good Fellowship Ambulance and EMS unit where he often volunteered.


I walked to raise awareness about BDD and to generate funds for desperately needed research. By finding better treatment, we can offer to others the hope that Nathaniel needed and so richly deserved. To support the walk, friends and family created their own events, some joined me on short segments of the walk, and many contributed to the OCD Foundation to transform Nathaniel’s suffering and our family’s pain into new possibilities for others.

Let the cry of the Camino pilgrims be ours, “Ultreya!” (“Let’s go for it!”)

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