From the Pittsburgh Catholic
By THERESA McHENRY
Widowed, separated or divorced? Don’t know where to turn? Struggling with grief or loss?
When distress, despair, anger or grief are trivialized, dismissed and remain unresolved, life may seem unfulfilled and aimless. The loss of self-esteem, together with feelings of sadness or bitterness, becomes a way of life. Well-meaning people advise, “Get over it,” but it is just not happening.
Sometimes the pain of the loss of a loved one, either by death, separation or divorce, cannot be overcome quickly or easily. It has become a habit to utter, “I am OK” when asked, but inside there is a heavy heart.
Healing can start with a Beginning Experience weekend at a retreat center. Through the Holy Spirit, a safe and sympathetic environment is created. Listening and understanding allows wonderful transformations throughout the weekend process. It is not a quick fix. Rather, the weekend renews hope that a new life can be found beyond the pain.
Following are one participant’s comments: “I came to my Beginning Experience retreat in the fall as a basket case. I was extremely upset. It was the beginning of my divorce process after a 28-year marriage, and I had just had the first of what I am sure will be many court hearings. The churning in my stomach was intense, and my large intake of food, exercise and prayer of the rosary were not calming it. I was sleeping very poorly and I wasn’t functioning at work since I was ready to burst into tears for just about any reason. I knew I needed to do something.
“When I saw the article in my church bulletin for Beginning Experience, I signed up right away with very few questions. Anything had to be better than what I was doing.
“My Catholic beliefs and worship of God have always been a source of strength to me. From that belief came my family values. I’ve had to reconcile these values with the reality of my pending divorce. I’ve had to examine my feelings and see why I was reacting so poorly about finally getting free from a terrible situation. I’ve had to examine the masks I’ve been forced to wear over my long and difficult marriage.
“The Beginning Experience program, with its comprehensive series of steps toward healing, was a Godsend to me and those of my retreat weekend. I have found these retreats and follow-up support meetings to be wonderful healing experiences that helped me move through the grieving process productively while I transition to my new life. It has impressed me so much that I decided to stay on and become part of the team for the weekends — become a wounded healer as I heal. I want to pass along the kindness and caring that the Beginning Experience volunteers have shown me and other widowed, divorced or separated people who come to the BE weekends.”
Often participants question their decision to attend. “What am I doing here?” Yet, they have arrived at the right place — a place where people do indeed understand and care. The weekend is a place to travel through the darkness of grief toward the future with the support of others on the same journey.
By Sunday afternoon, initial apprehension is transformed into hope. Many participants say they don’t want to leave. The weekend has become a safe place. So once the weekend is over, there is a realization that something good has begun spiritually and socially. To help progress to be ongoing without fear of abandonment, there are regular opportunities to meet again through optional support programs after the weekend.
Pittsburgh Beginning Experience offers two weekends a year. The next will be March 25-27 at the Gilmary Center in Findlay Township. Renew the light of hope by going to www.beginningexperience.org, or make a confidential call to Steve Smith at 412-367-4948 or 412-720-8694.
McHenry is a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsburgh.