Beginning Experience Helps Widowed, Divorced Find Peace

By Denis Grasska

SAN DIEGO — Mary Clement and Robert J. Clark have both lost spouses.

Clement lost her husband of 33 years when he died after being seriously ill for a year and a half. Clark lost his wife when the couple divorced after 12 years of marriage.

In both cases, a relationship died. And, in both cases, Beginning Experience was able to bring healing and peace where there had previously been only pain and suffering.

Beginning Experience is an international ministry that provides the widowed, divorced and separated with an opportunity to move beyond their grief.

Beginning Experience weekends are held three times a year in San Diego, with the next one scheduled for Dec. 5-7 at Vina de Lestonnac in Temecula. Led by a team of trained facilitators, who themselves are former participants, the weekends include presentations, small group discussion and private reflection, as well as a penance service and Mass.

“We’ve all suffered a loss of a relationship,” Clark said, explaining what the widowed, divorced and separated all have in common. “We all have the emotions that maybe we didn’t fully deal with because of the pain … so, there’s a commonality even though we come from different places.”

After her husband died in August 2013, Clement began searching for a bereavement group she could join.

“I thought it would be helpful to have somebody to talk to who had been through a similar experience,” she told The Southern Cross.

Because her faith is so important to her, she wanted to find a Catholic group. While searching for one on the Diocese of San Diego’s Web site, she came across a link for Beginning Experience.

“It was so exciting, I signed up right then and there,” said Clement, who attended a Beginning Experience weekend last November.

She noted that Beginning Experience facilitators had to determine whether she was ready to attend the weekend or, because her husband had died only about a month and a half earlier, whether her emotions were still too raw and she needed more time to process them. Ultimately, they decided that she was ready.

“It’s set up quite a bit like Engaged Encounter and Marriage Encounter,” Clement said of the weekend. “I had been to those, so I kind of knew the structure.”

Before attending the weekend, Clement had been torn between staying in the house she had shared with her husband or selling that house and moving into a retirement community. By the end of the weekend, she had received “the peace to make that decision,” opting to move to a place where she would have daily interaction with others and no longer have to worry about maintaining a house.

About 30 years ago, when his marriage ended in divorce, Clark had been a churchgoing Catholic and an active member of the Knights of Columbus.

“It was probably me that didn’t reach out, but I felt I wasn’t getting a lot of support,” he said, “so I kind of drifted off from the Church and spent a few years wandering around and being an active bachelor.”

For years, Clark used “chasing women, drinking [and] driving fast” as distractions so that he “wouldn’t have to feel.”

But last year, he felt God tugging at his heart and calling him back to the Church. In a church vestibule, he spotted a brochure for Beginning Experience and figured that was exactly what he was seeking: a new beginning.

At the time, Clark said, he did not really think he was carrying that much emotional and spiritual baggage from his divorce. But, while attending a Beginning Experience weekend last May, he discovered that “there was still a lot of stuff there.”

The weekend, Clark said, “is so powerful in helping people get in touch with stuff that, like in my case, they didn’t even know … was still going on.”

Clark said the weekend gave him “a real sense of peace.”

Since attending their respective weekends, both Clement and Clark have gone on to serve on the facilitator teams for subsequent weekends.

Clark notes that everyone experiences the weekend in their own way, “but there is so much to get” from it. To those on the fence, struggling to work up the nerve to attend a weekend, he counsels courage: “Are you worth investing in a weekend? Because, at the end of that time, you will have gotten far more than what you invested. But you’ve got to take the risk.”

For more information about Beginning Experience, visit To learn more about Beginning Experience weekends in San Diego, contact Linda Aguilera at (858) 335-0915 or Mary Beth Parr at (619) 435-4471.

The Southern Cross