My parents divorced when I was 12. I believed that most people didn’t really struggle with their parents’ divorce, and that I was strange because it was still affecting my life in so many ways 38 years after the fact.
Last February, I was given the opportunity to attend a retreat with a ministry, Life-Giving Wounds, that the Archdiocese of Denver was thinking of bringing to Colorado. It was one of the most amazing and healing experiences of my life. Among other things, Life-Giving Wounds offers a weekend retreat that allows adult children of divorce to grieve the wounds created by the break-up of their parent’s marriage and the loss of their parents’ love together for them. Dan and Bethany Meola (founders of Life-Giving Wounds) gave a presentation of the ministry on May 10 at Holy Apostles and, despite the heavy May snowstorm, it was well attended.
Using the example of Christ’s death, resurrection, and sending forth of the apostles, the retreat takes the participants on a journey through their grief and toward greater healing. So many adult children of divorce are forced to stuff their own feelings because life is so chaotic in those first years. Many are told damaging messages like, “This is for the best;” “It didn’t really change your life;” “Hasn’t your mother/father been through enough? Just be good,” among many others. It leaves us feeling very alone in such a traumatic time.
The retreat goes over five main wounds that many adult children of divorce experience. I have a few examples from the five wounds in my own life that I will share with you.
The immediate aftermath of the divorce began the wound of silence in my life. My mother had to get a job with an hour commute each way, my brother had a very strong reaction to the divorce, and adding to all of that by expressing my own confusion and hurt didn’t seem possible. I became very good at “stuffing” the hard stuff. It did not feel safe to share my feelings with my dad, either. We didn’t see him very much at first, and I felt I was on shaky ground with him.
In terms of a wound to my identity, my role in our family had long been “the only girl,” since I had two younger brothers. But my dad’s new family included three girls. It was made clear to us that we were now all “siblings.” My place in our reconfigured family became unclear and I really struggled with jealousy and a loss of identity from that.
And the wound to my faith was very hard on me. My family belonged to a small town church. I grew up being very enriched there. Many adults enriched my life through their leadership and friendship with my parents. My dad met my stepmother there. After hearing of the scandal of the affair, many of those same families were gossiping about my family. It was through this rumor mill that I learned of the affair. My parents told me that weekend, but I had already learned it from kids who overheard their parents talking about it. This put a rift in my relationship with God for a long time and made it very hard to trust him and see him as a loving father.
A fourth wound was the wound of unhealthy self-protection. My need to self-protect is strong. It gets in the way of my ability to offer self-giving love in my marriage, parenting, and other relationships. In the early years of my marriage, my damaged view of marriage made me feel as if I were “on probation.” One wrong move on my part and my husband would see that I didn’t deserve this marriage. I’m very thankful that my husband has been so patient with me. He certainly never felt that way, and helped me to be comfortable in our marriage. Sometimes he still has to remind me!
Finally, the wound to my emotions and dysfunctional family dynamics was hard on my brothers and me. I went from knowing who I was and where I belonged to never quite knowing where “home” was, overnight. Suddenly there were two places that never really equaled the one I lost. Visitation with my dad was awkward. The two homes’ structures could not have been more different, yet we were expected to adapt immediately. My brothers and I got in trouble a lot. It was very lonely at times. My dad also worked a lot of hours, so we spent much more time with my stepmother than him. I really missed him and it definitely changed my relationship with him.
On the Life-Giving Wounds retreat, participants are invited to open up about their wounds and allow Christ to enter them and to show where he was in the midst of receiving them. The retreat atmosphere builds a safe community to really look into our own wounds with people who are a little further down the path of healing. It allows truth to overcome some of the lies and cliches we’ve lived with. With the sacrament of reconciliation and Mass, along with adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the journey is with the Church and that is very healing for many whose faith has been damaged by the divorce and its aftermath.
One of the phrases used often on the retreat was new to me: the loss of your parents’ love together. For me, personally, there is a lot of meaning packed into that simple phrase for me. I am the mother of four adult children and my husband and I love them dearly. Our love for them, together, is a very real thing. It is a huge loss for those of us whose parents are no longer together. I have my own individual love for each of my children based on who I am as a mom and who they are as an individual, and my husband does the same. I don’t want to discount that love; it’s beautiful and necessary. But the love of the parents together is what allows us to make the tough decisions — the ones that aren’t fun, the ones that teach our kids their values and what they stand for as a member of our particular family. Leaning on each other in those decisions makes them not only easier, but more possible. It’s probably one of the gravest losses of divorce. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for single parents to make those hard decisions, but it sure is much more difficult. (Kudos to those who do!) And while kids are undoubtedly grateful for their mom’s love and dad’s love individually, it’s always a loss not to have that love together, in a united family.
The Archdiocese of Denver had its first Life-Giving Wounds retreat Mother’s Day weekend at Annunciation Heights near Estes Park and St. Malo. It was a beautiful weekend and 37 participants began the journey to healing in Christ from their wounds. If you would like more information about this ministry, go to lifegivingwounds.org.
If you are interested in being part of a team that will bring this ministry to the Colorado Springs Diocese please contact Andi Buckley at email@example.com or Christian Meert at firstname.lastname@example.org.