Beginning Experience helps widowed, divorced

At first glance, it would seem there are distinct differences in providing a Catholic ministry to individuals whose marriages ended either in divorce or through the death of a spouse.
    In the case of divorce, there may be anger at the former spouse for his or her actions. When a person is widowed, there may be a tendency on the part of the surviving spouse to view his or her former mate as a saint.
    But Beginning Experience works, said local board president Patrick Mallinson, because it brings together people experiencing both situations and offers a chance to have them share their individual feelings of loss.
    “There’s probably a few more divorced people than widowed, but amazingly, it’s fairly balanced on the weekend,” said Mallinson, who lost his wife of 25 years to cancer six years ago. “Everyone is dealing with the pain of the loss of their marriage for one reason or another. Some are departed, and some are divorced.”
    The next Beginning Experience weekend will be May 17-19 at Rosaryville. The retreat, which is open to non-Catholics, starts on a Friday night and concludes Sunday after Mass.
    The format includes talks by presenters who have experienced the end of a marriage – either through divorce or death – and sharing opportunities in small groups that are composed of individuals from both situations.
    “They stay in those same groups all weekend, and that’s where the real healing takes place,” Mallinson said.
Works through pain
    The Beginning Experience process uses the model of the five stages of grief, pioneered by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, and it also takes into account psychological and theological dimensions of death.
    “It follows the passion, death and resurrection of Christ, and people are gradually led through their pain and suffering,” Mallinson said. “If they can get through it, there is a resurrection. There is new life if they go through it and don’t go around it. You don’t forget. It is a loss. It’s everyone’s dream to be with their partner until the end.”
    The Beginning Experience program has been updated recently, Mallinson said, with added emphasis on prayer and spiritual reflection. The program was founded in the 1970s in Dallas and came to Louisiana in the 1980s.
    Mallinson lost his wife to cancer, and he said her extended illness was “not easy.”
    “It’s like grieving over an extended period of time,” he said. “Like most people, I was in a fog for awhile. Part of denial is you don’t want to believe they’re not coming back or that the phone isn’t going to ring or they’re not going to walk through the door. You gradually realize they’re not coming back. You keep moving until you finally get to the point where you accept that that marriage is finished. I still love her, like I still love my mother who died, but I’m no longer married.”
Balanced approach
    Mallinson said one of the “geniuses” of the program is including both divorced and widowed because it helps produce a more balanced view of the departed spouse.
    “Those who have lost a spouse through death tend to canonize their deceased spouse, while those who have divorced tend to demonize their ‘ex,’” Mallinson said. “The balance helps. Those who are divorced hear that there are such things as a good marriage.”
    There is still room for the Beginning Experience weekend May 17-19 at Rosaryville. Contact Lisa at 810-0055, Sharon at 289-9385 or Beth at 352-9264. Another weekend is scheduled Oct. 18-20.

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