AUCKLAND — Beginning Experience is an international programme for widowed, divorced and separated people. It is a peer ministry intended to facilitate the resolution of the grief surrounding the end of a relationship and to find new hope for the future, increased emotional health and renewed energy.
The programme is psychologically and spiritually sound, having been developed by professionals in ministry, grief psychology and education. The people who help facilitate the programme are former participants, who have personally benefited from Beginning Experience, and now wish to “give something back”. Having personal experience of grief and loss, they are uniquely equipped to be good listeners, to empathise and to encourage people to journey through the grieving process.
Attending a weekend retreat can be intimidating, but by stepping out of their comfort zone many people have discovered this programme has been a turning point in their lives.
Lorraine (her name has been changed to protect family privacy) shared her moving story. She heard about the Beginning Experience weekend through a friend.
“I felt as if I had had a shower and washed away a lot of the pain, anger and rejection. In short, I felt cleansed within my soul. I felt that I had leap-frogged forward on my journey through grief. Prior to the weekend my life was bleak and I felt lost, alone and directionless. It sounds a cliché, but it really was a lifesaver for me. I will be forever grateful for the volunteer team of people who patiently listened to my story and gave me space to grieve deeply.
“The unique programme gave me the tools to be able to understand that the grieving process is normal and necessary and is a process in itself. I also learnt that the only way out of the grief is to go through it and allow yourself to feel the pain. There are no shortcuts.”
The first Mass that Lorraine attended after leaving her marriage of 25 years was an occasion of great internal conflict. “I did marry initially for life. That was the purpose of getting married. It wasn’t something I entered into lightly and I certainly didn’t leave it lightly either.
“It’s not necessarily that people are particularly saying or doing anything to appear like they are judging us,” she said. “Sometimes we put the judgment on ourselves. We still feel like we are being judged because of our Catholic faith and what we’ve believed in all our lives, and it’s a very big step to have to leave and move away.”
People can participate at their own pace, and there is no pressure to talk, and there is time for quiet reflection with prepared, guiding questions.
The Beginning Experience Weekend held in Auckland diocese at the Franciscan Friary is not just for those who have experienced divorce; it is also for widows and widowers, as well as for people who are separated and, of course, it is not confined to Catholics.
Whatever the cause of a relationship’s end — death, separation or divorce — the loss, Lorraine asserts, is the same. “While we are still hanging on to those feelings, we are getting caught up and stuck in them; they hold a lot of power over us,” she said.
“We have the motto ‘A weekend away for a lifetime of change’; it’s a unique retreat to work through the grief of the end of a relationship.”
In the months and years following, the participants claim to have found new hope for their future and renewed energy to return to their church or their spiritual roots as well as to family life and jobs.
The next weekend retreat in Auckland begins on Friday evening, April 25 to Sunday afternoon April 27 at the Franciscan Friary in Hillsborough, Auckland.