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The Beginning Experience: A Weekend Retreat for the Widowed and Divorced
by Ted S.

I just got back from a weekend program called Beginning Experience ("BE"). BE is a program for the widowed and divorced which takes you away from all distractions, teaches you about the grieving process, helps you find where you are in the process, shows you a way forward, and provides an opportunity for closure. Run as a ministry of the Catholic Church, there is some emphasis on religion. However, the program is non-denominational and useful no matter where fall on the continuum of Christian faith.

I attended as a way to evaluate whether I had truly closed the door on my divorce. The program addresses all grief, and divorce is seen as the death of a marriage. The program, in a different format, is conducted for children who have lost a parent or whose parents divorced.

BE is run by peers, people who have been through the program before to address their own grief. The facilitators are very careful not to give advice; instead they help you to find your own answers through the structure of the program and the sharing of common experiences by people in various stages of the process.

The program is a self-discovery experience. Facilitators give brief talks sharing their experiences as they relate to various topics associated with grief and the grieving process. From these talks participants go to private writing places where they write, using a special stream-of-conscious method, answers to questions related to the topic at hand. These questions force the participant to organize their thoughts and confront issues about their grief. The feelings and emotions expressed in this process are often new discoveries for the participant. From the writing exercise participants go to small groups where they share some of things they have written. I found that by saying aloud the things I wrote I really had to confront them. Listening to the others was helpful as it made me aware of things I had not considered, and as the groups were coed, allowed me to hear things from what I imagined to be the perspective of my ex-wife. Topics included the grieving process, trust, forgiveness, guilt, and others.

The most useful writing exercise was to compose a “gentle letter of closure” (not to be mailed) to my ex-wife. This letter was a culmination of the entire experience, and allowed me to take responsibility, assign blame, apologize, forgive, and achieve closure. It is not promised that the weekend will bring a person through the entire grief process. A person will learn where they are in the process and will hopefully move forward. There were some people who were taking the course for a second or third time that found that each Beginning Experience brought them closer to acceptance, closure and peace.

The Beginning Experience is a very intense program, both in its pace and in the issues and emotions one encounters. But as it is conducted far from distractions in a loving and supportive atmosphere, I would not say that it is hard. Perhaps the hardest part is making the decision and commitment to attend.

BE is offered all across the United States and around the World. For more information their web site is www.beginningexperience.org.


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