Adult children of divorce don’t have to heal alone
By Emily Woodham
The following story appeared in the October 7 Idaho Catholic Register.
It’s common for adult children of divorce to be independent and to feel that they must handle things on their own, said Dr. Daniel Meola, founder of Life-Giving Wounds, a national Catholic retreat and support group ministry.
“While growing up, they had to do everything on their own because there was chaos in the divorced home,” he said. “They just had to survive. So, it can be really hard to reach out for help and trust again. You don’t have to do it alone. It’s such a burden to try to do your healing on your own. I think it’s really important to get help.”
Trained facilitators from the Life-Giving Wounds ministry, a ministry for the adult children of di-vorced or separated parents, will be in Boise on Nov. 4-6 to offer a retreat at St. Paul’s Student Center on the Boise State campus, 1915 W. University Dr.
The ministry’s outreach is for adult children – 18 and older – of divorce and separation, no matter how long or short the separation. It also helps adult chil-dren whose parents who may not have separated, but experienced dysfunction due to either one parent’s long absence from home or a parent’s unfaithfulness that led to family dysfunction. The only wounds of separation not addressed are the death of a parent or adoption. “Those are two situations that need differ-ent pastoral responses,” Dr. Meola said.
Meola, who founded the ministry with his wife, Bethany, will not be attending the Boise event, but three trained peer leaders from Life-Giving Wounds’ national team will be on hand, along with a local chaplain and counselor. The purpose of the retreat is not to provide professional counseling, but to focus on spiritual healing. For those who are in counseling, it is recommended that they seek advice from their counselor before attending.
“Your counselor is going to know your whole story, what you’re working on, and if this is a good time or not to go on this retreat,” Meola said.
Meola and his wife founded Life-Giving Wounds in 2015 in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. As their ministry grew in popularity, other dioceses asked them to offer retreats and start support groups. In 2020, the ministry became a national non-profit organization.
Dr. Meola has a Ph.D. in Theology of Marriage and Family from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. Bethany Meola has a master of theological studies degree from the same institute. Both are children of divorced and separated parents and saw the need for peer support groups for adult children of divorce.
“There are peer support groups for those who struggle with post-abortion, those who are divorcees and those who struggle with same-sex attraction, but there wasn’t anything for adult children of divorce. So we’re trying to step into that gap so that those from broken homes can have support with healing those wounds of being from a broken family,” Meola said.
The retreat will address seven areas of wounds that adult children of divorce carry: grief, wounds to faith, wounds to identity, wounds in relationships, wounds to emotional life, the wound to family dy-namics (which includes boundaries and the forgive-ness process), and coping with suffering.
These wounds are carried by all children of divorce, whether or not their parents divorced when they were children or when they were adults, Meola said. Although the nuances are different, children of divorce are deeply impacted by their parents’ divorce no matter at what age the divorce happened, he said.
“What people often get out of these retreats is a greater self-awareness in these different areas of wounds and then, also, the practical tools and ideas on how to grow,” Meola said. “One of the greatest things that people take away from the retreat is a deeper relationship with God and how to handle this suffering in their life.”
In Life-Giving Wounds, spiritual healing is seen through truth, goodness and beauty: the truth of the faith, the goodness in taking time to pray and participating in the sacraments and the beauty of immersing oneself in faith and community. “All these help adult children of divorce grow in virtue and in cultivating the faith, hope and love needed to respond to wounds,” Meola said.
The sacraments, keys to healing, are included in the retreat as is Adoration, meditation and prayer, aided by music and art.
Though independent-minded children of divorce may try to heal through only books and/or coun-seling, Catholic community is crucial for healing, Meola said. “Books are important and counselors give us good tools, but there also needs to be spiritual healing. Talking things through with peers, peer leaders, and developing friendships are irreplaceable,” he said. Doing so, participants feel less alone in their suffering and grow in self-awareness and virtue.
A goal of the weekend retreat is to establish a local chapter of Life-Giving Wounds, which will provide an opportunity for participants to follow up with regularly meeting support groups.
The retreat is for adults 18 and older. The majority of those who attend are young adults up to 35, but all adult children of divorce may attend.
The cost for general admission is $150. For college students, seminarians, clergy and religious, the cost is $50.
For more information or to register, go to catholicidaho.org/events or call 208-350-7535. For more information about Life-Giving Wounds, go to lifegivingwounds.org.
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