Gaining insight from loss

A weekend retreat aims to help people move on from bereavement and break-ups, says Colette Sheridan

THE end of a relationship, whether through separation, divorce or death is one of life’s most devastating experiences. Psychologists say it usually takes about a year before someone feels ready to move on. But this can vary widely. After losing a partner, men are more likely than women to make a long-term commitment again. But people deal with loss in different ways.

Helping people to deal with the loss of a partner is the aim of Beginning Experience, a peer ministry which was established by a nun in the US and has been active in Ireland since 1987. While its programmes are rooted in the Catholic Church, it is open to people of all denominations and none. It is holding a residential weekend in the Emmaus Centre in Swords in Dublin on May 4-6 which costs €200.

A team of trained facilitators who have experienced the loss of a partner will guide participants through their emotions. There will be opportunities for reflection, questions and group sharing.

Linda Gregg is president of the Beginning Experience Dublin team. She says the aim of the weekend is to enable people to be free to live and love again. She stresses that Beginning Experience is not a social club but rather a place where people come to gently work through the feelings they’re experiencing following the end of their marriage.

A mother of two grown-up children, Linda’s marriage of 14 years ended in 1995 when her husband left.

“At the time, I was devastated and angry. It was because of the anger that I joined Beginning Experience which helped me come to terms with my situation. I also had to accept the part I had played in the break-up.”

Loneliness was another issue for Linda. “I devoted myself entirely to the children and didn’t deal with how I was feeling. In time, this led to bitterness. I resented feeling so isolated in my situation.”

In 2005, Linda experienced a new lease of life when she joined Beginning Experience. “It gently encouraged me to go through the emotions I was feeling and to finally accept what had happened and to move on. It’s a very gentle process that enables you to focus on yourself and your feelings in a safe environment.”

Participants are invited to take a look at the different stages of grief, experienced not just as a result of death, but also because of relationship breakdown.

Deirdre Kelly’s husband died five and a half years ago from chronic lymphatic leukaemia.

“My daughters had left home so I was on my own. Basically, I went searching for different things. I joined a ‘people alone’ travelling club. It was on a weekend away with the club that I was told about Beginning Experience. I enrolled for a weekend retreat and have never looked back.

“Up to then, I was running all the time, booking flights for anywhere; I couldn’t stay at home. Then, when I’d return from a trip, I was faced with reality. I didn’t feel lonely because I’m quite happy to be on my own.

“I felt guilty that I was still alive and wondered why he had to go. I also hated having to face three family weddings and two births in the last five years on my own. They were hard occasions.”

Deirdre says the minute she walked in the door of Beginning Experience, she felt safe. She is now a facilitator at the retreats.

Looking back on her marriage, Deirdre says it was very happy, which helped her get over her loss. “I’ve had two relationships since my husband’s death. One of them was long-term but it fizzled out a few weeks ago. It was my fault. But I don’t regret it. I have too much living to do.”

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