When she moved to Elmira in 2003, Laurie Desmarais was unaware that her marriage of three years wasn’t going to last. She sank into despair as this reality became clear — but got a crucial lift from DivorceCare, which she began attending in 2005 at Elmira’s First Presbyterian Church.
So strongly does Desmarais believe in DivorceCare that she’s gone from participant to facilitator: She will lead the first DivorceCare program ever to be offered at St. Mary’s Southside, 224 Franklin St. It’s due to begin Wednesday, Sept. 12, with another fall session starting Monday, Sept. 10, at First Presbyterian Church, 1054 W. Clinton St. All sessions begin at 7 p.m. and last approximately two hours. John Bunce from First Presbyterian is a facilitator as well.
DivorceCare is a 13-week support-and-recovery program for people who are considering divorce, going through the process or already divorced. Desmarais said participants can range in age from their 20s to 60s. Some, she observed, may be going through their second divorce and find that “they never really healed from the first one.” Sessions are open to women and men of all denominations. A $12 fee covers snacks, videos and a workbook. Desmarais is working toward establishing a regular rotation of three DivorceCare offerings per year (September to December, January to April and May to August.)
“The depth of the information that’s covered in 13 weeks is astounding. The healing works in a bunch of different ways. I can’t say enough good things about how DivorceCare is structured,” Desmarais said.
Groups are kept somewhat small because “everybody needs to have an opportunity to talk,” Desmarais explained. Each DivorceCare session starts with a chat session to see how everybody’s week is going. Then a video is shown, followed by more discussion.
The program’s first five weeks deal with the emotional impact of divorce; the sixth week, what God says about divorce; and subsequent weeks with “going-forward” issues such as new relationships, finances and forgiveness. During the final session participants are urged to avoid slipping into such destructive actions as drinking and chain-dating. Despite the 13-week format, Desmarais emphasized that people are invited to start at any time during the cycle.
Desmarais, 42, whose divorce is still in process, said that “everybody thinks their divorce is different, but there’s a lot of commonality.” For example, feeling angry “is a perfectly natural and normal reaction you’re having. … Just to know that your feelings and your situation is normal is such a huge comfort.” Another valuable aspect of DivorceCare is that “it takes the focus off the spouse and brings it back to you,” Desmarais said, noting that participants come to realize they can’t control the spouse’s behavior “but I have control over how I respond.”
For annulment questions, she refers people to their parish priest.
“That’s because every situation is so different. Only a Catholic priest who’s familiar with the intricacies of the annulment process would be able to tell you whether it’s an option or not,” she said.
DivorceCare was developed by Church Initiative (www.churchinitiative.org) in Wake Forest, N.C. Related programs deal with other aspects of divorce, as well as grief and problem gambling. Desmarais said she’s hoping to eventually bring DivorceCare for Kids, Grief Share and DivorceCare for Teens to the Elmira area.
“It’s such a Christ-based program — the comfort that comes from that is possibly the biggest thing,” she said of DivorceCare. “But it also connects you on a human level. I still get together on a monthly basis with most of the people that were in my group. When one of them has a crisis, we run in, form a circle around them and lift them up until the crisis is over.”
She observed that a large percentage of participants are Catholic, and is gratified that an area Catholic parish is now offering DivorceCare.
“Going to church can be a very intimidating prospect when you’re going alone for the first time. It can be very intimidating for a Catholic to be divorced,” she said, adding that she has experienced discomfort at one other local Catholic parish — but St. Mary’s Southside and its pastor, Father Rick Farrell, “have never made me feel that way. I personally have not felt shunned; if anything, I’ve felt embraced at St. Mary’s.”
Desmarais said she doesn’t oppose Catholic teaching on divorce. But she does wish that a larger portion of the church would be sympathetic to her plight: “We all have baggage, so accept me. I’m not asking you to accept all the decisions I’ve made in my life.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Those interested in DivorceCare may contact Laurie Desmarais at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-259-1529. Or, call St. Mary’s at 607-734-6254 or First Presbyterian at 607-734-1614.