New healing ministry for adult children of divorce launches in Bay Area

By Bethany Meola

When my husband Dan was 11, his parents separated. Like other children in this situation, he started shuttling between two ever-diverging homes. He dealt with feelings of anger, hurt and betrayal, but wasn’t sure where to turn for help or understanding. His parents’ split shook his trust in relationships, raised big questions about his own identity, and, for a time, damaged his relationship with God and the church.

Thankfully, Dan found support from several attentive priests, his youth minister and especially his long-married grandparents, who gave the witness to lasting love he desperately needed. By the time we met in graduate school, he had experienced deep healing from the wounds caused by his family’s breakdown. But even when we got married – in a sad irony, during the same year his parents’ divorce was finalized – he had anxiety about whether our love could last.

Dan is far from alone in his experiences. It probably goes without saying that family breakdown is widespread today through divorce, separation and a rise in cohabitation dissolution and other relationship disruptions. One sobering statistic is that fewer than half of children spend the entirety of their childhood together with their parents in a unified home. And sadly, those who come from broken homes are more likely to divorce themselves, if they marry at all. As the saying goes, a wound that isn’t transformed is transmitted.

Knowing this, and also knowing the richness our church and faith have to offer all those who have suffered from their family’s breakdown, Dan and I founded Life-Giving Wounds, a Catholic apostolate dedicated to giving voice to the pain of adult children of divorce or separation and helping them find deep spiritual healing. We want every now-adult child of divorce to have a place to turn, a community where others can receive and honor their pain, so they’re not left to cobble together the support they desire and deserve.

Through in-person and online retreat experiences, support groups, online and print resources and more, Life-Giving Wounds wants every man and woman from a broken home to become cycle-breakers, and ultimately to find even within their wounds the Lord’s invitation to greater faith, hope and love.

This fall, the Archdiocese of San Francisco launched a local Life-Giving Wounds chapter under the leadership of Ed Hopfner, director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life, and in collaboration with the Young Adult and Vocations offices.

“Probably every family I know is touched, directly or indirectly, by divorce,” says Hopfner. “There’s a great need for healing. I’m so glad our archdiocesan team will be able to bring this powerful ministry to the Bay Area; my friends who have been through the retreat have said it was life-changing.”

Starting Oct. 7, the new Life-Giving Wounds chapter of San Francisco is running a six-week online support group for adult children of divorce or separation. And then in March 2022, an in-person retreat will be held in the Bay Area, led by the Life-Giving Wounds traveling retreat team in collaboration with local leaders.

Both of these events provide a one-of-a-kind opportunity for men and women from broken homes to come together in a faith-infused environment with others from a similar background. So often adult children of divorce can feel isolated or alone; they may wonder if their suffering “counts” or whether they should be “over it” by now. Life-Giving Wounds strives to create a space where adult children of divorce can share each other’s burdens and encourage each other to strive for greater peace and joy despite the challenges their family situations bring.

Father Luke Joseph Leighton, a member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, is a priest serving in the Diocese of Oakland, an adult child of divorce, and one of the over 600 people around the country who have attended a Life-Giving Wounds retreat or support group over the last several years.

“The Life-Giving Wounds retreat is a pilgrimage,” says Father Leighton. “A sacred journey. Looking back over my retreat weekend, I can see that through the vulnerability of sharing my story, I was open to hearing and receiving the proclamation of the Lord’s suffering, death and resurrection in a way that poured healing love into the wound in my heart caused by my parents’ divorce. I can say with confidence that it is true, wounds can in fact become life-giving.”

Topics covered in Life-Giving Wounds retreats and support groups include how the wound of divorce affects one’s identity, faith and relationships; what Christian forgiveness is (and isn’t); setting family boundaries and dealing with difficult family relationships; the meaning of redemptive suffering; and more. And knowing that our greatest healing comes from our relationship with God, all Life-Giving Wounds events are grounded on prayer, eucharistic adoration, the sacraments and Catholic devotions that help build a deeper relationship with Jesus the healer. Finally, a guided small-group component gives an opportunity to connect with other adult children of divorce and share support, empathy and encouragement with each other.

Praise God that none of our wounds are beyond the Lord’s healing touch. We have seen some amazing examples of men and women who have been deeply wounded by their parents’ choices and family dysfunction become, through the healing power of our faith and the support of others, some of the most prayerful, joyful people. The Lord always meets us in our wounds, but never leaves us there.

So to the vast number of people who have lost the love of the parents together, we in the Life-Giving Wounds community see you, we honor your pain and we’re here for you as you strive to live a life of deeper trust in God and others. We invite you to come and see what Life-Giving Wounds is all about.

Bethany Meola is the co-founder and vice president of Life-Giving Wounds. Her husband Dr. Daniel Meola is co-founder and president. The Meolas live in Bowie, Maryland, with their two daughters.