By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
Kansas City – We read about it in the papers and on the Internet regularly: politicians and actors filing for divorce, some after just a few weeks of marriage. The soon-to-be ex-spouses appear relatively unaffected by the ending of their marriage. But for most couples, especially those married for 20 or 30 years or more, the upheaval of their dreams, emotions, their very lives, is agonizing.
The statistics are a little chilling: 50 percent of couples marrying today will divorce, and more than 80 percent will remarry within three years. About 65 percent of those marriages will also fail.
The Catholic Church is renowned for caring about people who are broken and brokenhearted and giving them God/Christ/Spirit-based solutions to real-life problems, some of them messy, like poverty, hunger, aging, imprisonment and abortion.
But what about divorce? A recent Gallup poll seemed to indicate that divorce can draw people closer to God through prayer and reading the Bible, but it also found that those who are separated and divorced often feel ostracized and alienated, sensing that the church focuses on the needs of the intact family and ignoring those whose families have come apart. With the approval of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, St. Thomas More Parish is starting to change that impression. Beginning Jan. 11, the parish is piloting R.A.D.I.C.A.L., a 10-week program of healing, comforting and transformation for women struggling with divorce. Founded almost a decade ago by Suzy Brown, R.A.D.I.C.A.L., or Rising above Divorce in Confidence and Love, has helped women survive, laugh, re-find God and live again.
Suzy, 65, knows first hand how it feels; in 2000 her 33-year marriage ended with a divorce decree. She had struggled for three years to save the marriage, to no avail. After the divorce was final, she was devastated, finding it difficult to get up in the morning, then finding something to wear and eat for breakfast. She was merely going through the motions of living, and thought she’d never really be happy again.
Then her brother arrived from Wichita. After giving her a day to sob, scream and kick things, Suzy recalled, he asked her point-blank was she going to let the divorce destroy her or was she going to move on?
“I realized then I still had a lot of living to do,” she said.
Through neighbors and friends, Suzy discovered that several women in her neighborhood were going through the divorce process and an idea occurred to her. She asked some of the women she knew who were “clawing their way through the devastation of divorce” to meet twice a month at her home. Wanting more than a group cry around her kitchen table, she put together a workbook and an agenda to give the first meeting some form.
The eight women did cry together, but they learned to laugh and live again. Laughter helps heal the soul, Suzy said. That group was the first to experience R.A.D.I.C.A.L. recovery. The acronym is based on Christian life, she said, because Christianity is radical — empowering and life changing. Suzy was raised in the Church of Christ tradition, and for her, Christianity is vibrant and “radical.”
Divorce at midlife is different, Suzy said. Women, and men, have invested at least half their lives in a relationship, the children are almost grown and gone, and there are the physical changes of growing older. “If a spouse dies, it is devastating, but at least there’s closure. With divorce at midlife, there’s no real closure,” she said.
There are many day-to-day griefs associated with a divorce, Suzy said, some big, some medium-sized, some little, but it’s the little griefs that are the hardest to deal with.
“He used to take out the trash … you hear a song on the radio you both loved … trying to explain why he won’t be at a soccer game or school play, and feeling ‘not normal.’ R.A.D.I.C.A.L. helps women understand that they are normal and so is grieving. They learn that life will regain its normality and they will be happy again.”
Suzy remembered that after “clawing my way through the grief of it all, I fell on my face before God and said something like, “I hate this! I don’t want to be divorced! I don’t know what you’re doing, but if you can somehow use this for your purposes, I’ll try and go along.”
Since 2007, she has published two books on recovering from divorce, hosted and facilitated Midlife Divorce Recovery boot camps, and established the R.A.D.I.C.A.L. MasterPlan, a yearlong program of divorce recovery. For the past three years, she has facilitated the 10-week R.A.D.I.C.A.L. program each quarter at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan. She also maintains a website, which has had more than a million hits from women and men in the U.S. and more than 80 foreign countries.
Since her R.A.D.I.C.A.L. programs began at Church of the Resurrection, Suzy noticed that a significant number of attendees were Catholic women, sometimes as many as half in a 10-week class. “I don’t think it’s because more Catholics are divorcing,” she said, “in fact their rates are slightly lower than most other religious denominations. Only Islamic groups are lower. No, I think it’s because there are few resources for them within their own parishes. I want, I hope to eventually have a R.A.D.I.C.A.L. recovery group in every parish, or at least accessible, in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. God commands us to comfort the broken-hearted … never is one more broken-hearted than when they are going through a divorce.”
Suzy met Terry Brown, a C.P.A., about three years after her divorce and they were married in 2004. Six adult children, grandchildren and grandpets complete their blended family. “We’re different in so many ways,” she said. “In politics, he’s Democrat, I’m Republican; I’m a Wichita girl, he’s a Missouri boy; I’m Church of Christ, he’s Catholic, but we’re both in search of God. We are so blessed, God is so good and I realize that, now more than ever.”
The pilot R.A.D.I.C.A.L. program begins Jan. 11 at St. Thomas More and will be held in the parish office’s Living Room at 6:30-8 p.m., Wednesday evenings through March 21. The cost is $35 per person, and includes a 216-page Radical Recovery book and workbook. Attendees will learn to survive; grieve with grace; get strong; conquer the chaos; help their children; inspire family and friends; face reality; choose to change; embrace transformation, and find God’s plan for their lives.
Class size is limited to 14, to enable sharing and learning together. A new 10-week session is planned for each quarter, and waiting lists are available.
Suzy Brown is excited to get up in the mornings, attend early Mass at St. Thomas More with Terry, and come home to work on her next R.A.D.I.C.A.L. meeting, or speak with Christian or business groups. She has recovered and is answering God’s call to help others, radically.
To sign up for R.A.D.I.C.A.L., the 10-week divorce recovery program for women, contact Suzy Brown by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call (816) 941-4911.