When Joanne Lee entered into marriage, she did so with full commitment and a belief that she and her husband would grow old together. It wasn’t some celebrity coupling that she could give up at a whim on five years down the line. For Joanne it was for life. So, 18 years later, and with two teenage boys caught in the updraft, she was finally faced with the reality that the marriage was irreparable. She was devastated.
A Male Role Model is Important
There were the natural processes of grief to go through, and anger at her husband was certainly one of the stages. However, she was careful not to imprint these feelings onto her sons. He was their father after all, and they had a right to continue a relationship with him if they so chose.
“I wanted them to have that father-son relationship that is so critical, especially in the teen years, and I wanted my sons to make their own assessments of their father without me colouring their views, so I was very careful with my words,” Joanne recalls. “However, the reality is, he’s not around for them much, perhaps four times a year, and I became really concerned that they be around stable and good male role models.”
Through the divorce, Joanne still had the support of her in-laws and was relieved when her ex-husband’s brother stepped in to be that role model along with a few other of Joanne’s male friends.
“Both the boys went through some trauma with the divorce. No child wants to see their parents separate. But I was especially concerned for my younger son, who was only 14 years old at the time,” says Joanne. “He tended to bottle up his feelings and I wasn’t the person to help him through that. He needed a male father figure to talk to, to show him how to shave and guide him through all other teenage rites of passage, as it were.”
There was so much misinformation out there about divorce and the Catholic Church… I had done a lot of research on my own on my standing in the Catholic Church as a divorcee and found that most of the advice I was being given was incorrect. I felt for my own sake and for other divorcees going through the same thing that I should share my experience.
A Journey to Discovery of the Truth
Joanne was also concerned about the impact the divorce would have on her sons’ future relationships and how they would now view marriage as well as how they would cope with the practice of their faith. This was something she herself was naturally struggling with.
She sought advice within the Church and spoke to several priests before her divorce to better understand where she would stand as a Catholic after her civil divorce. She’d heard from several sources that she wouldn’t be allowed to receive Holy Communion, be a Godparent to her friend’s child and even that she could no longer be a Catechism teacher as a divorcee.
At this point, Joanne felt deeply angry and resentful. It wasn’t her fault the marriage hadn’t worked, and it was her ex-husband who had initiated the divorce. She was not the sinner and yet she felt she was being treated as such. “I faced judgement from some members of the congregation and I felt ostracised,” Joanne recalls.
“There was so much misinformation out there about divorce and the Catholic Church, so I decided to write a blog on what I went through to set matters straight and work through my own feelings. I had done a lot of research on my own on my standing in the Catholic Church as a divorcee and found that most of the advice I was being given was incorrect. I felt for my own sake and for other divorcees going through the same thing that I should share my experience.”
She knew of friends who felt they had to leave the Church after divorce and others that stayed but thought they couldn’t take Communion. There needed to be an avenue where such people could be guided, not only through the healing journey after the divorce, but also be welcomed back into the Church without judgement. “When you are going through a crisis such as a divorce, all the more you need the support of the Church,” says Joanne.
When you are going through a crisis such as a divorce, all the more you need the support of the Church
A Mission to be a Support to Others
As part of her healing process, Joanne also attended several of the Church’s support programmes including Beginning Experience and Surviving Divorce. As an attendee of the pioneer batch of the latter, she became a facilitator in subsequent programmes, a role she welcomed as it helped her in her mission to help others in similar situations to journey from heartache to healing.
Through her journey, Joanne now feels even closer to God: “I felt His presence the strongest through the divorce and throughout my healing journey. It wasn’t easy, and I stopped attending daily mass for a while due to work pressures, but with God’s grace I found my way back. I would never advocate divorce as a solution to marital trouble, but I’m also there without judgement to guide those who find themselves going down that path. I’m thankful to the Church for the support I have received and am glad to now be part of that support for others.”