Raphael's Group: A Faith-Based Community for Adults Who Have Lost a Partner Through Separation/Divorce, Betrayal, Estrangement or Death
WHAT IS RAPHAEL'S GROUP?
Raphael's Group is not a therapy group, but rather a faith-based community of support designed to provide some of the help and companionship that a spouse would normally provide for adults who have lost a spousal or partner relationship. It normally meets on the 2nd and 4th Monday of each month in Monroeville, Pennsylvania on the campus of Christ the Divine Shepherd Church in the Pittsburgh Diocese of the Catholic Church, but meetings and social activities are currently suspended because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Special arrangements can be made for virtual involvement (via phone or a live web-connection) for those who live in other states or other parts of Pennsylvania. If counseling or virtual tele-health services are needed, call Dr. Peg Christopher at 724 733-2928. To join the group for its monthly social activities and Catholic DVD series, please contact Theresa, the new Raphael's Group Facilitator, by emailing Raphael'sGrpMPH@gmail.com.
DO I HAVE TO BE CATHOLIC TO PARTICIPATE?
No, the word "catholic" here means "universal and opened to all." Members do not have to be Catholic and do not have to be members of the Parish to join this community. The DVD series that is used is consistent with Catholic theology, however, and features some of the Catholic priests and a psychologist from the EWTN television station. Quotations from Catholic homilies and writings are also included if they are perceived as being helpful to those who are coping with betrayal trauma, emotional abuse, legal abuse syndrome, attachment-based parental alienation, estrangement, Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome (NAS) and/or loss.
IS THERE A SOCIAL COMPONENT TO THE GROUP?
Yes, definitely, but group members are discouraged from dating one another or forming separate sub-groups among themselves. Some members choose to simply attend the two meetings each month, while others participate in both the meetings and the social events. Social events include pot luck dinners in conjunction with televised football games, participation in free or low-cost community events, special dinners or gatherings on holidays, participation in local picnics or festivals, hikes, a back-to-school party, concerts, trips to museums and other cultural sites, and even an annual off-season trip to an oceanfront resort on Cape Cod for a special workshop on recovery from betrayal trauma. Some members have arranged to join with other faith-based groups to travel safely to other locations throughout the country or world.
IS THERE A COST FOR PARTICIPATION?
There is no cost for the group meetings themselves but there may be a cost for some of the social events. This money would not be paid to the group or parish, but to the organization or agency that is sponsoring the social event. There may be a cost for those who are seeking mediation, counseling, coaching, or consulting in addition to the group meetings. This would depend on the provider who the group participant chooses to see for these extra services. Donations for Raphael's Group are always welcome. These would go to the Parish to help cover the cost of refreshments and any other resources that the Parish provides.
WHEN IS THE NEXT MEETING? Meetings take place during the academic school year and will continue until the school year for Gateway School District in Pennsylvania ends. The exact date will be provided at a later time. In the meantime, please feel free to call 724 733-2928 to discuss your situation and register for the next series of meetings or to learn about the social events available during the summer months. The specific meeting location is provided after registration. Meetings are normally held on the St. Bernadette campus of Christ the Divine Shepherd Parish in the Pittsburgh Diocese. Refreshments are provided, but participants are asked to bring their own non-alcoholic beverage, if a beverage is desired. For safety, confidentiality, and planning reasons, we ask that you pre-register before coming to this group program for the first time. Raphael's Group is theme-centered, but the themes are not necessarily sequential. This means that new members can begin at any time.
MEETING NOTES: DVD Series
This academic year includes a viewing of the twelve DVD's in the divorce survival series and a number of social activities and discussions related to overcoming the traumatic effects of marital/relationship betrayal trauma, and/or loss. The first DVD compared marital/relationship separation to a car wreck, emphasizing the importance of utilizing crisis intervention strategies to manage the overwhelming shock, betrayal-trauma, loss, biopsychosocial injury, exclusion, legal exploitation, and emotionally-based survival strategies that frequently accompany a separation/divorce process in a country that no longer seems to value or support the marital contract or vow made between two people. Members were helped to differentiate between reactions and responses that are well within normal limits and those that might suggest a need for outside intervention. This can apply to the reactions of friends and family members, including children, as well as their own reactions. Coping skills were explored.
The second DVD in our series focused on where to turn for help when relationship betrayal, loss or crisis occurs. Actually, it focused a great deal on where NOT to turn for help, pointing out how vulnerable people are during this type of crisis, and the risks that this vulnerability exposes them to. New intimate relationships are likely to fail at this time because adults affected by loss of marital partner or the loss of a significant other simply aren't ready for this. Group activities, parish activities, and spiritual connections through the use of prayer, meditation, and the sacraments were discussed.
In the past, two activities were brought into the DVD discussions, one that used the symbolism of a hand, front-and-back, as a model for making relevant decisions related to change and acceptance. A second activity, available on an individual basis, helped participants identify their styles for managing anger. This latter activity is designed to prepare for the 3rd DVD which focuses on constructive management of anger.
The third DVD focused on anger, a topic that always triggers lively discussion. It emphasized that anger is a very normal reaction to loss, to betrayal-trauma, and to the legalized injustices associated with the separation-divorce process. Although anger is normalized in this DVD, the way that one manages that anger can be anything but normal. People who have been widowed, and/or those who lost a spouse to death during or after a separation/divorce process also experience some of the same anger responses to loss as those who have spouses/ex-spouses who are still there---but not really there--- any longer. The first loss, loss associated with the death of a spouse or partner, is a specific one, whereas the latter represents an ambiguous loss, similar to the type of loss experienced by someone whose spouse has developed dementia. Anger-related emotions associated with loss come from the limbic subsystem of the central nervous system. These reactions are BIO-logical as opposed to being logical. We physically FEEL them, and they can quickly convert to a flight, flight, or freeze response if we aren't careful. They can also contribute to the development of physical symptoms and illness. Members discussed ways to move that anger out of the limbic arena so that anger-related energy can be used constructively. This is a challenge, one that needs to be addressed anytime a loss occurs. Separation and divorce situations are filled with a number of different kinds of losses, loss of person, loss of role, loss of trust, loss of love, sometimes loss of extended family and friends, loss of companionship, loss of inclusion, etc. etc. etc.
The fourth DVD focused on depression, which is anger-turned-inward. Since this topic is usually addressed as we approach the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year's Eve holiday season, Raphael's Group makes sure to take time to incorporate some enjoyable social activities into this time period. Some members participate in both the social events and the meetings during the holiday season, while others limit their participation to only one of the two. It is never about how many people participate. The number of participants is never a measure of effectiveness. What is important is having these group meetings and social activities available, especially around the holidays. We congratulate the Pittsburgh Diocese, and specifically congratulate the Parish priests, deacons, and administrators, for caring enough about this very important social justice/injustice issue to make space and resources available to people in the community who, otherwise, might be alone as they go through the process of coping. Raphael's Group tries to have a table available at the Parish's Breaking Bread Together holiday dinners and sometimes introduces games to help people get to know one another.
The fifth in the series, focused on forgiveness. This is a topic that so many struggle with after a betrayal, separation and divorce process, or loss of spouse/partner in other ways. The Group was reminded of something that Father Michael emphasized when he presented on the topic of forgiveness the first year Raphael's Group existed in 2006: Forgiveness is a process that can take time. It never means condoning and it doesn't have to mean forgetting. It simply means moving on so that a person is no longer stuck in the past. One can take two steps forward in the process of forgiveness, and then slide back a step or more because of something that triggers the painful emotions experienced earlier. The important thing is to keep moving forward in your journey of forgiveness.
We forgive to live (the title of a book on the importance of forgiveness to one's physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being).
The sixth DVD in our series focused on the family. Functional and dysfunctional family/extended family dynamics were incorporated into discussion associated with this DVD topic, along with some coping strategies. The Group emphasized constructive ways of coping that are consistent with a Judeo-Christian worldview. Plans for holiday activities and coping are also an important focus of discussion at this time of year. Raphael's Group agreed on at least three different parish/community activities to support, one on Thanksgiving and two for the Christmas/New Year season. Participation in these social activities is optional.
The seventh DVD in the series focused on economic issues and money. The group included a discussion about working with attorneys and the legal system into this session, because separation and divorce, along with attorney fees, can so quickly use up all of the financial resources a family has accumulated. There is so much information that each spouse has to understand when working with the legal system. Some couples try to reach an agreement about how to divide economic assets on their own, using a mediation process, before bringing their agreement to their attorney or to separate attorneys to be reviewed before being finalized. Some attempt to do the same with custody and visitation decisions. A few decide at this point not to get a divorce at all, but to simply live separately for awhile. It is extremely important to know how to work with an attorney to make the best use of his or her time. An ethical attorney will usually let a separating or divorcing couple know this ahead of time. Some unethical attorneys will promote and encourage conflict between the spouses and them use that conflict to increase attorney fees. Don't fall for this tactic.
The rest of the DVD series covered a number of different topics and issues that were perceived as relevant and important to this community of individuals and families. Each DVD included some "take home" points. We incorporate some additional themes and things to work on at each meeting, especially those that relate to health, wellness, and attachment or connections with others.
A WARNING ABOUT THE USE OF DRUGS OR ALCOHOL AT THIS TIME
Anger and anxiety can feel overwhelming when people are dealing with issues related to separation and divorce and/or the end of a relationship. Grieving and sadness are also normal. Avoid using chemical substances for coping with these. Anger turned inward can trigger depression, but this type of depression is usually situational, not to be confused with an endogenous clinical depression that is treated with psychotropic medication (antidepressant medication). New research strongly suggests that antidepressant medication can trigger inflammation that leads to health problems. It can also affect judgment at a time when major legal decisions are being made about things like custody, visitation, distribution of economic assets, housing, new ways of parenting, etc. Stay away from any type of chemical substances that might affect your thinking and judgment if at all possible, including prescribed medications that impact the way that your brain functions. There are healthy alternative ways of lifting your mood and managing anxiety, sadness, and other uncomfortable feelings.
Externalizing anger (turning anger outward) can wreak havoc for someone caught up in the web of negative events triggered by separation and divorce. Using anti-depressant medications and other chemical substances doesn't really help with this because the substances can impair judgment and result in negative side-effects that add to the family crisis. Promoting the use of drugs and/or alcohol, as a way of coping with separation or divorce is a type of exploitation perpetrated by the economic sector of society, a sector that profits from people entrapped in the separation/divorce/betrayal process. Just as an unethical attorney might exploit marital or separation conflict to enhance incoming fees, pharmaceutical companies and health care providers sometimes inappropriately profit from the sale of medications for individuals who are trying to cope with normal sadness associated with loss and/or normal anger or anxiety associated with injustice and the perceived threat of harm.
CULTURE CAN BUFFER TRAUMA
Religion is a component of culture. When culture, especially the religious component of culture, is working the way it is supposed to work, it can buffer trauma. This is especially true when the trauma involves betrayal, intentional meanness, narcissistic abuse, exclusion and alienation, division and deception, bullying, harassment, and all the other unpleasant things that can be attached to a separation/divorce process. Let this DVD series show you how you can use your religious connections to buffer some of the separation/divorce trauma that you might be going through. It can really make a difference.
Raphael's Group does not recommend alcohol, medication, or the use of any mind-altering substances. Instead, the program uses this opportunity to reinforce the value of constructive mutual support, prayer, spiritual meditation, and the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of reconciliation, which is like a spiritual shower and a free (though time-limited) mini-counseling session, an opportunity to talk about goals, healing, and constructive change. It promotes a very healthy form of spirituality, emphasizing that there is no human being on earth that can completely meet the emotional needs and affiliation needs of another person. There is a way to manage this longing while we are on planet earth, however. We'll let you take it from there, based on your own beliefs and spirituality.
The DVD series used by Raphael's Group is based on Catholic theology, but emphasizes respect and inclusiveness for all. Raphael's Group is opened to people from all denominations, but does not want to duplicate the more generic and secular separation/divorce programs that are already out there in the community.
When an individual dies, people reach out to the surviving spouse and family members. When a marriage dies, it is our experience that too many coupled people run away from the surviving spouse and family members because family members impacted by the separation/divorce process represent something that many coupled people fear the most, living alone. Because coupled adults don't know what to say or how to help, many simply disappear from the lives of those who are hurting because their marriage or partnership is no longer there.
There is no wake, funeral, or memorial service when a marriage or intimate partnership ends. It's rare for a coupled neighbor or friend to bring over a meal, or to even invite the newly separated or divorced person over to their place for a meal. Raphael's Group will do whatever it can to reach out to those who are considering separation or divorce, or to those who have already been caught up in the separation/divorce web of exclusion and injustice.
Some newly separated couples involved with Raphael.s Group have already reconciled because of information and outreach provided by long-term Group members. This Group will help those thinking about separation and/or divorce find resources that can help them work things out by either remaining together or negotiating a low-conflict separation for awhile. If divorce can be prevented, it must be.
Unfortunately, some couples cannot reconcile because it is too dangerous for one of them to remain in a relationship with a spouse or partner who insists on bringing life-threatening or illegal types of abuse and/or infidelity-related diseases into the household. Either way, this community is fortunate to have a Diocese and Parish in our geographical area that cares enough to be there for those who might otherwise have no one to turn to during this very traumatic and turbulent time. If you can't come to a meeting because of the distance involved, we might be able to bring the meeting to you by using a secure teleconferencing website or phone linkage.
Those who are widowed or living with a disabled spouse (e.g., a spouse with severe dementia) who can't leave home are invited to participate in the Raphael Group social events. Some come to meetings, as well, because they too are coping with a marital loss. It is a different kind of marital loss, but many of the emotions and challenges are the same. Everyone is involved in adjusting to lifestyle changes, setting goals, and continuing to work to help make the world a better place because they are a part of it. A person who "flies solo" can do this as well as well as a person who is coupled.
Call Peg Christopher at 724733-2928 if you need marital counseling to help prevent a separation or divorce, or if you need therapeutic help in coping with all of the traumas associated with the separation/divorce process. If at all possible, prevent the divorce from happening in the first place. There are so many constructive alternatives that couples have worked out instead. Mediation services are available to help with this. If you want or need free group support from others who have been through the process of marital conflict, alienation, separation and/or divorce, please contact, Theresa , the Raphael Group Facilitator at Raphael'sGrpMPH@gmail.org, or Christ the Divine Shepherd Parish Office to learn more about Raphael's Group or to become a member of it. When family isn't there for someone, it is essential that a supportive community be there so that the individual doesn't have to go through separation/divorce trauma, legal or emotional abuse, alienation, estrangement, broken attachments, or betrayal trauma alone.