Lately, I've been surrounded by weddings. First my daughter's, then a good friend's daughter's, then my god-daughter's -- all in the span of 4 weeks. Each was a beautiful celebration of the bittersweet passing of the torch between generations. And the blissful, hopeful, adoring looks on the newly-weds' faces made me believe again, though cautiously, in love and marriage.
Yet, with the wisdom of years now behind me, I know life is messy, full of surprises-- and sometimes more like a soap opera. According to friends who'd witnessed it, I too was blissful on my wedding day. However, thanks to what many would call "extenuating circumstances," I divorced years ago from a situation resulting in an annulment by the Catholic Church. It was, and occasionally still is, painful, especially when I'm around "intact" families.
To heal, and channel my anger, I created Brilliant Exits wanting to help others caught in a process they never dreamed would be their story. Marriages break up for a wide variety of reasons, but a common thread I've observed is the split is rarely reached easily -- even when abuse, mental illness or addiction create an impossible, sometimes dangerous, situation.
So, having been raised Catholic, it was monumental to read about Pope Francis' recent, and radical, departure from his Church's doctrine that marriage lasts until one spouse dies. It was heartening to hear the Pontiff say:
There are cases in which separation is inevitable. Sometimes, it can even be morally necessary.
Hopefully, given the Pope's international stature, his words will result in much needed empathy for families in difficult situations. Maybe they will be the catalyst that chips away at the stigma, guilt and false hopes that trap many of us, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, in impossible marriages.
Studies show it's parental conflict -- not divorce -- that hurts kids. Hopefully, the world takes to heart the Pope's warning:
When the father and mother harm each other, children's souls suffer greatly, feeling a sense of desperation. And they are wounds that leave a lifelong mark.
Men, women and kids whose lives are turned upside down by unfortunate family circumstances need to be embraced and supported -- not blamed or isolated -- when separation and/or divorce happens. Pope Frances said as much:
How can we help them? How can we support them? How can we support them so that children do not become hostages of their mother and father?"
We tell separating parents it's important to tell their kids, "It's not your fault. We will always love you." It's time we also tell men and women for whom separation is necessary the same.
Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
Might the Pope's words signal a huge shift and a call to action far beyond the Catholic Church? We hope so. It's what families need -- and deserve.
What do you think?