(The setting for my first marriage, St. Mary’s of Crompton, the oldest diocese in the valley. What happened there on August 9, 1969, would seriously impact my entire life going forward.)
For most of my life, I was a devout Catholic. In childhood, my parents made sure we all went to church on Sundays and holy days. We attended “Stations of the Cross,” during Lent each Friday and as any dutiful Catholics, we gave up meat during Fridays and Holy Days, as well as a favorite item, like gum or sweets. We considered it the least we could do considering what Jesus did for us.
When I married, my Baptist fiancee and I did so in a Catholic ceremony. But it was a disastrous union that only lasted two years, followed by three years of my going to court to get a divorce. My father wryly proclaimed: “I’m paying for that wedding longer than the marriage lasted.”
That union and its demise were harbingers of things to come.
Six years later, I married a second time, but that husband became ill with cancer. His death ended 8 years more of tumultuous history. Two years later and against all reason, I took the plunge again and became engaged to a widower friends introduced me to. We’d gone together two years and made marriage plans for that summer. In the meantime, we saw a house we loved and bought it (there were two other offers on it.) We reasoned, “Why not?” We’re husband and wife soon enough.
Well, “soon enough” never happened, for he died shortly after we moved in. He wanted a Justice of the Peace to formalize our relationship while we awaited my annulment (remember…I divorced my first husband), but I demurred, saying: “Let’s just wait….They (the Catholic church) said I’ll have the annulment by summer.” They’d already ruled in my favor. It was just a matter of time before I got the official document that would clear the way for our wedding.
So, my third husband wasn’t an official “husband” (though I call him that) despite the fact I had the engagement ring, wedding ring, and the house we bought together, the one I now had to pay the significant balance on. Each night that summer I went to bed fully realizing I had to come up with $6000 a month to pay 2 mortgages (I still owed on the house I’d left in the old neighborhood).
I was devastated, emotionally and financially. I was 44 years of age; I couldn’t fathom why my personal life was such a disaster; and I was in debt up to my ears.
For the next two years, I stumbled along, with my ten year old daughter who’d borne the wreckage of those times with me. Oh, I eventually sold the house we lived in previously (thank God) and that helped soften the financial nightmare, but it didn’t help with the emotional void.
I felt adrift.
So, I did what some Catholics do when the smoke clears from the wreckage of their unions. I sought similar folks who came together, regularly, at a meeting of Single, Divorced, Widowed, and Remarried (SDWR), the Catholic church’s attempt to reconnect with those who suffered “singlehood” in a system designed for the married. A group met at my church each week.
I walked in to the basement area where I saw some twelve people sitting about, 10 women and 2 men. The chairperson began explaining the rationale for the group: to help single Catholic adults override their feelings of isolation. She asked us to introduce ourselves and give a brief background on why we were there. At that, I blanched. “What would I say?”
Going around, each declared: “I’m divorced;” “I never married;” I’m divorced…twice.” “I’m a widower.” It was my turn and I decided to lay it all out: “Divorced…widowed…widowed.” At that, I heard one woman said, “Jeez,” as she sucked in her breath. Another appeared to motion, involuntarily, in my direction, as if to ward off evil spirits.
Following that, we were asked what brought us there. Several got into the torturous details of their blighted unions. A man to my right spoke of the break-up of his 20-year marriage but then added he’d been “saved,” via an unlikely source. At Divorce Court, he’d met the woman of his dreams in the corridors. He viewed his meeting her a spiritual moment, while I thought him crazy, indeed (but who was I to talk?). They were set to get married within months.
It was then I inwardly dubbed the group-Single, Divorced, Widowed, Remarried, and Just-Plain-Loser (I believed I was in the last group). I now knew: I’d reached my personal bottom. From that point on, I recognized: I’d follow my own faith journey in life.
For a long time, I isolated more and more and lived in a spiritual wasteland. But something happened, ultimately, that resurrected my spirituality in a most remarkable way…
But that’s a story for another time and post.
(Now, here I am, at 23, in white gown and veil, ready to commit before God and friends. Little did I know at the time that this step would poise me on a most tumultuous life journey.)