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Welcome Survivor        

Depression is more common than we think. It can follow a heart attack or the death of a loved one, shadow an abusive relationship, accompany the end of a marriage, and cloud your holidays. Many of us know from personal experience that depression is a residual of divorce that can unexpectedly haunt us years afterwards. More than just “the blues,” its markers include enduring thoughts of hopelessness and worthlessness, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, along with sleep and appetite changes. Experts say depression affects twice as many women as men and is the leading cause of suicide.

In this newsletter, you’ll meet Kathy in California who shares the story of her infant daughter’s death, a verbally and emotionally abusive marriage that ended in divorce after 37 years, her struggle with depression—and how today, through God’s help, she comforts and inspires others.

Here’s what is new

Campus Crusade for Christ’s website for women adapted a chapter from Kari’s book, Dare to Trust, Dare to Hope Again for its December issue. Click here to view this excerpt entitled “Breaking With Tradition.”

Personal Reflection by Kathy in California

On September 20, 2000, my entire world crashed down upon me. I found myself in the middle of a nightmare that surely belonged to someone else. At 4:20 in the afternoon, I was swimming in our backyard pool, as I did every day in the warmer weather, when my husband of 37 years came out to talk to me. Earlier I’d heard his countless trips from our home office to the garage, but could not see what he was doing, so I had paid little attention. Before I could get out of the pool, he announced that he was leaving. I had assumed that he was going on the bike ride he had mentioned earlier, but I was wrong. He was leaving to be with a woman whom he’d met a year and a half before during one of his morning walks. Now I knew why he always refused my offer to walk with him, saying that it was his time to think and make plans.

I cannot express the feeling of total abandonment, betrayal, hurt, and utter loneliness I felt in that moment. While I had been in the pool, he had packed his clothing and other personal items. The man whom I had been with since my teenage years, the only man I had ever made love to, the man with whom I had borne five children was leaving me for a woman he barely knew! How could this be? I spent my life trying to help others. I worked with children, taught religion, served as a scout leader, on our school board, the parish council, and even taught crafts as a volunteer at two care facilities. Why would anyone want to hurt me?

For the second time in my life, I felt that I did not want to live. Many years earlier I was so depressed because of this man that I had considered suicide. The only thing preventing me from taking my life was my religious beliefs. I had grown up with the knowledge that suicide is murder and a mortal sin. According to the teachings of the Catholic Church, no one who has a mortal sin on their soul at the time of death can enter the Gates of Heaven and will be forever cast into the depths of hell. As I look back on our life together, I now realize in the earliest days of our marriage that he was a cold, controlling person. He was a 25-year-old Dutch immigrant when we married; I was 18 and attending cosmetology school. I can still hear him telling our friends, “If she had half a brain, she could be dangerous.” After listening to that putdown for months, I broke down and told him how painful that comment was. He stopped. But the constant degradation didn’t.

I had come from a dysfunctional family and vowed that my children would never endure the type of pain I lived with as a child. My father cheated throughout my parents’ marriage. I saw him at most twice a week; his constant insults often cut me to the quick. I felt useless and unloved. One of my father’s pet names for me was “lout”—a degrading, hurtful term. I think this is why I am an overachiever. I worked harder than I needed to work because I felt that I needed to for acceptance.

As a young bride, I was constantly criticized and ridiculed. Nothing I ever did was right. In two and a half years, I gave birth to three children. Our first son was born nine and a half months after our wedding. Our second son came 16 months later. A third child, a little girl, arrived 15 months later; but she suffered from a rare heart disease. She died at the age of 13 ½ months. When we buried her, a large part of my heart went with her. The following year, our third son arrived and another daughter a year later.

Since my husband was Dutch and only one of two of the family’s fifteen children to come to America, we often had visitors from Holland. My mother-in-law came the day after I arrived home from the hospital after the birth of our first son. She stayed for nearly three months and made three other visits over the period of a few years. Although she bragged about what a wonderful wife and mother I was, she also found endless things to criticize. On a daily basis she confronted my husband with petty gripes. I felt that I couldn’t do two things right in a row. For my husband’s sake, I endured her criticism in silence, but each visit was a nightmare. I always maintained an open door policy with the family. We even had two different relatives living with us for extended periods of time. Because of this, I have always been on good terms with the brothers, sisters, and their children.

We were married for twelve years before I ever had a vacation. The excuse was that we had a business to run. Actually, I really don’t believe that my husband liked to travel. He also didn’t think I deserved a vacation. I wasn’t his ideal—the perfect wife—nor was I thin enough. He was as controlling with money as he was with the verbal abuse and kept me on a tight budget. I have always been a good money manager, but he constantly threw it in my face that in the beginning of our marriage I had made payments on a Sears bill instead of paying it in full. The small amount he gave me to run the house was never sufficient. He didn’t want me to know exactly how much money we actually had in the bank. I remember one September when our children were small I asked him for money for Christmas shopping. He simply told me to save the money out of the household budget; then, in anger, he opened up his wallet, removed a $100 bill, threw it at me, and said, “Make that do. You aren’t getting more.”

Because of that humiliating incident, the following year I secured a job as a teacher’s aid at our local high school and have worked ever since. My husband was infuriated with this show of independence and made life more difficult for me by criticizing my working. He told my mother that I wasn’t doing an adequate job of taking care of the house. Not only did I have a full-time job, but I also managed to go to school. Over the years I bought all my clothes and personal items and paid for most of the furniture in our home. Also, I paid for gifts for our children and the gifts we sent his family. Eventually I received my teaching credential and worked as a teacher for six years and even taught an adult class two evenings a week. Never once did he congratulate me on earning my credential. My hard work and diligence went unrecognized, while my responsibilities for our business grew. I helped him with secretarial work and painted the company name on the sides of an old truck he purchased.

After 20 years of working for the school district, I quit to devote more time to our business and substitute teach on the side. Yet the harder I tried, the more criticism I received, including degrading comments about my cooking and even my oil paintings. In the summer of 2000, my husband left the office daily with a variety of excuses from “going to the post office” to “going to the bank.” The door to his office was closed regularly because he needed privacy “to discuss a pending deal with another company.” I never doubted him. He even purchased a ticket for Hawaii “for a meeting.” When I voiced that I was working too hard and had decided to quit substituting, he talked me into quitting my job at our office and continuing with the school. We set September 1 as my last day.

On September 2, after he walked out on me, I realized my husband and his girlfriend had choreographed everything. Later, I learned that she left a note for her husband who was out of town at the time. While I have forgiven him for what he has done and for all the pain, I’ll never forget. There are days I still cry, but I also pray for my husband and this woman. Someday I want them to come to grips with what they have done, realize how many people they hurt, and make peace with God. One of my sons recently told me that he grew up hating the way his father treated me. He said one of his earliest memories is hearing his dad talk cruelly to me. I never realized how apparent the abuse was. All four of my children feel I am much better off without their father around. Yet I can’t help wonder how a formerly honorable man, a member of the church choir, a well respected and admired man in the community could turn into such a hypocrite? Despite his controlling ways, he is the only man I have ever loved. I meant every word of my wedding vows. As for me, I will make it. I realized that I would be okay when I successfully made it through the holidays without him.

I have always been an upbeat person, seeing the good in people and overlooking their faults. Yet for a period of time after my husband walked out, I didn’t want to live. But instead of just totally giving up, I threw myself into my work and hobbies. I was asked to join the Board of Directors of a home for developmentally disabled adults. Although I’d been active in the organization for years, I’d never considered serving on the Board. Yet getting involved with the residents is a wonderful experience. I get countless hugs and kisses from these dear people and enjoy this labor of love. Also, as an artist I find that painting is a tremendous way of expressing myself and a great stress reliever.

Life is full of disasters. I’ve faced many in my lifetime. I lost two sisters to childhood illnesses, lived in a broken home and through my mother’s periods of deep depression. When my children were small, our house burned down. But of all my experiences, my exhusband’s leaving was the most traumatic. Today I’m using my experiences to help others because I know what they go through. I’m also a lot more open and frank. A year and a half ago, I spoke to my priest about forming a Catholic Singles group in town and have been successful in that endeavor. It’s a strictly social group offering a good opportunity to reach out to others and listen to their stories. Last year I was asked to join a ministry program in my Diocese called “Healing Hearts.” We had training classes for the ministers on Saturdays and now meet twice a month in our parish to help people open up and discuss their situations. The website for the North American Conference of Single and Divorced Catholics is www.NACSDC.org

Last year, I attended my 40th class reunion for an all-girls Catholic high school in Southern California. 75 gals attended out of the 150 in our graduating class. We were asked to talk about what we had done since our last reunion five years earlier. I was the fourth person to speak. I started with my teaching, my grown children and grandchildren. Then, I got real. I said, “On September 2, 2000, my husband of 37 years left me for another woman.” Everyone gasped. I added, “But I’m really doing well; and, after all, he was such an (choose the noun you like best).” Instantly, there was an uproar—and laughter! The room’s attitude changed dramatically. Suddenly, I realized that there were nuns present in the room and they were probably shocked. In fact, my older sister is also a nun. Later, after everybody had spoken, Sister Patricia Mary thanked me for being so open and frank. “At most reunions, people try to impress everyone with their perfect lives,” she said, “but your being candid caused everyone to be more honest.“

Help for today by Kari

Troubled about your own personal struggles and world events? Who isn’t. Few people are immune from seasons of worry and despair. Over 32 million Americans, 1 in 6 adults, will experience depression during their lifetime—some with bouts lasting 10 years, while others will be unable to perform normal activities for five weeks a year. Unfortunately, this time of year it doesn’t take much for us to feel blue with darkness descending at 5 p.m. and the holidays magnifying past memories. Divorce may mean that our children spend part of their holiday vacation with our former spouse—while we’re home alone. Perhaps this is your first Christmas being single-again—and you dread telling family and friends that the marriage ended. Or a decade after the split, you wonder why you still tear up when the radio plays a certain Christmas carol. Try as you might, you can’t get into merry or joyful. Not yet, anyway.

Don’t worry, be happy. Get a life. Get over it! That’s what well-meaning friends and family often say. These are nice sentiments easier said than done. I’m not sure that we ever get over it. I think we just get on with it like Kathy is doing. We get on with the rest of our life by refusing to squander the moment in front of us. I believe that every day we stand at the threshold of a decision that will determine the direction of the rest of our lives. How we define what happened to us is one of them. You know, even the simple realization that you did not dissolve during the grieving process but survived with soul and sanity intact can give you the inner fortitude you need to ponder the next step. It can reaffirm your faith that God is still working in your life. You see, when you and I begin to engage more with the present than the past, we start concentrating on what we can do with what we have left instead of what we can’t do about what we have lost. We begin to hear the hurts of others and reach out. Sometimes the hardest step of dancing to the holiday blues is slinging our feet off the bed on a dismal day and embracing the blessings right in front of us. The blessing of cradling with cold hands a warm cup of cocoa or caressing with grateful eyes that vase of flowers on the kitchen table. The blessing of surprising the grocery clerk with a smile—and maybe being surprised by one in return. The blessing of a roof over our head and a jacket to wear.

Whatever you’re facing, remember that sadness does a job. Feeling blue during the holidays may mean that you’re still in the process of healing the wounds of the past and the losses of your heart. Thank God for His presence, then ask for His peace. And don’t’ ever be embarrassed to admit you need medical or professional help if you experience five or more of the following symptoms for more than two weeks:

  • Sad, anxious, or empty moods.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.
  • Difficulty concentrating, fatigue or loss of energy.
  • Guilty, hopeless, or worthless feelings.
  • Preoccupation with death or thoughts of suicide.


 A promise you can trust

Oh, God ... my soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. ... I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night. I think how much you have helped me; ... your strong right hand holds me securely.
— Psalm 63:1; 6-8

In the meantime

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If you are an e-mail subscriber and wish to send a copy of this current issue to a friend, click the link inside the rose arbor on the first page, or log on to www.gardenglories.com/Newsletters and click inside the rose arbor of the online issue. To share your story, e-mail by Clicking Here or write me at the P. O. address above. Archived issues available upon request. ©2003 by Kari West

Copyright 2003 by Kari West