Following the sudden death of her husband after 34 years of marriage, Brenda Mikhail kept herself busy in a whirlwind of activity and work.

She didn’t allow herself time to think about her new reality or what direction her life was going to take as a widow. Then a rendition of “Ave Maria” at a Sunday Mass brought her to tears with memories of her husband.

“A friend who was sitting a couple of rows away said, ‘You should go to one of those Beginning Experience weekends,’” said Mikhail. “It was three years after my husband died. It was the perfect time for me. I didn’t have any expectations. I came away with 100 pounds off my shoulders. I was so impressed that I joined the team.”

Thus began Mikhail’s nine-year involvement with the Office of Family Life’s Separated, Divorced and Widowed (S/D/W) Ministry.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is hosting S/D/W Ministry’s annual one-day event on July 18. “Finding God’s Plan for Me, Amidst Life’s Losses” consists of a cathedral tour, a special Mass in the chapel, lunch and a workshop. The workshop, facilitated by therapist Judy McCord, MFT, is designed to look at life’s losses (separation, divorce or death of a spouse) that challenge us to learn more about living and healing through God’s love and grace.

“We do this annual event at the cathedral, which is nice because we can see that there is some connection between us because there has been a loss of a spouse through separation, divorce or death,” said Julie Monell-Auzenne, a consultant with the Separated and Divorced Ministry.  

“What happens is you bring these people together and they see other people and realize they are not alone. I am not the only one that is going through this and being angry at God or the Church,” said Monell-Auzenne.

She noted that people are trying to deal with a shift in their daily lives and their families.

“Trying to recreate who they are is another connection that these people share,” said Monell-Auzenne. “They knew themselves as being married and aren’t any longer. They are trying to find who they are now.”

Keeping a connection with the Church and with God and knowing that they haven’t been abandoned in this journey to their new life and that they have support is very important, noted Monell-Auzenne.

Brenda Mikhail agreed.

“It is a very positive thing. To me, this is the Church in action — the Church dealing with the problems of people where they are,” said Mikhail.

Monell-Auzenne noted that people can often feel like the Church is focused on married couple families and wonder where they are going to fit in — particularly divorced people, who may feel confusion or stigma in their relationship with the Church.

“We try to make them realize that they are still vital parts of the Catholic Church, even in the brokenness of a separation or divorce,” Monell-Auzenne said. She sees this S/D/W event as a source of hope and the beginning of dialogue that people experience as a source of healing.

One of the aims of the event is to expose people to resources and ministries available to them at both the diocesan and parish level.

“They need to realize that there is help out there. Sometimes this cathedral event is the first thing that they were brave enough to step out and go to. We then try to expose them to different things that are available in the archdiocese,” said Mikhail.

Nine years after becoming involved in the S/D/W ministry, Brenda Mikhail is still active.

“You want to stay involved because it personally helps people have the ability to have a productive life, even though they have lost a partner that they have loved maybe for many years. It is a wonderful thing,” she said.

Those planning to attend the July 18 S/D/W event at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels should pre-register by July 15 with the Office of Family Life, (213) 637-7249 or contact Julie Monell-Auzenne ([email protected]). A $25 registration fee covers lunch and materials; parking at the cathedral is an additional $8.