What do divorced Catholics need from their friends?

The Catholic Church takes the sacrament of marriage seriously.
Because this is so, it also takes abuse seriously, and never requires
spouses and children to silently endure abuse in the name of the sanctity
of marriage.

But those who do leave marriages, or those who are left, are often treated like second-class citizens by their fellow Catholics. Many separated Catholics say it feels like their faith community cares more about the idea of marriage than they do about actual people. A spouse who leaves is often shamed, even blamed, accused of “breaking up the marriage.”

But in cases of abuse or severe disfunction, the one who left did didn’t break up the marriage. The abuser broke it. The one who leaves is simply dealing with the pieces of something already broken. Separated and divorced Catholics don’t need judgment or condemnation. Here’s what they do need:

SERVICE. Managing a household solo can be a crushing burden.
They’re suddenly drowning in obligations, and will need help doing the work of two.

We can offer help with car maintenance or laundry, home repairs,
cleaning, child care, or carpooling. Some people simply need help learning how to do things their spouses used to handle. If we’re good at budgeting,
managing debt, writing résumés or navigating legal matters, we can
offer our expertise. 

MONEY. Many women, especially, have given up schooling and
careers to raise children, and simply don’t have the means to survive on
their own. Divorce also often brings huge legal expenses, especially if there’s a custody battle.

If we can’t contribute large amounts of money, even small cash
gifts or gift cards can make bright spots amid trauma, especially around

THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. By the time a long-suffering
spouse finally resorts to something so drastic and disruptive as
separation, they have probably been sacrificing and struggling for years
to fix what was wrong, probably in secret, probably blaming themselves.
They may not be ready or willing to share the details of what went
wrong, but that doesn’t mean they have made a frivolous or selfish

We should never make reflexive glib suggestions like “Have you tried a novena?” or “Every marriage has rough patches.” And no consolation or healing will come from pronouncements like like “God hates divorce” or “Your children will suffer so much.” We’re likely only seeing the tip of the iceberg. It is best to imitate Christ and lead with sympathy and compassion, rather than judgment.

COMPANY. Separation is lonely, and single parents, especially, crave
adult companionship. Many separated people say they feel like they lost
their friends as well as their marriage. We shouldn’t stop inviting people
into our lives or activities just because they are no longer part of a
couple. Because we or others might feel a little awkward at first, is no
reason to withdraw hospitality that is more desired and needed than ever.
Separation is lonely, and single parents, especially, crave adult
companionship.  We should keep inviting and including people, even if
it feels a little awkward.

Similarly, we should never exclude their kids out of some ill-
formed idea that the family is somehow tainted by divorce, or
because we don’t want to have to explain it to our own kids. We can
remember to invite their kids along for Christmas cookie baking, trick-
or- treating or other activities that make childhood fun, and that may be
more but can be more than a struggling single parent can manage. Give
them a chance to feel normal and happy again. 

Separated or divorced people may also want support at court
proceedings, and they may need a companion during custody pick-ups to
prevent an abusive ex-spouse from harassing them. Drop in, check in,
hang out. Don’t let them feel forgotten. 

comfortable taking sides. when a couple splits up, someone who has suffered a devastating rupture needs to be built up, and needs to know that their friends and family believe they can build a good new life.

Affirming statements like “I know how strong you are” or “You know
better than anyone what really happened” or “You are holding things
together so well” can be very powerful, especially to someone whose
marriage was full of insults, denigration and manipulation. 

TRUST. Separated people may be needy, but they are not threats.
Rotten as it sounds, it’s fairly common for married women to act as if separated women are now gunning for their husbands. In
reality, especially if there has been abuse, the last thing a newly
separated person wants want right now is another man.
They’re trying to survive, not poach. Of course, amid the emotional
vulnerabilities that accompany these circumstances, clear and strong
boundaries must be maintained, but these occasions can also lead to deeper and more meaningful friendships.

GENTLENESS. Even if the marriage was miserable, ending it is
often painful. Someone who’s lost a spouse to divorce may truly be in mourning – if not for the spouse as a person, then for their former life and hopes. Divorce often feels like a personal and spiritual failure, even
when it’s nothing of the kind. We should act with tenderness, as we
would if there had been a death. 

CONFIDENTIALITY. No gossip, no pressure. The ex-spouse is the one who should decide how much information is public. If we’ve been entrusted with inside information about what went on while the marriage fell apart, we must keep that trust and not share the information. If we don’t have inside information, then we have nothing to say to others besides encouraging them to offer their support.  

A divorced person doesn’t owe us an explanation or require our
approval of what they chose for their own lives. We can let them know
we’re ready to listen if they want to unload, but that we don’t require them to divulge anything at all.

RESPECT. Not all newly-divorced people are in crisis. Some are ready and eager to begin their new lives on their own, and they find it annoying to be met with pity and condescension at every turn. If a separated person says they’re happy, you can believe them (while still being ready to offer help if it’s needed). 


This essay was originally published in a slightly different form in Parable magazine in 2019. 

Image by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr (Creative Commons)

How do we help each other bear the cross?

We have no right to mutely point to the cross and let other people hang there alone. All humans must suffer, but all humans must also help each other bear that suffering.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly?

Image: Detail of Fifth Station of the Cross by Sieger Koder, “Folly of God” series

The Ascension (and the follow-up)

I’ve heard from the bereaved that death anniversaries can be brutal. Everyone else is the world has long since moved on, but the grief is rekindled. A kind word and the promise of a prayer can make a huge difference in how painful that day feels.

It’s a profoundly Catholic impulse, the follow-up; and, like every virtue, it was modelled by Christ.

Read the rest of my latest at The Catholic Weekly.

Suzanne Bercier

Earlier this week, my dear friend Suzanne Bercier died. She had cancer, which is never fair, but Suzanne especially was so beautiful and so good.  We were college roommates.

She was from rural Louisiana, and everything you’ve heard about gracious, mellow Southerners was true in Suzanne. She had a merry eye, and thick, glossy hair; she was tall and slender, and when you sat down at her table, she made you feel like she’d been waiting all day for that moment.

She had an unshakable faith in the power of the Holy Name. When her room filled up with chatty, catty girls who veered into gossip and viciousness, she would whisper the name of Jesus and wait for the conversation to right itself.  She always invited, never pushed. The cafeteria was right next to the chapel, and when it was late afternoon, I met Suzanne hundreds of times:  she was heading to the bright chapel for daily Mass, I was fleeing to my smelly room for evening despair. And she would smile and invite, invite, invite. Want to come to Mass? Want to join us for a rosary? Okay, see you at dinner!

One clattering drawer of her dresser was full of bottles and powders, and every afternoon she would wince her way through a tall, clotted glass of some kind of chlorophyll drink.  Maybe she would have been sicker without all those handfuls of vitamins, I don’t know.  She endured so many colds and coughs, but holy cow, she worked, and worked, and worked. The idea of leaving an assignment undone was unthinkable to her, and she muscled her way through every dense text and incomprehensible passage. She chose Wallace Stevens for her junior project, because she was always looking for beauty.

In four years, I never heard her say an unkind word. She would laugh at herself, but never at anyone else.  She was a fountain of generosity. When we came back to school our sophomore year, I saw her in the parking lot, she held out her hands to me, and for a moment, we danced. It was strange, and I broke away laughing, but that is how she was: she was glad to see you, and held out her hands.

God rest the soul of Suzanne Therese Bercier, and God comfort the family that she loved so much and missed so much when she was away. And one more time, here is the song that could always get her to sing along:


7 Quick Takes, in which I have fun doing my penance

Okay, so I’m slow. I just got around to reading Francis’ interview with America magazine, and now I want to do a quick round-up of last week’s Catholic Women Rejoice conference in Vancouver, WA.

(photo credit Caitlin Elder)


It really was obnoxious, but I asked one of my dear, extremely busy hostesses to find me a priest who could hear my confession.  Because airplanes.

So she did, and he found the time, and we found a sacristan who could open the confessional for us, and it was a great confession.

I won’t tell you what I said in there, but the priest told me that we should try to figure out how to turn our sins into strengths.  So for my penance, I had to use my computer for good, instead of . . . other things.  I’m supposed to seek out five websites that would be useful or edifying for people.  So today’s post will count as one, since I didn’t exactly seek these out, but they certainly fill the bill otherwise.


Caitlin Elder writes Tales of the Elders.  Clever name, eh?  Caitlin is a lovely woman, very attentive and sincere — and, like 99% of the women I met at the conference, so funny.  Here we are at the dinner after the conference  – and you can see I’m a bit droopy with jet lag by this point; but Caitlin, who is pregnant, is peppy and alert.  Young parsons!  How do they do it?

(photo credit Caitlin Edler)

Do check out Caitlin’s blog for great summaries of the three talks at the conference, and stay for this sweet post about her pity party cure, her encouraging post about post-partum depression, and one extremely awesome photo of one freaked out baby on Santa’s lap.


I was thrilled to be placed at a table with Katrina Burbank, who sent me those beautiful hair jewels that my family likes so much.  Katrina is so sassy (I’m sorry, not my favorite word, but it just kinda fits) and funny and honest.  Here we are at the dinner:

Katrina is holding her ridiculously cute baby in a carrier because she knows that if she puts her down, I will kidnap her and bring her home in my purse.

(photo credit Katrina Burbank)

Burbank Homestead is her beautifully designed blog where she writes about “faith, family, crafting, and beer.”  Here is her write-up of the conference,  Katrina is so busy, and has done a masterful job of  turning her powerhouse energy and organizational skills into a resource for other busy folk who are looking for help getting it all together.  Her practical homesteading posts are especially helpful, without ever slipping into that “gaze-upon-my-wonderfulness-you-miserable-slob” attitude you often get from helpful blogs.


I had so much fun talking to the author of Moments in Mediocre Motherhood.  I don’t know if we’re really kindred spirits or if she just makes everybody feel that way, but what a fantastic woman.  I gave my speech about Mary, and described how Mary is the kind of mother who, when approached by a screaming, sticky, snotty toddler, will scoop up said toddler and cuddle her, rather than shrinking away.  So this woman, who was there with the prettiest baby girl in the world,  introduced herself by charging up to my table covered from head to toe in pretty baby girl poop and demanding a hug.

(photo credit Moments in Mediocre Motherhood)

That hug, she did not receive.  Look, I’m not Mary!  Anyway, I laughed my head off, and continued laughing as we exchanged notes (after she found a change of clothes) about how to deal with unexpected pregnancies, working from home with kiddos in the house, and dealing with fertilinazis.   She also very generously changed her schedule the next day so that she could accompany me to the airport after Mass, which gave me some extra time to play with her cutie wootie:

who was perhaps not quite as enthusiastic about our relationship as I was

(photo credit Moments in Mediocre Motherhood)

What impressed me the most was her obvious, overflowing joy and love for her family.  Check out her blog for more of this infectious joy despite — or because of — her crazy life.


Another instant friend was Kate, who braved the day with not one but two of her four kids. Kate is the co-founder of Real Catholic Love and Sex:  More than Just Missionary, which recently got a great review from Dr. Gregory Popcak. The blog is written by Kate and a married man named James, and is one of the more honest and thorough blogs about Catholic sex and marriage that I’ve seen. Here I am with Kate (and yes, we did do other things at this conference besides drink wine — but I will admit, I really enjoyed that part).

(photo credit Kate)

Not the highest quality photo, but it really captured the evening, during which I laughed so hard my throat hurt for days — and yes, I cried a little bit, too.  Kate also rearranged her schedule to come to an earlier Mass so she could drive me to the airport.  I only wish we didn’t live on opposite sides of the country.


I accidentally left my conference gift bag behind in Portland, but dear Lisa Ferry is mailing it to me.  I had heard so much about one of the goodies inside, the exquisite handmade soap made by Anna Cools of Roots Soap Company.

I dunno –  how good could it be, with only an average of five stars from 733 reviewers?  I only got a few minutes to speak with Anna, but she gave me a wonderful selection of her soaps for my girls.  Watching the mail!  Thanks again, Anna.


Oh, I met so many other wonderful women at this conference, too many for my poor brain to remember at the end of the week  – including, of course, the dynamic Julie Ondernko, founder of Catholic Finish Strong, who gave us a smorgasbord of saints to get to know

(photo credit Caitlin Elder)

and the amazing Sr. Miriam James Heidland

(photo credit Caitlin Elder)

who reduced a roomful of 300 women to tears in the best possible way.

I also met the fabulous Louise Mohr, whom I could have spotted half a mile away by her lipstick.  I hear from her sister that she has a fashion blog, and I WANT TO SEE IT.  Where, Louise?

And so many, many other wonderful women who braved the rain and their busy schedules to come together for a beautiful day filled with grace.  If you were there and would like to share your blog or website, please email me (simchafisher@gmail.com) or put it in the comments, and I will add it to the post.  And please, beautiful Sia Nickelsen, who showed me her excellent little women’s magazine, I meant it when I said send me a reminder!  I need reminders!

Again, Sterling Jaquith and Lisa Ferry, you did a completely amazing job putting this day together and making me feel at home.  The Catholic Women Rejoice conference will be back next year!  I really suggest putting it on your calendars now.

Don’t forget to check in with our host, Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary, and wish her a happy 10th anniversary!