After three kids and four grandchildren there was only one thing Leslie Goldberg hadn’t experienced with her husband of 36 years.
The beginning of the end of her marriage more than two years ago left her shocked and searching for support.
This weekend — instead of feeling sorry for herself over Valentine’s Day — she will travel 700 miles from her home in Fairhope, Ala., to the metro area to join hundreds of other women at a two-day “Your Heart’s Desires” divorce recovery conference. The event, presented by Kansas City author Suzy Brown, will feature speakers and panels of divorced women sharing their stories of recovery.
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Brown’s own divorce in 2000 after 33 years of marriage left her feeling worthless and thrown away. For more than a year she was stuck in neutral, obsessed with the “other woman.” Eventually she rallied and created a support group with local women.
The Star profiled her in 2007 when she wrote a book, “Radical Recovery,” and founded Midlife Divorce Recovery. She designed packets of materials and held conferences and 10-week support groups. Her program helped divorced women love themselves again, forgive others and move past the pain. Brown has no formal training but years of personal experience.
“Women who come to anything I do are just feeling so defeated and so discouraged,” Brown said. “Then they see all these bright, beautiful, competent women, and then they think, ‘Oh my God. He left her?’ It makes them feel like, ‘Well, maybe I’m not such a loser after all.’ We’re just trying to give them a place where they can get tools, motivation and inspiration to actually take charge of their life and make it something wonderful.”
Word spread, and women began contacting Brown from all over the country — and the world.
“The day before yesterday I got an order from Johannesburg, South Africa,” she said. “And I had a message from the U.K. saying, ‘Do you ever come over here?’ I hate to say it, but there’s just this huge need.”
This weekend’s conference will take place at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, which has offered Brown’s divorce recovery support groups for five years.
“They’ve been very successful,” said Sherry Danner, the church’s director of counseling. “The women who go through her groups tend to stay together as groups. They help each other meet practical and emotional needs. There’s a lot of pain, but there’s also a lot of laughter.”
Brown, 68, calls participants “RADICAL” women. The acronym stands for “rising above divorce in confidence and love.”
This is her first conference where she will teach them how to rise above Valentine’s Day.
“The whole winter holiday thing is hard,” Brown said. “And no sooner do you get the decorations down you walk into (a drug store) and it’s a Valentine’s wonderland. If you’re not in a relationship on Valentine’s Day, you feel like the only person in the world who doesn’t have a valentine.”
“Especially if the other person is now in another relationship, and you know someone else is getting Valentine stuff from your valentine. It just makes you feel sad and like you weren’t enough somehow.”
Brown remembers her first Valentine’s Day after her divorce.
“I went to the gym that morning, and on the way I saw all these flower delivery vans and balloons in cars, and when I got to the gym there was a big bouquet of red roses (for the woman at the desk). And I got to my personal trainer and said, ‘I can’t do this today. This makes me too sad.’ So I went home. I’m a pretty sophisticated person who can say ‘Valentine’s Day is just one day.’ But it just broke my heart.”
Loni Oliver, 33, of Kansas City, North, knows how she feels. She attended one of Brown’s 10-week support groups last fall after her marriage dissolved. Now she will serve as a greeter for this weekend’s conference.
“Sometimes it’s so hard to even look at (Valentine displays)” she said. “Because it reminds me of the rejection. It reminds me that I was loved and wanted for so long, and now I’m not. It reminds me of the memory that I had a good marriage, and he didn’t see it the way I did. It’s like breaking your heart all over again.”
Before she knew it, he asked for a divorce.
“All the steps Suzy provided really did help,” she said. “There was a class where we released items that we were tired of looking at from the marriage. I got rid of the tiara I wore in my wedding. It made me feel beautiful, but it was a reminder of that day, and I didn’t need to look at it anymore.”
Now she’s better.
“I always thought if I was divorced I would be branded with a scarlet letter and be in misery for the rest of my life,” she said. “And that’s far from the truth. There is healing. Life keeps going. And life is good. I have found a freedom, and I can laugh and I have a great time with my friends and my family.”
She urges divorced woman to come to the conference for support.
“As scary as it is to think ‘how do I walk into a conference like that?’ just know that we were all scared too, and we know 100 percent how you feel,” she said. “We just want to help (women) get on that road to healing. We are there to give hugs, a shoulder to cry on and support in any way we can.”
That’s what has Goldberg flying from Alabama to Kansas City.
Her marriage fell apart after her husband retired.
“He had always traveled throughout our marriage,” said Goldberg, a 59-year-old professional photographer and cosmetology school owner. “He had a plane, and he would leave on Tuesday and come home on Friday.”
Goldberg had developed her own routines when her husband was away. Suddenly, after nearly four decades with the same man, she found herself getting a divorce.
“I couldn’t find any support groups, and I didn’t want to drag my children into this,” she said. “So I Googled ‘midlife divorce’ and Suzy popped up, and I read all her stuff. It helped me to realize I was not alone.”
Brown’s life is a testament to divorce recovery. She has now been with her second husband, Terry, for more than 10 years.
“He’s been so supportive of everything I’m doing,” she said. “I’m not making any money. In fact, we’re taking money out of savings. But he always says, ‘Are you doing any good?’ And I say ‘yes.’ And he says, “Well then don’t worry about it.’
“That’s huge. I often read him the notes I get. It’s just so humbling. I think it’s because women in that place are hurting so badly, and help is really appreciated. I am just privileged to be able to do it.”
To reach James A. Fussell, call (816) 234-4460, or email email@example.com.
SURVIVING VALENTINE’S DAY
Suzy Brown’s tips:
▪ Celebrate yourself. Try something new, or do something special for yourself.
▪ Celebrate love itself instead of one particular lover. Make it a day do something lovely for someone else — friends, family, your pets or community.
▪ Stay busy and be productive. Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, fix a healthy dinner, tidy up the house or start a new book.
Suzy Brown’s “Your Heart’s Desires” divorce recovery conference runs from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, 13720 Roe Avenue, Leawood. Admission is $179.
Brown’s Midlife Divorce Recovery offers various resources for individuals and groups, priced $15 to $347. Her 10-week RADICAL support group costs $85.
Visit midlifedivorcerecovery.com to register or to learn more.