18 August 2008

by Rod Benson

Grief meets each of us when we lose someone or something we care deeply about. But in a world driven by instant gratification, where well-being is measured in shallow emotional highs, are we scared to feel sad? Do we overlook the goodness and growth that may attend grief?

Paul Tournier (1898-1986) was a Swiss physician and author who acquired a global audience for his work in pastoral counselling. He was a pioneer of person-centred psychotherapy. In his book, Creative Suffering (1981), Tournier reflected on his own bereavement. He wrote:

People talk of ‘widows and orphans.’ I am both. I hesitated for a long time [before writing this book]! Because what I have to say is that I have indeed felt a renewal of my creative urge since then …. This is quite the opposite of a denial of grief. It really is suffering …. The greater the grief, the greater the creative energy to which it gives

Since my wife’s death I have come to realize that I had lived all my life in mourning, waiting for reunion in heaven with my parents …. Now, with my new bereavement, my link with heaven is made stronger still, and that stimulates, rather than diminishes, my interest in the problems of this world. The human heart does not obey the rules of logic; it is constitutionally contradictory. I can truly say that I have a great grief and that I am a happy man.

Does that mean that I am, in fact, performing my work of mourning in Freud’s sense? I do not think so. With Freud it is a detachment, a disinvestment, to borrow a term much used by the psychoanalysts. It is, he writes, a matter of severing one’s attachment to the object that has been abolished …. You will see that what I have done is the exact opposite.

Sometimes, faced with grief, we restrain a God-breathed creative energy. There is good we can do in this world because we have experienced grief. Are you ready to walk along a path toward growth? Then go with God.

Rev Rod Benson is an ethicist and public theologian with the Tinsley Institute, an activity of Morling College, Sydney.

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