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Death, Bereavement and Courage

Marie-Noële Duchêne

Translation Louise Thunin

 The word for bereavement in French (deuil) comes from the Latin verb dolere : to suffer. Bereavement comes with the loss of a person to whom one has been strongly attached; it is also the grief that one feels and the outer signs associated with it.

The « mourning process » is an expression created by Sigmund Freud in 1917 ; today, the term is in current usage, if not hackneyed by the media.

According to Freud, this process takes place in three steps : confronting reality ; rebelling, the phase during which one has difficulty accepting reality and tries to negotiate ; and finally, accepting the loss of the loved one. Some psychiatrists add a depressive phase before acceptance.

Death is part of the human condition and yet it always leaves us

distraught. Even more than fear, the awareness of death arouses anguish, for death is the radical unknown; it is also the limit with which a human being is confronted, despite his desire for complete control.

This is what the writers of Genesis translated by, « You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die. » (Genesis 2 : 16-17) There are two limits to human existence : birth and death and we know that they escape us.

In his work entitled « The courage to Be », the theologian Paul Tillich (1886-1965) treats the subject of human life (being) and what threatens it (non-being). He discerns three main causes of existential anxiety : guilt, absurdity and death. Living requires courage; courage does not eliminate anguish ; it assumes responsibility for it. Beliefs in the immortality of the soul or in reincarnation are attemps to attenuate or mask the radicality of death. The resurrection of Christ is in a different register; it takes on death and affirms the transcending of it. « Life, even conquered temporarily, always remains stronger than death », declared Martin Luther King.

Tillich asks, « Where does courage come from ? » The source of courage allows us to live and to resist what tends to destroy being; we designate it by the word transcendance and we call it God. Thus, an analysis of the courage to be, the courage to live leads to the question of religion.

But we must think of God not as being outside of us, nor as being identical to us, but as that life force which inhabits us and acts within us without confusing itself with us.

For Tillich, life, courage and faith are closely linked. Life always demands courage and courage is always a form of faith.

Martin Julier-Costes, a sociologist, has analyzed the reactions of young people facing the death of a friend. Louise Pernot, a minister, has communicated his experience in just such circumstances and the help that the Church is able to bring.








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À propos Gilles

a été pasteur à Amsterdam et en Région parisienne. Il s’est toujours intéressé à la présence de l’Évangile aux marges de l’Église. Il anime depuis 17 ans le site Internet Protestants dans la ville.

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