A Stoic Response to Grief (from The Daily Stoic)

A Stoic Response to Grief

“It is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it. For if it has withdrawn, being merely beguiled by pleasures and preoccupations, it starts up again and from its very respite gains force to savage us. But the grief that has been conquered by reason is calmed for ever. I am not therefore going to prescribe for you those remedies which I know many people have used, that you divert or cheer yourself by a long or pleasant journey abroad, or spend a lot of time carefully going through your accounts and administering your estate, or constantly be involved in some new activity. All those things help only for a short time; they do not cure grief but hinder it. But I would rather end it than distract it.” — Seneca

Death is a recurring theme in the classic Stoic texts because it is a recurring theme across all human life. People we love die, people we need die, people we don’t know die, and eventually, we will die ourselves. For this reason the Stoics were pioneers of the ancient practice of remembering our mortality (memento mori) and using it as a tool and a compass to orient themselves. They kept death in mind, and they never wanted to forget how limited our time on earth is.

Epictetus went as far as suggesting, as you kiss your child and tuck them into bed at night, to imagine what it would be like to wake up without them in the morning. Because it can happen. Because tragically it does happen. And it’s our utter lack of preparation or belief of this fact that makes those terrible surprises hurt even more.

The Stoics wanted to conquer their fear of death, use death productively and see it objectively—a natural event that we will all face. As Seneca wrote in his consolation letter to Marcia, after she has lost her son, “We have entered the kingdom of Fortune, whose rule is harsh and unconquerable, and at her whim we will endure suffering, deserved and undeserved.”

His point was a serious but not exactly reassuring one: People around us will die and it will hurt. Often, quite badly.

The question for the Stoics then was how to make sense of this fact, how to come to terms with it. How does one deal with the natural grief that loss provokes?

The Stoics are often stereotyped as suppressing their emotions, but their philosophy was actually intended to teach us to face, process, and deal with emotions immediately instead of running from them. Tempting as it is to deceive yourself or hide from a powerful emotion like grief— by telling yourself and other people that you’re fine—awareness and understanding are better. Distraction might be pleasant in the short term—by going to gladiatorial games, as a Roman might have done, for example. Focusing is better in the long term.

That means facing it now. Process and parse what you are feeling. Remove your expectations, your entitlements, your sense of having been wronged. Find the positive in the situation, but also sit with your pain and accept it, remembering that it is a part of life. That’s how one conquers grief.

And then, ever the optimists, the Stoics would urge you to look for positives in the situation. As Seneca said,

“Has it then all been for nothing that you have had such a friend? During so many years, amid such close associations, after such intimate communion of personal interests, has nothing been accomplished? Do you bury friendship along with a friend? And why lament having lost him, if it be of no avail to have possessed him? Believe me, a great part of those we have loved, though chance has removed their persons, still abides with us. The past is ours, and there is nothing more secure for us than that which has been.”

Another practical advice Seneca would give is to invite your friends and family to praise and share memories of the person you’ve lost. Most people will not know how to conduct themselves around you, and would usually remain in silence, deriving you from one of the greatest pleasures of recalling past memories. It is why Seneca would instruct in a letter a grieving mother to “invite talk in which his actions may be told, and open your ears to the name and memory of your son.”

Seneca asks us to recall and cherish our memories and chides us for “remembering only that final appearance of Fortune.” The past is ours and we can look back with gratitude on moments together and be grateful that we were lucky to share them. As he wrote, “If you admit to having derived great pleasures, your duty is not to complain about what has been taken away but to be thankful for what you have been given.”

Just like Marcus Aurelius, whose Meditations opens with a list of people he is grateful to and for the lessons learned, you can sit down and do the same now—before you’ve lost them. It’s one of the best ways to honor someone—a deep sense of gratitude for them being a part of your life. And even better: living all the lessons they have taught you and made you better.

And in closing, remember that you are not alone in any of this. “Who maintains that it is not a heavy blow? But it is part of being human,” Seneca would say, and looking to point to examples of great men and women who have overcome adversity, he insists how much harder it is to find families who have avoided any disastrous occurrences. So remember, if it offers at least a bit of consolation, you are not alone. We are all in this together

Views: 15


You need to be a member of Online Grief Support - A Social Community to add comments!

Join Online Grief Support - A Social Community

Comment by M Adams yesterday

I really relate to certain parts of this Stoicism commentary, especially the last quotation and the final four paragraphs that come after it.  Today I am struggling to write a letter of condolence to a longtime family friend who recently lost his beloved wife, finding it strangely difficult, feeling like he won’t want to hear from me and there’s nothing helpful to say...but as this article points out, I do think that many bereaved people are helped and comforted by hearing others speak well of the beloved person who has died.  I know that is true for me.  This is my fourth Saint Valentine’s Day alone and when someone speaks lovingly about my husband, which of course happens less and less as time goes by, it still lifts my spirits.  So that’s what I will do in my letter, but maybe I will put it off for now and start fresh tomorrow.


Latest Activity

Martee replied to bluebird's discussion My husband died, and I will never want to live without him.
"Bluebird, so sorry for you loss,your posts spoke my feelings exactly on grief and pain of living. Can you please let me know how you survived all these years. Its been just over 2 weeks and each day is an eternity for me I hope I don’t…"
9 minutes ago
Martee posted a status
"I don’t want this..."
45 minutes ago
Martee posted a status
"Today I have been walking as a lifeless, joyless, husk for 2 weeks and 4 days. My beautiful, loving husband is gone...."
56 minutes ago
Theresa commented on Karen's group I miss my Mom!
"Yes it’s almost five and I’m still so very sad "
4 hours ago
Casey commented on Karen's group I miss my Mom!
"it has been almost 6 years (my mom passed away on Feb 18, 2014) since my mom (56-year-old) passed way, it still feels like yesterday..I can't believe it..anyone here whos still here after all these years?"
4 hours ago
Profile IconMartee, Jerry Jenkins, Ann and 1 more joined Online Grief Support - A Social Community
5 hours ago
Theresa commented on Karen's group I miss my Mom!
"Brett, I am looking for the same light at the end of the tunnel.  I feel the same way about my dog he is a Labrador and its so so difficult to see him limp or have a bad day, he takes meds, I just want him to be comfortable.  I say to…"
8 hours ago
Brett Bowman commented on Karen's group I miss my Mom!
"Brenda, I rely on my faith so much, but I realized a long time ago that there won't be a magic moment where an angel comes down and tells me that everything will be okay. I'm not criticizing God. I just realize that this is something that…"
13 hours ago
Brett Bowman commented on Karen's group I miss my Mom!
"I'm having a lot of trouble getting Krissy to eat. She has diabetes and she has a very limited diet as it is. She can only eat prescription dog food. I switched to the wet version and she was eating up, and now it's the same as before. My…"
13 hours ago
Katherine A Pericas Geersten replied to Katherine A Pericas Geersten's discussion Hello, a little bit about me.
"Thank you Mrs. Crawford, it means a lot to be hearing from someone else who understands. "
16 hours ago
Kimberly joined Karen's group

I miss my Mom!

If you have that hole in your heart that you get when you lose the woman that you shared a body with....
23 hours ago
Theresa commented on Karen's group I miss my Mom!
"Brett yes as horrible as it is for us both our dogs have aged almost 5 years since our moms died I’m having a really hard time with it I’m thinking that I might need counseling my boy is going to be 13 he still gets around but I know…"
Brett Bowman commented on Karen's group I miss my Mom!
"Brenda, so much of what you said is so familiar with me. I haven't been able to take a nap since my mom died four years ago. Once, while my mom was still alive and on Hospice, I laid down for a second. I fell asleep and I was having a sweet…"
Kimberly posted photos
Theresa commented on Karen's group I miss my Mom!
"Brenda. I know exactly how you feel.  This is how time changed things for me, as time went the thoughts seem to have become more acceptable but missing her still remains. And I cry.  Probably to much   "
Theresa commented on Karen's group I miss my Mom!
"Brenda.   I am terribly anxious every day.  I try to have faith in God to get me through whatever I am dealing with.  I have a dog who is goi g to be 13 in April and all I do is worry about him. My last dog I had my mom to lean on and…"
M Adams commented on M Adams's blog post A Stoic Response to Grief (from The Daily Stoic)
"I really relate to certain parts of this Stoicism commentary, especially the last quotation and the final four paragraphs that come after it.  Today I am struggling to write a letter of condolence to a longtime family friend who recently lost…"
Teresa D. commented on Kar's group Missing my Son or Daughter
"Support is always here when you need it. Hugs to all."
Ammy commented on Kar's group Missing my Son or Daughter
"Thank you Josephine.  I agree that we need to be able to laugh, but it usually takes time for that to start.  I honestly feel good when I can laugh at something or with someone.  It's like a medicine, but it took time for me to…"
Josephine Crawford commented on Kar's group Missing my Son or Daughter
"Teresa, Ammy and Sue, I understand and share your pain. Yes, I too feel like a different version of myself and going forward has been a struggle. Ladies, they would have wanted us to be happy. I sometimes feel guilty when I find myself laughing.…"

© 2020   Created by Ninja.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service