A Stoic Guide to Grief
“Believe me: a large part of those we have loved remains with us, even if chance has removed them. The time that has passed is ours to keep, and nothing is safer than that which was.” Seneca, Letters 99.4
My father, my hero, passed away two years ago. He suffered from Parkinson’s Disease, had one heart attack, and two strokes before his weakened body could not take anymore. His departure left a gaping hole inside me that has yet to fully heal. Every December I can sense depression creeping back and lingering through the first of the new year.
During his illness we lived seven hours away in New Orleans. One of the things that helped me cope with the sense of helplessness and impending anxiety was Seneca’s classic Letters from a Stoic. I was reminded of this while reading David Fideler’s new book and his honest assessment of the loss of his father.
“Seneca is correct that grief, given time, can be replaced by happy memories. For several years after my father died, I’d feel some seasonal sadness around the time of his death, at the end of each year. It’s like there was an empty space where he was supposed to be. Many others who have lost family members have experienced this kind of seasonal sadness too. But that was a long time ago. When I look back at my dad or even his death today, I now feel no grief at all — just a sense of happiness, and a sense of gratitude, for the time we spent together. But when a person’s mind is filled with grief and sadness, it’s hard to make space for the happy memories and gratitude that would more deeply honor a loved one.”
This past Christmas I was given a necklace to wear my father’s old Vietnam army service ring. Strangely this has helped remind me not only of his courage that I desire to emulate but brings back a flood of my own happy memories from the time we spent together.
Being a Stoic is not, as Fideler argues, being emotionally detached from grief but facing our emotions with resolute reason.
Knowing that nothing is permanent is just accepting a fact of nature. It has nothing to do with a person’s ability to love deeply. Realizing that my loved ones are all impermanent encourages me to treasure them more deeply. It makes me even more grateful for the limited time we have together.
While there will never be a moment where I do not miss my father being physically present, he is always near in the memories we made and in the relationships that I now have with my own children. Grief can slowly turn to joy as I realize he is still here as long as I am.
Fideler, David R. . Breakfast with Seneca: A Stoic Guide to the Art of Living (pp. 187–188). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Fideler, David R. . Breakfast with Seneca: A Stoic Guide to the Art of Living (p. 189). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Fideler, David R. . Breakfast with Seneca: A Stoic Guide to the Art of Living (pp. 188–189). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.