The core of stoic philosophy is that our world is composed of events we can control and others we cannot. With such a premise in mind we might ask how we should behave in each situation.
Well, the answer is rather simple, but hard to practise. For events you can control, do your best to control them. For those you cannot, accept it. They were meant to be. Try to figure out what you can learn from that, internalise the lesson, and then let it go.
Is it really that simple?
One of the best tools stoicism offers us is negative visualization. If you have done your homework well, you will have already pictured your life in such a moment. You will have pictured the pain, the loneliness, the void that comes when you lose someone you love. And you will have prepared yourself to deal with it.
When we talk about grief, we talk about suffering, about emotional pain. Grief is what you feel when you lose something you thought you were deserving of. Grief is what you feel when someone you love leaves you.
It doesn’t matter if they have left because death came to take them or if they left for some other reason. They are not there anymore. You don’t have them any anymore. Is that something you can control?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. You cannot control life as a whole. You cannot control other people. But you can control how you experience the pain of not having them anymore.
Grieving is not giving up on life
As tough as it seems, I have to tell you it was meant to be. Life is brief. Make the most of it. I was once left by someone I loved, and as a good stoic, I cried. Yes, stoics have feelings, they cry, they feel happiness and sadness, they just don’t accept to become that feeling.
But I also controlled my emotions and made sure those tears were about the emptiness that would remain. It was not despair, it was not disappointment, it was not the sense of being a victim of fate.
It was definitely something I couldn´t control, and I was sure I had done my part really well. I decided not to give up. I mourned, but that was not the end for me. It shouldn’t be the end for anyone, no matter if they are 18 or 81.
After the sadness has passed, it’s time for reflection. What is the lesson here? What should we do differently? What can we learn from that loss, that relationship, that person?
Don’t let guilt or regret take over; this is something you can control and have to. Realize there’s a reason for everything and that it was something you could not control on your own. You could only do your part, do your best with what you had at the time.
I learned many things about myself through my process of grief. Lessons that I can use to enrich my life and the life of those that I love.
So, to answer the question of how a stoic grieves, you can say they cry, if they feel like it. They meditate over the circumstances, but are well aware of the fact that they were out of their control. So, finally they accept and don’t let it disturb their inner balance. It’s time to move on.
I know, you might be thinking easier said than done, and I couldn’t agree more. But training hard leads us to perfection. My personal experience was not perfect, but I have chosen to make the best of what I had in my hands. I turned the lemon into a nice lemonade and, most important of all, I threw away the peel, the remains of those lemons.
Feel through your pain, and realise that your loss is generally beyond your control. We’re all so different, your grief may last longer and you may feel deeper. That’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with that, allow yourself to release what you hold.
This is an important step. Don’t drag it around. Grieve will take as long as you let it, but it should only take as long as needed. Stoics keep that in mind. You should too.