The death of people one is close to, either family and friends, inevitably triggers feelings of grief and sadness that will vary with the individual. In this article, Brian D. Earp says that how the Stoics mourned may have some lessons for us.
How should we grieve when someone close to us dies? Should we wail and gnash our teeth? Should we swallow our pain? Some would say there is no right answer. You feel whatever you feel, and heal however you heal, and that’s okay. But according to the ancient Stoics – those Greco-Roman philosophers making a comeback as preachers of practical wisdom in a self-help world – there is a correct answer to the question of how we should grieve. And the answer is that we shouldn’t. What’s done is done. There is nothing you can do to change the situation – so move on.
He says that this advice sound harsh and even impossible to follow and it would be for ordinary people. But he says that it is all part of the attitude and training that the Stoics subjected themselves to and developed throughout their lives.
That is what is so different about their intuitions and ours. To put it simply, if you are not a Stoic philosopher – if you have not been training yourself, year in and year out, to calmly face life’s vagaries and inescapables – and you feel no hint of sadness when your child, or spouse, or family member dies, then there probably is something wrong with you. You probably have failed to love or cherish that person appropriately or sufficiently while they were alive, and that would be a mark against you.
The training to face death that the Stoics suggest, as stated by Epictetus, is pretty brutal.
… remind yourself that what you love is mortal … at the very moment you are taking joy in something, present yourself with the opposite impressions. What harm is it, just when you are kissing your little child, to say: Tomorrow you will die, or to your friend similarly: Tomorrow one of us will go away, and we shall not see one another any more?
“What harm is it?” I dunno about this. If the other person is not also a Stoic and appreciates what you are trying to achieve and agrees with it, you could find yourself alienating everyone by constantly reminding them that either one of you or both could die at any minute and thus should mentally prepare for it. While one should try to have a Stoic attitude towards one’s own death, telling other people who may be grieving to learn to suck it up may not be the best thing.
I wonder if the Stoics were invited to many parties?