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Hello everyone, Justin Vacula here with another episode in my Stoic Philosophy series.

Today's episode
is titled 'Coping with Grief and Death.' Visit my website at where you can find links
to my social media portals and see past Stoic Philosophy content on YouTube, Soundcloud, and

My Stoic Philosophy series explores the philosophical tradition of Stoicism with goals to inform,
empower, and help others benefit from the practical wisdom of Ancient Greek, Roman, and modern
thinkers. I tackle many topics including handling adversity, finding meaning in life, working toward
contentment, dealing with change, anger, and gratitude.

How are we to cope with grief? We find ourselves living in a world filled with chaos, suffering, and
death brought to our awareness though personal experience and countless news outlets delivering
information 24 hours a day seven days a week. Surely, there are many positive elements of life, but
there can also be difficult times and we can experience a sense of loss, despair, and bewilderment.

Seneca and other Stoic writers encourage us to have a radical acceptance for events which happen
around us understanding that we largely lack control over much of what happens in the world. We can,
though, be mindful of our thoughts and emotions, even prepare for adversity, taking a proactive
approach to having a solid mindset while facing hardships including loss of friends. Surely it can be
difficult to cope with events especially if we face a large amount of stress in our lives or happen to be
vulnerable to certain stressors, but with some words of wisdom from Stoic writers we can better cope
and work toward contentment even though the journey can be difficult. Hopefully you're up for the

Many themes are explored in Seneca's letter titled 'On Virtue as a Refuge from Worldly Distractions.'
He makes a case for a happy life, a life of inner contentment, being something in our control and not
subject to fortune or chance. We can work to achieve a resolute mindset by reducing our desires,
expectations, and attachments to things outside of us. We can have a sense of gratitude for being able to
prevail in difficult circumstances, recognize our power of reason, and appreciate what we do have. We
can accept what happens around us and work to bear circumstances the best we can. We can fortify
ourselves prevailing against the pushes and pulls of chance. We can focus on the present rather than be
mired in the past or fearful of the future.

Seneca writes to his friend, “You are right, of course, my dear Lucilius, in deeming the chief means of
attaining the happy life to consist in the belief that the only good lies in that which is honourable. For
anyone who deems other things to be good puts himself in the power of fortune and goes under the
control of another, but he who has in every case defined the good as the honorable is happy with an
inward happiness.”

Here, Seneca suggests that we should focus on things we can control and find an inner peace. We lack
control over things outside of us, externals, as the Stoics would put it – even the actions of others and
others we may know who may die, even in a tragic sense – and I'll get to more of this later in this
episode specifically touching on loss of others we know. To say, well, I do not have mastery over
fortune – I can't control much of what happens around me, I can work on myself, improve my mindset,
and work to be more content, accepting that which happens and appropriately respond – that seems to
be a desirable goal.

Let us not be overwhelmed by chance. Seneca writes, “Whoever has largely surrendered himself to the
power of fortune has made for himself a huge web of disquietude from which he cannot get free; if one
would win a way to safety there is but one road – to despise externals and to be contented by that which
is honorable. For those who regard anything as better than virtue or believe there is any good except
virtue are spreading their arms to gather in that which fortune tosses abroad and are anxiously awaiting
her favors.” In despising externals, Seneca seems to mean that we should not consider externals --
things or people -- as necessary for our contentment, our happiness because change is inevitable and
only true contentment can come from within, something in our control. Death approaches, people come
and go, people change. We may prefer certain things – that people will always live, that we will live for
eternity, but surely our preferences can't dictate reality – and if our desires are not met, especially if
they are lofty, we can place ourselves in a bad position being constantly disappointed.

Stoic writers talk about certain benefits we may have from externals as preferred indifferents – we may
want certain things, but if they should go away our happiness should not change, our lives can go on
and we won't be devoured by fortune. We can value the present, the people we know and make the
most of life, our relationships, our friendships, and even draw more attention to our own existence
living a fulfilled life even amidst hardships. Perhaps our own grief can even compel us to live a fuller
life accepting that our time is ticking, time passes by quickly, and we will run out of moments to
accomplish our goals, have good experiences, and live well.

Seneca writes in his letter 'On Meeting Death Cheerfullly,' “I am endeavoring to live every day as if it
were a complete life. I do not indeed snatch it up as if it were my last. I do regard it, however, as if it
might even be my last.”

Seneca directly talks about loss of one's friends in 'On Virtue as a Refuge from Worldly Distractions.'
He urges to to treat the loss of others similarly to how we should treat our own deaths. He writes, “The
wise man is not distressed by the loss of children or friends. For he endures their death in the same
spirit in which he awaits his own. And he fears the one as little as he grieves the other.” Stoic writers,
again, urge for accepting our mortal lot – that death approaches and to not be fearful of this which we
can't control. We can see death as a cycle of change; an end or even part of life.

Seneca writes in his letter 'On the Supreme Good,' “For what is free from the risk of change? Neither
earth, nor sky, nor the whole fabric of our universe. It will not always preserve its present order, it will
be thrown from its course in days to come. All things move in accord with their appointed times; they
are destined to be born, to grow, and to be destroyed. The stars which you see moving above us, and
this seemingly immovable earth to which we cling and on which we are set, will be consumed and
cease to exist.” This perspective can help us better cope with our death and the death of people around
us – even if they happened to die under tragic circumstances with life being cut short.

Perhaps, well, one can say that a rational case can be made for coping well, that this really isn't an easy
thing and emotions can, at times, overwhelm us. Stoic writers don't call for us to be emotionless, but
rather to be mindful of our emotions and take steps to react well and to be proactive. Seneca responds
to a question in his letter 'On Virtue as a Refuge From Worldly Distractions' , “What, you ask, Will the
wise man experience no emotion like disturbance of spirit? Will not his features change colour, his
countenance be agitated, and his limbs grow cold? And there are other things which we do, not under
the influence of the will, but unconsciously and as the result of a natural impulse. I admit that this is
true, but the sage will retain the firm belief that none of these things is evil or important enough to
make a healthy mind break down. Whatever shall remain to be done virtue can do with courage and
Seneca mentions the sage here – the person who is the embodiment of Stoic Philosophy who will be
undeterred by elements of chance and have a steadfast mindset. We can work toward becoming this
sage and overcome adversity although the journey may be difficult, but we should not despair simply
because of the difficulty – the goal is attainable or at the very least we can equip ourselves with an
internal armor by which we can guard ourselves against chance. “There can be no pain except as a
result of what you feel” Seneca writes in the same letter – so we can work to have better control over
our emotions by improving our mindsets.

Here's more about coming to terms with our own deaths and not being burdened by the past or overly
anxious about the future. Perhaps in seeing suffering and death around us we will fear pain, loss of life,
and not be content. Seneca explores this in writing, “But what is greater madness than to be tortured by
the future and not to save your strength for the actual suffering, but to invite and bring on
wretchedness? If you cannot be rid of it, you ought at least to postpone it. Will you not understand that
no man should be tortured by the future? The man who has been told that he will have to endure torture
fifty years from now is not disturbed thereby, unless he has leaped over the intervening years, and has
projected himself into the trouble that is destined to arrive a generation later. In the same way, souls
that enjoy being sick and that seize upon excuses for sorrow are saddened by events long past and
effaced from the records. Past and future are now absent; we feel neither of them.”

Let's return to coping with grief, the loss of people we know. Seneca addresses this topic in his letter
titled 'On grief for lost friends.' He writes, “I am grieved to hear that your friend Flaccus is dead, but I
would not have you sorrow more than is fitting. That you should not mourn at all I shall hardly dare to
insist; and yet I know that it is the better way. But what man will ever be so blessed with that ideal
steadfastness of soul, unless he has already risen far above the reach of fortune? Even such a man will
be stung by an event like this, but it will be only a sting. We however, may be forgiven for bursting into
tears, if only our tears have not flowed to excess, and if we have checked them by our own efforts. Let
not the eyes be dry when we have lost of friend, nor let them overflow. We may weep, but we must not
wail.” He understands that grief is a usual process, but urges us to not go wild with our emotions – at
least not for too long of a time. Reflecting on the reality of the situation, accepting death, realizing that
death is inevitable should help with being resilient, bouncing back from loss.

Seneca also recognizes that grief will pass with time even though now the circumstance may seem
overwhelming – perhaps because of the sudden nature of loss and the excessive attention we are paying
to it. In time, though, other focuses will come about and we may be in a better state, more content,
more resolute. Seneca writes, “As soon as you cease to observe yourself, the picture of sorrow which
you have contemplated will fade away; at present you are keeping watch over your own suffering. But
even while you keep watch it slips away from you and the sharper it is the more speedily it comes to an
end.” Perhaps it can be helpful to realize that grief will fade – at least in degree and by drawing
attention to other matters – perhaps engaging in hobbies, friendships, work, having balance in life can
help soften the blow of grief. Additionally, Seneca writes, “A man ends his grief by the mere passing of
time even if he has not ended it of his own accord.”

Seneca doesn't think we should abandon memories of our lost friends, but instead treasure memories.
He writes, “Let us see to it that the recollection of those whom we have lost becomes a pleasant
memory to us.” Value good times you have spent together, laugh about some silly moments, recognize
how you have benefited from a friendship. Even be compelled to value your current friends even more
given that loss can happen at any moment.

Seneca writes, “Cease to put a wrong interpretation on the gifts of fortune. Fortune has taken away, but
fortune has given. Let us greedily enjoy our friends because we do not know how long this privilege
will be ours. Let us think how often we shall leave them when we go upon distant journeys, and how
often we shall fail to see them when we tarry together in the same place. We shall thus understand that
we have lost too much of their time while they were alive.”

Seneca returns to the theme of recognizing our own mortality when we see friends die. He writes,
“Therefore let us continually think as much about our own mortality as about that of all those we love.
Now is the time for you to reflect, not only that all things are mortal, but also that their mortality is
subject to no fixed law. Whatever can happen at any time can happen today.”

Finally, another word on death from Seneca's letter titled 'On Asthma and Death' which may help you
be more content with your own death. Seneca writes, “Death is non-existance and I know already what
that means. What was before me will happen again after me. If there is any suffering in this state, there
must have been such suffering also in the past before we entered the light of day. As a matter of fact,
however, we felt no discomfort then. And I ask you, would you not say that one was the greatest of
fools who believed that a lamp was worse off when it was extinguished than before it was lighted? We
mortals are also lighted and extinguished; the period of suffering comes in between, but on either side
there is a deep peace.”

To recap, improving our mindset by studying Stoic Philosophy and being more mindful of our
emotions can help us better cope with grief and death. We can have a radical acceptance of that which
happens around us recognizing what is outside of our control and enduring adversity so as to not be
overcome by chance events. We can seek an inner happiness, contentment, through acceptance and
focus on our mindset, the things we can control. In recognizing our own mortality, we can be
compelled to live a good life rather than squandering our time. We can think of death as an inevitable
change largely outside of our control and apply this perspective to the loss of friends. We can grieve,
but not be overwhelmed with grief for a long time & recognize that the degree of grief will likely fade
with time. We can value benefits we have accrued from our lost friends and treasure the friendships we
currently have, enjoying our friendships now before the time is too late and we have missed the
moment. We can also think our our deaths simply as non-existance and a deep peace similar to a
painless experience prior to our lives beginning.

Thanks for watching and stay tuned for more content.

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