How Stoicism Can be Used to Deal with Death and Grief

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No evil is honorable: but death is honorable; therefore death is not evil.

Zeno of Citium (founder of Stoicism)

Stoicism takes a remarkably interesting approach to many parts of life. Most people consider it to be a philosophy that praises distance from others, both mentally and emotionally. That is not the case, and Stoicism does not encourage people to ignore death or be ambivalent towards grief. Instead, it takes a different approach, centered more on the present, and embracing life as it is. This is where the confusion often stems from, but in reality, stoics are to grieve and feel, as long as they do so properly. 

For those who aren’t familiar, the philosophy of Stoicism is focused on taking life as it is. Stoics are taught to do their best to be present and only focus on positive emotions that can aid themselves or others. They are encouraged to be the best they can for others, help their fellow men and women, and live lives that are not pushed by desire or greed, but by gaining knowledge and being virtuous. 

Stoics view life as independent of the future or the past, but instead as the natural phenomenon of the present. This, combined with a well-known definition of the word ‘stoic’ leads many people to think that the philosophy is all about ignoring emotion and welcoming detachment. This is a simple misunderstanding. In actuality, Stoicism is dependent on renouncing things that have a negative impact on gaining knowledge and being virtuous, such as:

  • Pleasure,
  • Greed,
  • Pain,
  • Desire, 
  • Fear,

All things which impact a person’s ability to be genuinely happy and thus the best they can be for others. With this concept in mind, Stoicism has a lot to teach about death and grief and about how to move forward in the face of what many consider to be the greatest tragedy one can endure. 

The Stoic Response to Grief and Death

The stoic approach to grief, especially grief of death, is one that is hard to comprehend for the average person. Essentially, stoics believe that it is fundamentally important to love others, like family, who are integral parts of life. However, they also believe in only embracing things that are controllable by humankind.

Death can`t be controlled or stopped. This means that it is important to show support and love to those who are important in our lives, because we humans can choose to love them and appreciate them. However, as nobody is capable of stopping death, it should not be governed by emotion. 

It is about simply making sure negativity over the unavoidable does not consume one`s life in some situations. As stated earlier, knowledge and virtue are key to a happy life. People who are knowledgeable about death know that there is no use in feeling grief because there is no way to stop death. The Medium.com has written a great in-depth post on the subject as well. Check it here: Accept death as ever present.

“Accepting the inevitable is the beginning of strength and freedom.” – @TheStoicEmperor

For most, grieving loved ones is impossible to avoid. But nowhere in stoic teachings says that moving on from a loved one’s passing is easy. The philosophy simply points out that it is to everyone’s advantage to attempt to block the grief that arises at passing. Indeed, it is difficult, but people can try to get better and honor loved ones in their minds by using stoic teachings. Stoics do everything they can to be positive and focus on needs and controllable things in the present. 

By doing so, people can process grief in the most efficient way possible. In short, the stoic processing of grief is done by denouncing the typical negativity that comes with extreme sadness. This is hard to do by itself, but stoics also believe in focusing on being present for others and caring for true world needs. 

By doing so, people have an outlet to deal with the grief that arises from pain. That is another part of Stoicism mentioned above. Part of the reason it is important to denounce grief of death, aside from the fact that it is unwise to mourn the unavoidable, is because emotional pain gets in the way of happiness. 

For those unfamiliar with Stoicism, the process can be hard to understand, perhaps even unfathomable. But it is actually simple. When applied to other aspects of life, Stoicism makes so much sense. 

The philosophy gets harder to understand when applied to something so important as death. The principle is still true, but it is a lot harder to imagine successfully moving on from a loved one’s passing without embracing sadness.

Stoicism does not state that dealing with grief is about being perfect, but instead that people should try their absolute best to use wisdom to move forward from grief and honour those who have passed. 

Conclusion:

In this way, stoics attempt to live life to its fullest potential, always remembering that bad things happen and are just part of life. Focusing on the things that they can control is at the heart of the stoic way of being, and embracing it can be very effective in moving forward in the wake of grief. 

Did you know that Stoicism was used by many of the greatest men and women of all time? What sets its beautiful teachings apart from other philosophies is the fact that Stoic teaching is extremely practical. Would you like to learn more? Check “The Little Stoic” book. It contains all you need to know to start your Stoic quest.

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