Seneca on Grief and the Key to Resilience in the Face of Loss: An Extraordinary Letter to His Mother
I’m a bit slower off the mark than I once was, and although I thought my feelings these last few months were mostly based on betrayal, and the anger and extreme sadness caused by the lies and betrayal, I have also discovered through my psychologist I’ve been having what is known as a ‘catastrophic reaction’ to the bullying reporter and the liars who fed him.
But, in all of this, I missed one vital piece of the jigsaw puzzle.
Mostly, my feelings have been of grief, part of my reaction to the betrayal. I’ve had a lot of practice at grief (as has almost everyone), but I was unprepared for the wretchedness I felt this time.
Sadly, what should have been an incredibly positive and uplifting experience becoming the South Australian 2017 Australian Of The Year, it has instead, due to such unkindness, taught me to be wretched with my grief. I am in the process of healing, which does not mean it will ever go away, but rather that I will change (again) and learn to live more positively in spite of it…
And now that I have named it as grief, then perhaps I will move on more easily. The BrainPickings article about Seneca by Maria Popova that I am referring to here starts with;
“All your sorrows have been wasted on you if you have not yet learned how to be wretched.”
“Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be, Joan Didion observed in her classic meditation on loss. Abraham Lincoln, in his moving letter of consolation to a grief-stricken young woman, wrote of how time transmutes grief into “a sad sweet feeling in your heart.” But what, exactly, is the mechanism of that transmutation and how do we master it before it masters us when grief descends in one of its unforeseeable guises?”
Further on, Maria says;
“But what kept Seneca from intervening in his mother’s grief was, above all, the awareness that grief should be grieved rather than immediately treated as a problem to be solved and done away with.” He wrote in his letter to his mother:
I realized that your grief should not be intruded upon while it was fresh and agonizing, in case the consolations themselves should rouse and inflame it: for an illness too nothing is more harmful than premature treatment. So I was waiting until your grief of itself should lose its force and, being softened by time to endure remedies, it would allow itself to be touched and handled.
At last, I feel I my sorrow and grief is slowly losing its force, and softening in its own way and in its own time.
It seems, I have finally learned to be wretched with my grief. And as always, there is a gift to be found in all adversity…