Two millennia ago, the great Stoic philosopher Epictetus (c. 55–135 AD) argued that the antidote to this gutting grief is found not in hedging ourselves against prospective loss through artificial self-protections but, when loss does come, in orienting ourselves to it and to what preceded it differently — in training ourselves not only to accept but to embrace the temporality of all things, even those we most cherish and most wish would stretch into eternity, so that when love does vanish, we are left with the irrevocable gladness that it had entered our lives at all and animated them for the time that it did.
When we are able to regard what we love in such a way, Epictetus argues,
its inevitable loss would leave in us not paralyzing devastation but
what Abraham Lincoln would later term “a sad sweet feeling in your heart.”
To retain the memory of love’s sweetness without letting the pain of
parting and loss embitter it is perhaps the greatest challenge for the
bereaved heart, and its greatest achievement.
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