Grief Fatigue and Limits to Mourning

Seneca, Moral Epistle 63.12-14

“You have buried someone you loved; seek someone else you can love. It is better to replace a friend than mourn one. I know that what I am about to add is extremely cliched, but I won’t avoid it just because many have said it. Whoever makes no end to grief intentionally, finds one in time. The most shameful cure for grief for a wise person is being worn out by sorrow. I would prefer that you give up on pain rather than it give up on you and, further, that you stop it as soon as possible, since even if you desire to keep it up, you can’t go on for long.

Our ancestors decided that a year is a long enough time for a woman to mourn, not so that they may weep that long, but for no longer. There was no limit given to men because no amount was considered right. Still, for all those women who could not barely be pulled away from a corpse, how many can you find whose tears outlasted a month?

Nothing inspires hatred as quickly as grief. When it is new, it finds compassion and draws people to itself; but once it becomes constant, it turns into a joke, and not without reason. It seems either faked or foolish.

I am writing these words to you even though I was the one who was so undone by weeping for my dearest friend Annaeus Serenius that I must include myself among the list of people whom sorrow defeated, against my wishes. Today I speak out against my action and I know that the reason I mourned so much was that I didn’t even suspect his death would come before mine. My only thought was that he was younger than me by a lot, as if the fates kept track of the order in which we were born!”

Quem amabas, extulisti; quaere, quem ames. Satius est amicum reparare quam flere. Scio pertritum iam hoc esse, quod adiecturus sum, non ideo tamen praetermittam, quia ab omnibus dictum est: finem dolendi etiam qui consilio non fecerat, tempore invenit. Turpissimum autem est in homine prudente remedium maeroris lassitudo maerendi. Malo relinquas dolorem quam ab illo relinquaris, et quam primum id facere desiste, quod etiam si voles, diu facere non poteris. Annum feminis ad Iugendum constituere maiores, non ut tam diu lugerent, sed ne diutius; viris nullum legitimum tempus est, quia nullum honestum. Quam tamen mihi ex illis mulierculis dabis vix retractis a rogo, vix a cadavere revulsis, cui lacrimae in totum mensem duraverint? Nulla res citius in odium venit quam dolor, qui recens consolatorem invenit et aliquos ad se adducit, inveteratus vero deridetur, nec inmerito. Aut enim simulatus aut stultus est.

Haec tibi scribo is, qui Annaeum Serenum, carissimum mihi, tam inmodice flevi, ut, quod minime velim, inter exempla sim eorum, quos dolor vicit. Hodie autem factum meum damno et intellego maximam mihi causam sic lugendi fuisse, quod numquam cogitaveram mori eum ante me posse. Hoc unum mihi occurrebat, minorem esse et multo minorem, tamquam ordinem fata servarent.

Picture of a fragment of a Roman wall painting. Two women incline their heads toward each other
Roman wall painting of women gossiping. Getty Villa 96.AG.302

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