My father just experienced a recent and devastating loss. His closest friend of 32 years just passed away from Covid-19 complications. They had to say good-bye over the phone. And just as my father has been processing his own grief, I have also been processing mine. As many of you know, “I Lost My Dream Life 12 Days Before Christmas,” and have been writing article after article, keeping you all in the loop of my emotional healing journey. And since both he and I are grieving in our own ways, he sent me this fascinating article about the nature of love and loss, from the perspective of the great Stoic philosopher, Epictetus.
I don’t really know anything about philosophy. And I absolutely do not identify with the definition of a stoic: a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining. However, the article, and Epictetus’ view on the nature of love and loss, is really quite refreshing, all stoicism aside.
EPICTETUS ON LOVE AND LOSS
I had already been coming to terms with this idea, actually. Over the last month, I have done so much healing. Or, should I say, it’s been sort of done for me. All I have been doing is trying to take care of myself. And feel all of my feelings as I feel them. I have been writing and sharing, and that has been profoundly helpful. And honestly, new feelings and perspectives about my loss, and love, and relationships, and intimacy, have just been coming to me. And my feelings about the nature of love have been changing by the day. So, this article just kind of validated what I had already been starting to embrace.
“…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.”From the article, “Epictetus on Love and Loss: The Stoic Strategy for Surviving Heartbreak”
I WAS SO AFRAID
Isn’t this such a beautiful concept? Of course, this is not a new idea, and it’s even one that my ex really and truly believed. We always did butt heads about it. Because I always wanted to nail us down, keep us safe, and protect us from ever having to deal with the loss of one another. And he was always much more in the moment with us, never really able to say where we might be in 20 years. I recall always feeling like this was his resistance to commitment. And maybe it was. But really, maybe it was a healthier way to see things. And in the end, he really didn’t want to continue things with me. And so, getting married or having children together, and THEN admitting that I just wasn’t what he wanted, would have been even more disastrous and painful.
I remember that when I used to hear ideas like this regarding the nature of love, and how fleeting it can be, I would feel so afraid. I never wanted to find any truth in this. And I always wanted to be the exception. I wanted my love and my romantic partnership to be the thing that lasted forever, despite all odds (no pressure!). And I used to panic when I would hear ANYONE try to talk to me about this kind of detachment from love, including and especially my ex. I would just shut it down when he would try too bring it up, too petrified to consider the possibility of us not working out.
INTEGRATING THEORY INTO REALITY
So, now that my worst fears have come true, and I’m living through the nightmare that I have tried my whole life to avoid, what comes next?
Well, first of all, the fact that my love ended, and I didn’t die, is kind of huge for me. Because the thought of heartbreak used to really make me feel like dying. I remember thinking, “That can’t ever happen to me, because I wouldn’t survive the pain.” But, guess what? Here I am! And I’m not only surviving. After a little over a month, I’m feeling pretty fucking okay. I mean, I still have waves of grief come up. And still have days when my eyes and nose are so raw from crying. But, those days are becoming few and far between. And now, this concept of love and loss is not so scary for me to embrace anymore. And it actually makes quite a bit of sense.
How could I have ever assumed that two human beings would 100% stay together, and never experience a loss? Of course, deep down, I always knew it was possible, if not probable. But, I hoped, and hoped, and was just so scared, underneath it all. However, trying to pin down love, and hold it tightly, is like trying to hold a flower tightly in your hand. It ain’t gonna make it! It’s gonna die, guaranteed! And the best thing that we can do is to enjoy the beauty of the flower, and try to keep it alive for as long as possible. And when it is ready to perish, we must make it as comfortable as possible as it says its sweet good-bye.
Totally easier said than done of course! And I’m also not saying that my relationship ended because I choked it to death. I don’t believe that’s true. And I do believe that it was actually destined to end, and that ending was for the best. However, the pain I have experienced over the last month, may have been greatly diminished, had I been able to embrace this fleeting nature of love mindset early on.
FACING FORWARD LIKE A GODDESS
So, I’ve been keeping myself in check regarding how much I let myself fantasize about new love. This used to be my go-to, default mental state. When I was surrounded by trauma, I would just daydream about love. Or, when I was feeling so lonely, I would daydream about him coming to make me happy. It was really an addiction for many years, and my way of coping. But now, things feel different.
I also feel like I could easily start feeling afraid that I’m never going to find love again. But honestly, I’m not feeling that. Instead, I’m feeling like I’m made for love, and built to experience, and give, and receive it. Therefore, I KNOW I’m going to experience it again someday. Whether or not it lasts, I can’t know. But, either way, I have something so amazing to look forward to.
There’s also this part of me that is starting to feel excited about a new normal regarding my love life. For instance, what if I just have an incredible experience with someone? Where my heart splits wide open, and so does his. And we are forever changed because of one another. And whether or not it lasts, is really not the point. Just like, the love I had with my ex is over, but nothing can take that experience away from either of us. He can try all he wants to remove me from his heart, but love made its mark. Just like he made his mark on my heart. And no matter what we do, those marks are there to stay! And that’s such a beautiful thing for two people to share. The fact that it was temporary almost doesn’t matter. Because honestly, isn’t everything?
Speaking of love and loss, here is a recent work of art I made about my mother, who passed away in 2017. You can see more of these on my website here: https://www.libbysaylor.com/mom-haikus.html
THANK YOU FOR READING!
So, what are your thoughts on the nature of love? Does this idea of fleeting love frighten you? Do you ever feel scared about losing someone you love? Even though this idea makes sense logically, it’s still really hard to put into practice. Please let me know your thoughts!
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Featured photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash
Epictetus photo obtained from here
White flower in hand photo by Tuyen Vo on Unsplash