My sister passed away on February 24 after almost three years of her battle with cancer. She courageously persisted, and fought till the end.

Seneca the Younger (4 BC – AD 65) was one of the great Stoic writers. A Roman senator, he was exiled in AD 41 as he went against the reigning emperor. He wrote To mother Helvia, On consolation while on exile to provide comfort to his mother.

In death, the comforters usually are the surviving friends and family, but as Seneca is still alive in exile, he was able to do this himself using his own words. This writing, together with his other works about the shortness of life, provided me with insights on how to deal with the death of my sister.

Why?

Everlasting misfortune does have one blessing, that it ends up by toughening those whom it constantly afflicts.

Troubles and challenges in life are our constant companions. No person is worry-free and trouble-free all the time. Only our scale of problems are different. Death is constant. Without death, life has no meaning.

Why am I so afraid of change? Is there a reason for this struggle?

How silly then to imagine that the human mind, which is formed of the same elements as divine beings, objects to movement and change of abode, while the divine nature finds delight and even self-preservation in continual and very rapid change.

Change is what gives life to the universe. Even the stars, with their immense power, eventually die and give birth to new creation. How can I complain then, a mere speck of dust in the grand scheme of things, of change?

Conquer

For to be afflicted with endless sorrow at the loss of someone very dear is foolish self-indulgence, and to feel none is inhuman callousness. The best compromise between love and good sense is both to feel longing and to conquer it.

Remember, but don’t dwell. We should not ignore the pain and the grief that we feel. Sure, we can distract ourselves to take our minds off the pain, but this does not help us. It only delays the process and the healing. We need to accept it, go through it, and eventually conquer it.

I know that this is not something which is in our power and that no strong feeling is under our control, least of all that which arises from sorrow: for it is violent and violently resists every remedy.

Sometimes we want to crush it and swallow down our groans, but through the pretended composure of our features the tears pour down. Therefore it is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it. For if it has withdrawn, being merely beguiled by pleasures and preoccupations, it starts up again and from its very respite gains force to savage us. But the grief that has been conquered by reason is calmed for ever.

Prayer

May all the cruelty of fate wear itself out and stop at me. Whatever you were destined to suffer as a mother and as a grandmother may I represent. Let the rest of my family flourish undisturbed. I shall not complain of my childlessness or my exile, if only I prove to be the scapegoat for a family that will suffer no more.

In my sister’s phone, I saw a message in the home screen. It said, “What would it take for the universe to give my family good health?“. I ponder on this sometimes on what she actually meant. Was she pleading for her own health? Or was she looking at her sickness as something that will protect her family in the future? I will never know the answer to that question.


The death of my sister was painful, but it was also painful to watch her decline and struggle through the physical and mental pain she was experiencing daily. She was not a perfect sister, wife, or child, but then again no one is. In the end, my memories of her was on how she supported us while we were still learning to stand on our own feet, and her fighting spirit.

I miss you, ate. Until we meet again.

However, whatever you do, inevitably your thoughts will turn to me constantly, and none of your other children will come to your mind more often, not because they are less dear to you but because it is natural to touch more often the part that hurts. So this is how you must think of me – happy and cheerful as if in the best of circumstances.

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