In Seneca’s 78th letter to Lucilius he shares his thoughts on illness and death as Lucilius was suffering several afflictions ranging from fever to seizures. The letter’s theme is the healing power of the mind and Seneca not only offers his personal experience with overcoming illness but offers counsel to Lucilius for a healthy body and mind.
“But as for me, my counsel to you is this, – and it is a cure, not merely of this disease of yours, but of your whole life, – Despise Death. There is no sorrow in the world, when we have escaped from the fear of death. There are these three serious elements in every disease: fear of death, bodily pain, and interruption of pleasures. […] You will die, not because you are ill, but because you are alive; even when you have been cured, the same end awaits you; when you have recovered, it will be not death, but ill-health, that you have escaped.” – Seneca
Over the last 10 days my entire household has come down with Norovirus. While my husband, daughter, and I, recovered earlier this week, my son fell ill last night. He started vomiting in his sleep and it continued for about 8 hours. I was there when it started and cradled him with bucket in hand for much of the night.
Today my son is feeling much better and has been busy building with his Legos much of the morning. He seems to have a good understanding of his condition and it has not impacted his overall demeanor. His only concern was what Seneca referred to as the interruption of pleasures as he had to miss school and could not eat like he wanted to, but even that seemed to be of little consequence. Seneca would be proud of him.
What I take out of Seneca’s letter is that while death comes for us all, we should despise it. Illness is not an invitation for death but a fight against it. When death does find us, it should be welcomed, as the measure of a good life is a good death. But until that very moment, good health of body and mind should be our primary focus and priority.