In the interest of maintaining control, grieving lawyers are often tempted to take their emotions, bundle them up, and metaphorically shove them into a closet to be dealt with later. After all, we often have to keep our emotions in check in order to remain functional at our jobs.
Of course, while we might feel superhuman at times, lawyers are in fact people—and people need to grieve when they’ve experienced loss and heartbreak. Grief, however difficult, is a necessary emotion, one that even the fiercest of lawyers must deal with on occasion.
Let’s look at why it’s important to accept grief, as well as some advice for how to handle your own grief and that of your clients.
Grief is Normal
Let’s get this out of the way first: Grief is normal. It’s a healthy way to deal with loss. While no two lawyers will grieve in exactly the same way, grief often incorporates myriad other emotions (e.g., denial, sadness, anger), and can last a long time. And that’s okay! And, for that matter, grief is also an entirely acceptable response to all kinds of loss, whether you’re grieving the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship, the loss of a pet, or even the loss of a lifestyle.
Grief is a Process
What’s most important to accept is that grief is a process that involves going through stages, and the painful emotions you’re feeling will eventually subside. It’s important to continuously remind yourself that what you’re going through is normal and to avoid berating yourself for not feeling better, faster. Psychologists often compare the process of grief to that of a rollercoaster ride, with many highs and lows along the way. Of course, while you might always miss a dear friend who has passed away, you can take comfort in the fact that your acute feelings of grief will lessen, likely within a few months. Grief looks different for everyone and is very personal in the way that it expresses itself.
Grief Can be Managed
Fortunately, many lawyers are able to continue to function at work and at home while coping with grief. There are various ways you can get help, from your local lawyer assistance program, to a therapist or counselor, to your faith. Vulnerability is generally not a lawyer’s strength, but admitting feelings of vulnerability and neediness is a key part of the grieving process. Of course, just as the experience of grief is personal, so too is the best way to manage it. For many, simply turning to close friends and family members and speaking openly and honestly about how they’re feeling can make a big difference. For others, support groups or psychologists offer the best path forward. What’s most important is to take care of yourself while you’re grieving, by doing your best to eat well, sleep enough, and engage in activities that help make you feel whole.
What About Grieving Clients?
You learned a lot in law school, but chances are, none of your coursework taught you how to handle clients who are both seeking advice and stricken with grief. There’s no magic solution to working with a grieving client, but here are three things you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Be aware of how you handle others’ grief. Others’ losses might trigger your own painful memories, so be prepared to learn how to keep your personal experiences separate from the work and the support you can offer your client.
- Acknowledge the loss. Many lawyers will make an already awkward situation more awkward by getting right to business and avoiding any mention of a client’s loss. Instead, make clear that you know this is a painful time, offer sympathy, and be comfortable with your clients’ tears.
- Know the warning signs. Everyone handles their grief differently, but if you notice red flags in a client, like signs of drug or alcohol dependency, extreme and exaggerated emotions, or preoccupation with death or suicide, refer them to a mental health professional.