Tag Archives: Love

Learning to Take the L – Loss, Grief, and the Law

This piece has been simmering and marinating in the back of my mind for awhile now. Meeting a mentor last week who had at a crucial juncture shared with me his story of loss and this time shared his current work to reframe challenges as opportunities inspired me to finally put this down in writing.

So too did this piece where Stephen Colbert, who lost his father and his two brothers at the age of 10 shared some lessons on loss and grief with Anderson Cooper, who similarly lost his father at the age of 10, a brother to suicide, and at the timing of this filming, just recently his mother.

Cooper talks about a letter that Colbert wrote to him following the death of Cooper’s mother wishing him ‘peace and grief’ and Cooper talking about how how he is coping with the help of others and how death has changed the trajectory of his life.

Both Cooper and Colbert also shared their experiences of life pre-loss and post-loss. Colbert talks about this ‘big break at the cable of my memory.’

Before I get into my experiences I want to define ‘loss.’ I know loss – to it’s extreme meaning is death but there is certainly more than that. For others, loss can be as simple as failing a course or dropping the ball on a big assignment. I don’t think comparing losses does any good nor does such a process take into account the fact we all have different relationships with loss. Some of us are used to it through our life experiences; stories of lives started in refugee camps, foreign lands, or with an early chapter of loss of family member. Some of us suffer from PTSD from traumatic experiences and violence. Others have had loss through breakdown of relationships with close partners or other family that continue to linger in day-to-day life today.

However, and to certainly generalize but with some basis, I don’t think lawyers handle ‘loss’ as well as the general public. We are a group who tend to represent a pathway of some past privilege, in worlds where loss (losing) can seem so foreign. We come places where ‘things just don’t go wrong’ – a pathway we drew up and executed to a T. Our perfectionism as a profession and ways we address problems (usually through ‘covering our own ass’, or ‘risk mitigation’) doesn’t allow us to comprehend and understand loss in a way we need to grow and move forward.

Personally, I haven’t talked too much about the time I dealt with loss and almost purposely so.  I tried to give a talk at the Federation of  after it happened (probably too prematurely) fumbling around without having prepared any proper notes. I lost my train of thought and likely rambled something incoherent – the wounds being still so fresh. I can tell you that the Law was incredible during my most difficult times. Not the actual content itself but the people and the experiences from it. I was able to chat with countless colleagues, like the mentor I met this week, who were able to open up to me on their own experiences of losing a parent. From the unspoken and the feared, it became counselling. In fact, it was my introduction to the power of counselling before even seeking professional help to tackle it. I also was grateful to have the love of my partner, my best friend, my mother and sister. There were certainly a lot of moments that tested those relationships but we’ve become stronger through it. Again, some gratitude (of the type Colbert discusses) through grief. I remember reading ‘When Breath Becomes Air‘ and several blogs/podcasts to prepare myself mentally for that moment. I still was terrible unprepared but I think somewhere it added some foundation. It was the first time (in awhile) I remember being able to read non-work materials because it turned into words that were that important.

I went back to work two days after my pops passed. My pops was always someone who never celebrated successes, nor wanted a big deal made of things. I thought about his ‘business as usual’ and ‘never take a day off’ approach to things and followed his lead. Did I go back to work too early? Probably. Did I go through a proper grieving process? Probably not.  In hindsight, I would have taken more time. Yet, for me work gave me an escape. Today, I need an escape from work on some occasions to handle the effects of loss.

The biggest and most negative effect of loss and how it may affected me – and it was shared by Colbert and Cooper – has been the breakdown of memory, the compartmentalization of the past. My memories pre-2016 are nowhere as vivid as my memories since. I cannot piece together some of those moments. Much of my three years of law school have been blurred into probably a 60-second clip of 5-second memories. Truly the shards of glass and flashes that Colbert speaks to. I can barely remember my pops as an unsick bastion of strength and confidence and that grasping of fleeting memories is scary. It (has) worsened year by year.

On the flipside, it has given me a short-term loss cycle. I think it has allowed me to work through daily losses or mistakes quicker. I recognize, forgive, blame myself, but move forward in a very short period. I still have trouble grasping loss or mistake (a trait since I was a kid) but I am trying to breakdown my walls and let others in to help. One thing I recognize (and something I am working on) is not burdening the femmes in my life (including my mom, spouse, sister, and various colleagues) with these but to seek more comradery within men’s circles to chat about this as well and put aside our usual ego-dominate conversation.

It is ironic, as in my legal work, I push and press my clients to discuss their trauma, to open up, to try and detail moments and feelings in ways I cannot do myself. I still straddle that line of experience of being able to say ‘I know what you are going through’ but realizing that grief and loss is so different for each of us that I truly cannot, nor should, carbon copy my experiences on others. The gratitude I do have from grief is that it has opened me to be able to listen to the grief of others and spot it or the roots of it. I have not a psychologist but I have been able to understand the psyche behind unspoken words, reading between the lines, and some of the ways anxiety, stress, despair, depression, and fear can affect us. I don’t know if I would have seen it without my own personal experiences.

At the same time, because of how sensitive I can be to grief and suffering I partner with more senior practitioners and others who may be better at driving the legal analysis and are less on the client-facing side. I take short-term financial L’s (co-work with a senior colleague or work with an assistant) so we can have space to discuss how to separate law and emotion, prepare strategy and help address the burden (and responsibilities) of representation.

A lot of my work moving forward, through this early-mid stage of my career, is about ‘going on,’ not avoiding suffering but embracing it (paraphrasing Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air). Recognizing and appreciating the double-edged sword that is being more sensitive to the negative emotions and feelings of suffering (never being able to become ‘indifferent to it’ as some have tried) but that this is motivating for one’s work. That through tough days we should as Genia Ginzburg writes in Journey Into the Whirlwind (which I read in high school and re-read after my pop’s passing) still live and find someone each day to be grateful for.

I can truly say that I have found gratitude, through grief. Gratitude that the power of our profession that it is one that allows us to address the grief of others, of our clients. Moving forward that my work will always encompass an honest approach towards that grief and a vulnerability that I will share with my clients to create an environment where we can grow through our challenges together.

To close, I also want to offer myself and my time to anybody who is grieving or going through loss. I know I will be but a mere stranger. I don’t hold a psychology degree nor will I inundate you will self-help material. I can just assure you that I will be a listening ear to your hardship and struggle. Law is built off of confidentiality, privacy, but the search for resolution and understanding – platforms that too much of our world today cannot co-exist.

Meanwhile, personally, I will still move forward to learn to take more Ls. Holding the hands through someone you care about into the fire is hard – but ultimately it is our job and a resiliency, we need to build up and learn. Mistakes, losses, and grieving from those mistakes and loses (those we can control and those we can’t) is part of our job description.

I thank you all for reading through this and jumping into my world. I’ve show you a lot (some would say too much) but I do so with the hopes of de-stigmatizing the conversation around loss, grief, and the law.

With love through gratitude,

Will

 

I Want What Timmy Has – A Short Narrative

I haven’t wrote a fictional, lighter piece in a while so I thought I’d put together this short narrative. Like many stories there are elements of my own life embedded into it. I am also sure many of you can relate to some of the streams of written thought I go on. I’ve made a commitment to myself to do more non-fiction writing in 2019 so here’s a quick one!

 

I stared at him across the room. Timmy. My part time friend and part time enemy “frienemy.”

Like always he was the centre of attention. Table packed with the most attractive girls from our class, the guys from the hockey team, and today a few young admirers I recognized from last night’s big game.

I did not have the luxury of such a fan base.

Like every other noon o’clock it was my daily period of solitude.

Today my friend Chen was sick – that or his parents took him back to China again. The rumour going around was that all us had the Asian flu. Including me, who I note never ever had stepped a single foot in the motherland, Asia.

It usually would just be us two – talking about, well mostly it was a silent Buddhistic ritual. His mom was a good cook – I would ask him what he was having. It usually looked and smelled better than mine. That and he had the triple layer thermos that neatly separated his rice, meat, and vegetable dishes. My own dented thermos carried a mystery mix or yesterday’s leftovers and some hidden surprises my pops whipped up at 7am. He was up early every day to make our lunches.

It wasn’t that I hated Timmy. If this was PE (Phys Ed) class we’d still share occasional laughs but half the time he may have been laughing at me. See I wasn’t the fittest boy in class. While rap fashion was in and I was of above average weight, the extra large hoodies and pants didn’t help. They were off the discount rank and I didn’t know better. The colours usually a mix of vibrant yellow, orange, and white accentuating how out of shape I was. The gym was a foreign place of growth stinting potential – one of the many places and spaces, the rules dictated I was forbidden to visit.

Timmy went into his brown paper bag and pulled out his sandwich. It looked like Black Forest Ham. I never much liked sandwiches but I was jealous of the neat tinfoil wrapping. His lunch was a series of hidden surprises. Sometimes he would gift a piece to his favourite admirer, who would woo and give him a peck on the check or one of those deep hugs that I desired – the hugs the members of the hockey team would give to each other after a nice goal, or when greeted by their fans after the game. All I had were the handshakes of a good game after a tennis match – usually one I would also be excluded from, riding the pine (or the place behind the chained fence, as it usually was in our tennis games).

Exclusion was a natural concept for me in these years. Excluded from my culture, from Timmy’s culture, from the school culture. I took refuge in my own little world of written words and verses, of Tupac and Em, much to the chagrin of my deeply conservative-music classical music listening family.

Today Timmy took out a cylindrical round thing out of his bag. I could tell by it’s colour – green that it was gold to me. The bane of my existence. Everything I wanted. I had tried asking for it before. Mom’s would tell me – ‘why the heck would you eat that when you eat the actual thing itself?’ and ‘do you think we’re a white family? – it’s too expensive’

I craved the sweetness, the granular, smooth texture. To me it was finer than the fanciest cake (not that we had any options but the over dry, fake peach fruit cake of every birthday ever). Timmy opened it up, licking the lid, blissfully unaware that the three girls surrounding were watching the tip of his tongue with eyes wide of excitement as they were already engaged in second base. Whatever, second base was – for me it was just Roberto Alomar.

A white plastic spoon came out of his brown paper bag. I stared down at my own chopsticks, which in my lack of attention paid had turned into one chopstick and one game of pick-up sticks waiting on the floor.

Timmy was smiling, he blue at his bleached blonde hair – spoon caressing carefully the corners of the plastic cup.

This is a memory I always carry with me. I carried it years later when I was in a foreign land (where what Timmy was having was entirely foreign). One of my classmates at the time had her family from Mid-West USA deliver some packages of the stuff. It was so damn good, I went for thirds and skipped dessert.

But, more than that, it represented a jar of memories, a cup of perfection of a culture that I never could fit in but damn right wanted to. An object of affection to a soul that at material times both crave it and lacked it.

I want what Timmy has. To be honest I still want it today.

I want that damn Apple Sauce.