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Mental Health Awareness Month - Part 1: Dealing with Loss and Grief during Litigation

ben white 165045 unsplash - Mental Health Awareness Month - Part 1: Dealing with Loss and Grief during Litigation

Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I want to highlight the importance of dealing with loss and grief—issues that affect many plaintiffs and their loved ones throughout the course of litigation.  

As an attorney handling asbestos mesothelioma and other personal injury cases for over a decade, my role is often part zealous advocate for my clients and part amateur grief counselor.  

Unfortunately, there is no cure for mesothelioma, a rare fatal cancer caused by breathing and inhaling asbestos fibers and dust.  According to data published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), mesothelioma patients have a median survival of one year from the date of their diagnosis.  Thus, sadly, at some point during the course of the litigation, my clients often succumb to their terrible illness.  I then represent their survivors, typically a widow or widower and surviving children or other heirs of the Estate during a time when these individuals are grieving the loss of their loved ones.

Of course, feelings of loss and grief are not limited to plaintiffs in asbestos litigation.  Many plaintiffs’ personal injury cases are premised on loss and grief. For example, a plaintiff who becomes paralyzed in a recreational accident may grieve the loss of his ability to walk and the loss of the life they led before their injury; a plaintiff who loses her hand due to a work-related injury may also experience feelings of loss and grief; and the family members of a patient who dies as a result of medical malpractice or nursing home abuse and neglect will also be confronted with these feelings.

For anyone dealing with issues of loss and grief, it is important to know that you are NOT alone.

There are many helpful resources out there, from support groups to individual counseling to online forums.  There is also no limit to the amount of books and other support available to help you get through difficult times.  Just some of many examples include information on the Hospice Foundation for America website, the book “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy,” co-authored by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and the author of “Lean In,” and Adam Grant, following the sudden death of Sandberg’s husband in recent years and the related “Option B” website, and this reading list and list of other resources for children dealing with loss and grief.

Although I am not a licensed mental health professional, there are a few things I have learned not only from observing the experiences of others as a part of the work I do each day, but also from my own personal experiences with grief and loss, including the death of my Dad when I was 16 and suffering recurrent pregnancy loss as an adult: (1) I do not think you ever stop grieving the loss of a loved one or the loss of hopes and dreams; it gets better and easier to deal with over time, but it never fully goes away; and (2) I wholeheartedly believe the analogy many make about needing to secure your own oxygen mask before helping other airplane passengers is so true, especially if you are a caregiver (whether the care you are responsible for providing is for a spouse, partner, children, aging parents, friends, pets, or clients and colleagues at work).  If you do not take care of yourself and your own physical and mental health and well-being, you risk not being physically and/or mentally strong enough to take care of others when needed.

Finally, if you or someone you know is ever experiencing a mental health crisis, please immediately seek help by contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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