Experiencing Grief in Law School

Experiencing Grief in Law SchoolThis week we welcome back guest writer Zoila Sanchez to discuss surviving grief during law school.

The loss of a loved one can be difficult to process. When loss strikes while you are in the middle of law school, you may want to hit the pause button so that you can properly grieve. Generally, we get a few days to gather ourselves before jumping back into the swing of things, which is a harsh reality as there may be a lot of feelings hitting you all at once.

If you find yourself facing the loss of a loved one as a law student, here are a few tips to help you along the way so that you can feel the comfort and support you need to heal from your loss:

Honor Your Loved One

When life continues on after your loved one has passed, it can be difficult to accept. Going back to routine and life before your loved one passed away may cause you to experience a level of guilt, as though you are leaving them behind. The best advice I received when I lost my grandpa during the first year of law school was to do things to honor and remember him as I adapt to life without him. I started looking at the dreadful experience of returning to class and studying intensely as a dedication to my grandpa who was so proud of me when I was admitted. Similarly, you can dedicate the things you need to do as a way to honor your loved one’s memory. It reminds me of when athletes dedicate a game to a beloved player. If you have an exam coming up, dedicating your efforts to a loved one’s memory can be both special and surprisingly motivating.

Find Support

You may be hesitant to share what you are going through with others, especially if you are already a private person. Depending on where you attend school, the culture may be openly welcoming and supportive, or it may be more challenging to navigate where you can go for help. The best way to gain support is to communicate your loss with supportive classmates, staff and professors.

For example, your law school office of student affairs can be a great place to start. I recall reaching out to my school and receiving helpful advice and assistance such as recommendations to inform my professors right away. Since I was brand new and just a couple weeks into my first semester, staff offered to communicate my situation to all my professors. As time went on and I formed mentorship from professors, I learned how welcoming they can be with their students during office hours, and I learned to not be intimidated to speak to them.

If you are not sure who to turn to, it is a good idea to ask a resourceful student for their recommendation. As a 1L, I leaned on upperclassman I met through student organizations to ask their best advice, and I am glad I did!

Feel Your Feelings

Grief can manifest in various ways such as feeling depressed, angry, sad, and even shocked. You may randomly become saddened and cry for what seems like no reason. It is important to allow yourself to express and feel your range of emotions. You may already have an outlet that works for you such as walking, jogging, yoga, drawing, etc. It is a good time to explore what avenue will help you to release heavy emotions. After my personal loss, I signed up for boxing classes. I didn’t think I would have the time for it, but it ended up being an incredible outlet for me and made me feel emotionally strong and able to tackle challenges outside of the gym.

Seek Professional Help

If your loss is causing you a serious inability to focus, sleep properly, illness, depression— among other serious symptoms—don’t hesitate to seek the help of a mental health professional. For example, there are psychologists you can locate on Psychology Today who specialize in grief and loss.

If you have health care coverage concerns, you may find a free or affordable resource. Some graduate schools offer mental health services with your tuition, so be sure to check out your school’s Student Counseling Center. In my case, I did not have health insurance coverage that semester and a psychologist made a discounted payment plan for me. When there is a will, there is a way!

One Day at a Time

The grieving process is tough, but remember you are tough too—you are a law student after all! You are capable of finding support, comfort and healing while also making yourself proud academically and professionally. Remember to pace yourself by taking things one assignment at a time, and one day at a time. You are learning, growing, and overcoming so be patient with yourself and your progress.


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About Zoila Sanchez

During law school, she served as a Legal Clerk with the federal government at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Counsel to the Inspector General in Washington, DC. Currently, she works for a health and business law firm. She enjoys spending down time mentoring students sitting for the bar exam through the American Bar Association Council on Legal Education Opportunity program and taking it easy with her three poodles.

Ms. Sanchez holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stony Brook University, a Master of Public Health from the University of Arizona and Juris Doctor from Hofstra University.

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