Dealing with Loss in Law School

Dealing with Loss in Law SchoolThis week we welcome back guest writer Alexandra Muskat to talk about how to handle loss as a law student.

Law school is hard. It’s exhausting, stressful, and time consuming, but life outside of law school doesn’t stop, and sometimes you have to figure out how to deal with unimaginable stressors. During my first year, my cousin passed away. We were a few years apart and hadn’t spoken in a long time – our ideologies being diametrically opposed – but we were family, and losing anyone, especially to suicide, is heartbreaking.

So, there I was, in my second semester of my first year of law school, dealing with a horrific loss and trying to study for midterms, apply for summer internships, and make it through the day without crying. This experience taught me how to cope. It taught me what I was made of and showed me the type of person I wanted to be. I wanted to survive, to process this death, and honor my cousin’s memory. But how? I knew in my heart my cousin had been hurting and chose to end his pain however he could, but I also knew that he didn’t want that for the rest of his family. And so, I chose to find a healthy way to process his death and continue pursuing my degree to the best of my ability.

Therapy

I am sure, if you’ve read my other articles, you are aware just how much I love therapy. I know there is a certain stigma around it – one I’ve never understood because it has only helped my life flourish – but I encourage you to push past that stigma if it exists for you. Talking to a third party, one who doesn’t know your family or have opinions about your life, is important in learning to cope with your loss. Therapists will encourage you to talk about the death, how it made you feel, and explain why it’s okay to feel the way you are feeling. Gaining the ability to express your emotions, and have someone actually listen, will help you continue to do school work or pay attention in lectures because your mind won’t be spending that time trying to cope as it has a designated time and place to do so.

Talk to the Administration at School

There were a lot of people in my class going through struggles outside of school, and very few of us thought to open up to the administration about it. I think the reason for that is we are taught to conceal and keep a confidence in law school, and I think that ethical education ebbs into our personal lives. After I told the administration of my loss (even when I told them during the first week of my learning difference), my classmates rolled their eyes and said I shouldn’t have done that. There is this fear that if you show any weakness it’ll come back to haunt you. But I think the real fear should sit in not saying something. If you say nothing, and your grades fall, or you start missing classes, the school makes an assumption instead of an allowance.

When my cousin passed, I immediately notified my professors. If I was on call, I asked to switch weeks with another student. I promised I would still come in, but I may not be as focused or able to follow along. But I promised, if I fell behind, I would catch up and nothing would be amiss on exam day. All of my professors understood. All of them. They even notified the administration and were allowed to tape their classes so that I could listen to them later, if I wasn’t able to make it, or I was only capable of sitting there and listening. These actions ended up helping other classmates who had experienced something trying during the semester and couldn’t gather the courage to tell the administration. So, don’t be afraid to speak up if you need help.

Don’t Use Substances to Cope

Law school is a place where substances of abuse travel the halls just as easily as legal pads and rolling backpacks. “I need a drink,” was a statement I heard at 8:30 am most mornings at school. It’s a scary reality that has only just recently been discussed and made evident with faculty and staff at law schools across the country. Using alcohol or illicit drugs to mask your pain will not help you cope. They will just perpetuate the feelings, making it harder to concentrate on important things – like processing your loss and getting back into the swing of school.

Take Time

Take time to process this loss. Every person’s way of grieving is different. Some get angry, some pretend it didn’t happen, and others allow their new reality to wash over them. I let my new reality wash over me. I worked on accepting it. I worked through it. But it took a lot of time. I was back to my regular study schedule within a few weeks of my cousin’s death, but it took over a year to come to terms with the loss my family sustained. It brought up memories of my cousin, the happy and sad ones, and memories of other individuals in my family who have died from suicide. And it still crops up in my mind today when I worry over family and friends who behave similarly to my cousin in the last years before he died. But this loss does not rule my life anymore. I finished that semester with very high grades, an internship to work as a law clerk for a Chief Justice, and proof that I could be resilient.

Going through any sort of loss in law school can have grave consequences for your education if you don’t allow yourself to ask for help. No one will fault you for needing help. No one will think you are less than. In fact, in my experience, most people will see you as courageous – brave enough to figure out how to cope and not succumb to the depression or apathy that can come from loss.


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About Alexandra Muskat

Alexandra graduated from Suffolk University Law School in 2017 and passed the UBE in all 29 states, not that anyone’s counting. She has a bachelors from Florida International University in English Literature with concentrations in Psychology and Creative Writing. In edition to working on her first novel, she works part time consulting in laboratory compliance

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