Trial lawyers represent people who have lost a loved one as a result of some negligent act. While they are familiar with the analysis and preparation of the liability case, the damage case may be a challenge for them. In order to present the damage consequence of a wrongful death case, the lawyer needs to understand what the client is going through. Psychodrama is a helpful way to do this when properly conducted. Here is a brief outline of some aspects of death trial lawyers need to understand. This is a part of a client memo we provided our clients to help us discuss the issue.
Purpose of this Article
Over many years of representing clients in death claims the one constant is that the survivors think their feelings and what they are experiencing is unique to them. They may think there is something wrong with them for not dealing with the death better. But the truth is the researched experiences of people who survive the death of someone they loved, go through the same reactions and stages of grief.
The Stages of Grief
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is a well-known expert on grief and the five stages following the death of a loved one. She has described this in her book. Research shows feelings from death happens in phases as one comes to terms with the loss. You can’t control the process, but it’s helpful to know the reasons behind your feelings. While all people experience grief differently there are many common reactions as well as a series of stages of grief in the process. . Here are the common stages of going through grief:
Every person goes through these phases in their own way. You may go back and forth between them or skip one or more stages altogether. Sudden reminders of your loss, like the anniversary of a death or a familiar song, can trigger the return of grief.
The anguish of dealing with death
Death brings with it powerful feelings of confusion, anger and anxiety which are mixed with depression and grief no matter how hard the person tries to not have these feelings. They invade thoughts and sleep. They are accompanied by feelings of shock and numbness believing it happened. Being preoccupied with thoughts about the deceased is natural and common. So are symptoms of wrenching gut feelings, sighing, frequent crying and a feeling of being empty inside.
Survivors often experience these kinds of feelings and symptoms following a death of a loved one:
Death will shatter the normality of home life, family rituals, holidays and recreational pursuits. It impacts relationships with friends and family. It impairs sexual intimacy. In addition to all of that, survivors often question things they took for granted before such as: (1) the world is meaningful and operates according to principles of fairness and justice, (2) that one is safe and secure in their world or (3) that people can be trusted. Instead, the death shakes these fundamental assumptions to their very core. The survivor cannot absorb what has happened because the loss doesn’t make sense. The tragedy demonstrates that life is capricious and unpredictable.
For people who are religious, death can evoke a crisis of faith. Spouses may question a loving God who would allow a death of a loved one. Parents may be angry towards God for taking an innocent child or a loving parent or husband. It is difficult to maintain the view that God is a protector when there is a death because, as one survivor said: “Whenever I go to church, I see my husband’s casket.”
Innocent comments can trigger feelings of grief and crying like: ”Are you married?” Even the question “How many children do you have?” can cause anxiety if you have lost a child. As one mother has said about that question: “I couldn’t say two because one was dead. I couldn’t say one because that would be an insult to my dead son. I didn’t want to say two, but one is dead.”
Dealing with Negative Communications
Friends and others think they are doing a favor by encouraging advice to “get over” the death and move on, but they have no idea what you are going through. Their negative comment about the grief often times makes it worse. While trying to help, they say things like “it’s time to get over it, to resume a normal life and move on” But, this only makes the survivor feel guilty for having natural feelings about the death. It mistakenly suggests the difficulty in doing so is a personal weakness or lack of will power, when it is a natural part of enduring a death of a loved one.
Other unhelpful advice to the survivor might include these:
·Tears won’t bring them back
·Time heals all wounds
·You had many good years together
·I know how you feel
·You should get a dog, their wonderful companions
· They died immediately and never knew what happened
·They are in a better place
It was God’s will
·They are better off dead. It was a blessing in disguise
While well intentioned, these ideas are in conflict with human nature and beyond the ability of the survivor. Good intentioned people are just unable to know what human suffering is unleashed from the death of a loved one and the uncontrollable human reaction it causes.
Survivors also find that sometimes people avoid them after a death. It usually is because they don’t know what to say and are uncomfortable talking to the survivor. One’s own extended family, may avoid talking about the deceased because of their own dealing with grief. These comments and experiences may cause the survivor’s spirit to be diminished a little more.
Death Impacts Home Life
Leisure activities may suffer because now it involves having to engage alone in what was a previously shared activity. Even doing the activity alone can cause anguish because it evokes Sa vivid memory of the one who is missing. Going back to favorite vacation place can be painful for the same reason. The family structure is often disrupted. The atmosphere at home may become gloomy and tense. Family members may become irritable and impatient. Individual family members who are struggling with their anguish may affect the others. Each member is troubled by their own pain and the awareness how much the other family member is suffering as well. The home contains endless reminders of the person who has died, even if the personal belongings have been removed. It is even not uncommon for family members to avoid being in the family home or it may cause them to even move out.
The relationship between family members can suffer. In cases involving the loss of a child, a father may distance himself from their spouse who is distressed, because he can’t talk about without pain. A mother, in that situation may feel a need to talk about the tragedy with the father when he isn’t able to deal with it. Men and women deal with grief in different ways, and this can cause conflicting children express their grief differently than adults and often manifest challenging behavior at a time when the parents are least able to deal with it. Surviving children may ask difficult and painful questions. They often do so at times when the parent is least able to deal with it. When death involves a child, parents usually become overly protective about the safety of the surviving children and cause conflict as a result.
The Impact of Death is Long Lasting
When death involves a sudden loss the survivors may never really fully recover. In the case of a sudden and unexpected death, the survivors are left with all the things they would like to have said to the deceased and all the unsaid things they wish they would have told them. The shock of a sudden event for which they had no opportunity to prepare leaves them with unfulfilled relationships with the deceased.
While one really never gets fully “over” the death of a love one, survivors can learn to go on to liver normal lives. This may involve experiences of painful upsurges of grief . These experiences may continue for many years or even lifetimes. However, survivors can learn to deal with it better over time. Survivors should be prepared for triggers of reminder that cause events of painful memories such as:
All of these events may evoke a strong regret or memory about the loved one. In the case of a dead child, these events may be as reminder that their child will never graduate, go out on date or marry. It can be a renewal of the fact none of their dreams for the child will be fulfilled. This kind of reminder may continue to reverberate throughout the survivor’s life. The emotional wound doesn’t fully heal because the survivor lives with the experience of the death through daily events of life all the time. As a result people feel lost inside – “just going through the motions.” While they try to put up a good front their lives are turned upside down as they attempt to cope. Worse, there is no “quick fix” for the impact. They are the reality of death impact for the survivors. However, one can learn, over time, how to deal with these stages of normal grief.
There is no solution for the total elimination of grief over the death of a loved one. There is inevitable pain with all the suffering that goes with death. Understanding the steps of grieving which all people go through at least assures us that our reactions to death are not abnormal or strange or unique to just them.
There are a variety of ways to get professional help. This includes grief counselors, groups or other professional consultation. People are sometimes reluctant to obtain professional help because of concern about losing control over their feelings or due to not being able to stand the pain from talking about it. But oftentimes professional help is the right solution when the grief becomes overwhelming and one’s daily existence a nightmare.