Adding Value: Grief & Loss
Updated: Jul 22, 2019
This is part of my series where I share some tips as a first-gen Indigenous lawyer with a non-conventional pathway to law. Take what you like and leave what you don’t like. This is your journey—carve out your own pathway on your own terms! You can read more here. You can buy me a coffee here if you found anything that added value to your own journey, legal or not. No legal advice here.
Grief and loss sucks but you know what doesn’t suck? Overcoming challenges on your own terms.
Alright, I said I would be doing this thing on a monthly basis, and I fell behind. I had a bunch of changes happen in my life and I made some pretty big decisions. Such decisions include the decision to move and to apply to the Alberta bar (finally!). As some of my readers may know, my application to the Ontario bar was significant and similar disclosures must happen in Alberta. As I say, “Let’s do this!”
I also broke my ankle in March. That was an eye-opening experience, namely that I realized that I wanted to make MORE changes in my life. Come April, I let my employer know that I did not wish to extend my contract and I opened my own practice in June. It’s been a wild ride. The most liberating feeling is knowing that I own my own schedule. Imagine that! Owning your own schedule!
In light of all this, I learned that grief and loss happen in many ways, as I have been learning over the past several decades.
Over the past year, I have been communicating my desire to quit drinking. I have also been trying to prioritize my own health, with everything from sleep to the kind of food I eat. It is a privilege to even be able to do this all because having lived in extreme poverty, I know what it is like to have to decide where your next meal will come from, or where you will sleep next. I also know how easy it is say that you should take care of your health and you can likely manage your stress better. I get it. This is not why I am writing this.
I thought to share what I have done during times of grief and loss (which also includes a lot of stress and managing other challenges).
In my third-year of law school, I received a phone call, several to be exact. At around 6am, I answered my voicemail. I don’t remember what it said but I ended up getting a call from my mother while trying to access my voicemail. My mom said that it was my dad and that it wasn’t good. All I could blurt out was, “I fuckin knew it.”
Because I did know it.
I did know that someone was either dying or sick. Why else would my family be calling me several times at 6am? My mom said that I had to get to Toronto soon. I also had a board application due. I was invited to apply to a board opening and several people asked me to apply. The application was due that day. That was my agenda for the day, until I received the phone call. I was able to secure a flight after a friend covered the costs until I could reimburse them. I arrived to Toronto late that same day and after I submitted my application. My dad passed the following Monday morning at 6am, first thing in the morning. I thought I could do it without any struggle but I returned to class that week and I ended up delivering an assignment for trial advocacy. I had to re-do it. It was a mess. I was a mess. All understandably. I ended up dropping a class and securing an independent research project before all of this. This was a blessing. Less time at school and more time on what I love doing, writing and researching.
What did I learn from all of this?
I learned the value in making space for life to happen and learned the value in understanding what you can control, and what you can’t control.
For nearly an entire year, I could not have people randomly call me, including family and friends. I asked that they email me first (because I also could not receive texts without experiencing anxiety). The people that I could ask to respect this was my family and friends. The random calls? I put my phone on do not disturb for a long time. I forgot that I even did this that I forgot to turn it off (and I thought my phone was broken haha!). I also had to step back from many of the projects that I was working on. I could not take on any more projects.
Then, I received notice that I was under a good character investigation by my regulator, four months after my dad passed. I respect this process, completed it and was eventually called to the bar. The issue with this process was that I would have gladly provided all the required information in advance from court informations, FOIs and court transcripts, but my regulator did not provide such information was required until about six months after I applied to become a lawyer licensed in Ontario. Such fun! I had to return to a time filled with violence and exploitation, on top of the grief and loss I was already going through.
Stacks, on stacks, on stacks. Of grief and loss that is.
After overcoming all of this and many more hurdles in my lifetime, I learned that I work best when I can manage what is happening in my life. There are three questions I ask myself when experiencing such things:
What is happening?
What is in my control (and what is not in my control)?
What can I do to make life easier for myself right now?
Thank you decades of counselling.
I usually ask myself these questions when I am going through something difficult or uncomfortable, and I usually journal my answers. I know journaling is not for everyone. I get it. But it’s helped me immensely especially when counselling is not an option for a range of reasons, location, costs, racism/whorephobia from counsellors, etc. I had to learn how to make do with what I had or what I could get my hands on and almost anyone can access a journal and a pen. In my many years of journaling, this same pattern appears:
I write about what is happening.
I write about what I can’t control and what I can control.
I write about what I am going to do next to help make my own life/day easier.
Now, I did not always enjoy journaling, and one of the main reasons I did not enjoy it was because I did not feel anything tangible come from it. This was until I worked with an amazing psychologist and who reframed journaling for me. That was several years ago.
Today, I am still working on trying to be better at communicating boundaries but I am also learning that not all boundaries have to be communicated. Learning is a lifelong process and I am here for it.
But take it from me, you do not have to undergo decades of counselling and trauma to learn these skills.
As I say, take what you need from my writing and take what you don’t need. Do you and do it well!
Setting boundaries is hard but if you frame boundaries in a way that centres your own values and needs, it will likely be easier to communicate. Make boundary setting a priority if you are struggling with overcoming certain challenges. And, most importantly, you do not have to communicate all your boundaries for them to be clear—you just have to work on upholding and adhering to them. Note: boundaries should be flexible and accommodating, or else you may set yourself up for failure. Failure is also okay. There is always a new day!