Catastrophic injuries, as well as death of a loved one or one's own mortal illness, propel one into a process of grief. Counselors list several stages of grief that one must go through in order to come to grips with a sobering new reality. Listen to recording on grief and loss at TruckSafety.org.
Some of the stages most often cited may be summarized as follows:
1. Shock and denial. "This can't be happening! There must be a mistake. It will be OK tomorrow. It's all a bad dream!" Brief denial may buffer us mentally and emotionally from the shock of facing our new reality. It helps prepare us for the next stage of grief.
2. Anger turned outward. We may be angry toward the loved one who has died or suffered grievous injury, or toward the person who caused the injury. In the legal process, we often begin working with people who are at this stage. But see Ephesians 4:26 : "Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun go down on your wrath." One must acknowledge anger, deal with it, and work beyond it.
3. Depression (anger turned inward). The grieving person may become depressed and blame himself for what has happened. Such self-blame is often irrational, and hardly ever productive. The resulting depression has some of the same symptoms as clinical depression, like altered sleep patterns, diminished appetite, diminished motivation, crying, feelings of hopelessness, and physical symptoms. This depression is different from clinical depression in that it is a temporary feeling -- lasting from weeks to a few years -- that one should eventually work through. Professional help is needed if one cannot work beyond this depression, and if there are any suicidal feelings.
4. Bargaining. In this stage a person will often try to bargain with God. They may promise to do anything for God, if He will only take the problem away.
5. Sadness. After the grieving person has accepted reality, he may feel a deep sadness. Memories may bring tears. However, as with the healing of a physical wound the pain usually decreases in intensity over time. One day, the good memories will again predominate.
6. Forgiveness, resolution, and acceptance. This phase is the goal of the grieving process. Although occasional feelings of anger or sadness may recur at this point, it is often possible to resume and enjoy as normal a life as physical limitations will permit.
A trial lawyer's job is not the same as that of a psychologist or pastoral counselor. However, it's good if your lawyer has empathy for the emotions you are experiencing.
Our job in pursuing civil justice for people who have suffered a catastrophic loss is not to enable them to sit around and feel sorry for themselves forever. It is to provide the means for them to become all that they can be, with what is left of their lives and abilities, and to support their quality of life in the areas in which they are not able to provide for themselves.
Most jurors like positive people who heroically strive to return to a productive life, despite daunting obstacles, better than those who focus on the negative and drown in self-pity. That is a very practical reason to work through the stages of grief toward a positive and constructive response.