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Loss During Traumatic Times









Loss During Traumatic Times


Losing someone you care about is traumatic. Losing someone you care about during a pandemic is even more traumatic. How do we cope with traumatic losses when we are already stressed?

 Assist’s psychological services provider Dr. Brian Forbes has worked extensively with individuals suffering grief and trauma over his career. “Lawyers and students have lost friends, family members, colleagues and clients to COVID, accidents, suicide, terminal illnesses, and other causes. Many ask how to cope, and how they can know if their reactions are normal.”

 When people experience loss or other trauma, they may experience a wide range of reactions, from insomnia to difficulties focusing, to mood swings and sadness.

 Lawyers and other professionals who use Assist and similar programs frequently ask how to tell if they are reacting “normally.” While there are a range of reactions that are “normal,” there are also reactions which are red flags. The chart below illustrates the range of normal reactions and danger signs:



Normal Reactions

(for which professional and self- help is available, if needed)

Danger Signs

(for which professional help is highly recommended)


  • Shock
  • Numbness
  • Psychological pain
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness
  • Yearning
  • Relief
  • Emancipation
  • Mood swings
  • A time lapse where two or more days are not recalled
  • Denial for more than a month
  • Persistent physical pain
  • Depression (i.e., inability to get out of bed, inability to eat, inability to carry out basic hygiene practices)
  • Physically violent actions
  • Destructive actions
  • Persistent anxiety attacks
  • Recurrent suicidal thoughts
  • Refusal to see people


Physical Sensations

  • Hollowness in stomach
  • Tightness in chest and throat
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of energy
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Oversensitivity to noise
  • Depersonalization



  • Disbelief
  • Confusion
  • Preoccupation with deceased
  • Sense of presence
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations: visual and auditory


  • Sleep disturbances
  • Absent-mindedness
  • Helplessness
  • Felt loss of control
  • Loss of appetite
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dreams of deceased
  • Sighing
  • Restless over-activity
  • Behaving uncontrollably for a period of time
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Continuation of symptoms for more than one month


A sudden loss is traumatic and shocking, and the current societal restrictions make it harder for us to engage with support due to isolation. Traditional rites like funerals and memorial services, which can be a source of comfort, may not be possible, which adds another layer of loss.

If you know of someone who has experienced a traumatic event, you are encouraged to reach out to that individual. Don’t be afraid to step forward and spend time with that individual. This sends a powerful message that someone cares about them. You may be the person who, in speaking with them, may guide them to the help they need. According to Dr. Forbes, an act of kindness also helps build your own resilience.

Dr. Forbes urges people to reach out for professional help if they aren’t sure whether their reaction is normal or whether they are coping well. “The earlier someone comes for counselling, the more easily the issue can be addressed. The worst thing that will come out of coming for counselling is reassurance that you have good strategies that might need minor tweaking.”

Dr. Forbes and his counsellors regularly provide assistance to individuals experiencing trauma and grief. While there isn’t a roadmap for navigating loss and grief, there are basic processes we can use. First off, when we suffer a loss, we need to recognize that we have been through a stressful experience and that we will have a psychological response. Refusing to accept one’s feelings can delay recovery, so it is important to seek out support from other people and talk about our feelings.

Recommended coping strategies include:

  • Sharing your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust
  • Avoiding trying to numb your pain with alcohol or drugs
  • Gradually gaining control over painful and frightening feelings and memories
  • Recognizing survivor’s guilt and that it is okay to have survived
  • Substituting less painful memories of the person or event
  • Engage in physical activities (without overdoing it)
  • Getting back to work when it is realistic to do so, but do not push yourself
  • Allowing yourself some diversions and distractions—try to schedule at least one pleasurable activity per day
  • Knowing that working through traumatic stress is a lengthy process that will take time
  • Making time for relaxation activities
  • Remembering that you are having a normal reaction to an abnormal experience.

Assist can provide support to lawyers, students (both law school and articling students) and dependent family members through its programs:

  • Free, professional, and non-judgmental counselling services. Each lawyer, student and eligible family member has access to 4 counselling sessions per person per issue per year. Call 1-877-498-6898 to book an appointment (Monday to Friday, 8 am to 4 pm)
  • 24/7 crisis counselling is available with a senior registered psychologist by calling 1-877-498-6898 and following the automated system’s prompts
  • Peer support—talking to another lawyer who has been through a similar experience—can be arranged by calling 1-877-737-5508 (Monday to Friday, 8 am to 4pm)
  • Mindfulness and yoga programs, online, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 12 noon. Please see
  • Join our Red Mug Coffee Circle on Mondays from 12 pm to 1 pm if you are feeling isolated and in need of community. All are welcome at this friendly and caring group. Learn more at

Assist will be hosting a noon-hour webinar called “The Gift of Mental Well-Being” on December 10th in which Dr. Forbes will review key principles of Psychological First Aid to build your comfort level when providing support to individuals in distress or crisis. This webinar is free. Email to register.

If you would like a customized Psychological First Aid session for your firm, please email Assist’s Executive Director, Loraine Champion, at to discuss alternatives, including cost.