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GPSolo Magazine

GPSolo July/August 2023: Disabilities in Law and in Law Practice

Grief and the Transformation after It

Julie T Houth


  • The purpose of healthy grieving is not to “get over” the death of a loved one but to integrate the experience into one’s present life.
  • In this column the author thinks back on the life and legacy of GPSolo Division Chair Scott LaBarre, a legally blind lawyer who was a strong advocate for individuals considered disabled.
  • The author also reflects on her time with her six-year-old Siberian husky Maximus Decimus, who passed away after a battle with cancer.
Grief and the Transformation after It
James Osmond via Getty Images

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As lawyers, we are usually defined by our job. We do what needs to be done to zealously advocate for our clients. But lawyers are still humans. While we may seem invincible at times, we are not. We may appear to manage our emotions better because sometimes we must. However, at some point in our lives, we all experience grief. Grief can come in various forms. It can stem from the loss of a job, a relationship, one’s health, or a loved one. I often like to define what something is to better understand how to discuss it. According to Merriam-Webster, grief is a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” or “a cause of such suffering.” Trauma usually derives from grief. Trauma is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury.” Trauma and loss change us. They can leave scars, and those scars change how we are seen and/or how we see things. Change is inevitable, but transformation during or after grief is a choice. Deciding to heal, grow, and thrive after any loss is optional.

Live in the Now to Cement Your Legacy: Scott LaBarre

I’ve often brought up legacy because I believe it’s important. Legacy is linked to history, something I value greatly. It’s important to remember the past because it can help guide you in the future. Legacy is defined by Merriam-Webster as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” I’ll cut to the chase. When I first proposed this issue, I thought about our late GPSolo Division Chair, Scott LaBarre. While I knew of him, I did not know him personally until he kindly extended an invitation to me to participate in his Chair Planning Meeting that took place in San Diego in March 2022. I was so honored that he would consider me as important enough to participate in planning his year as Chair. Scott was Chair-Elect at the time. During that brief planning meeting, I got to know Scott and quickly learned about his significant impact as a lawyer and bar leader on a local and national level.

Scott was legally blind and a strong advocate for individuals considered disabled. He said that when he decided to become a lawyer, he realized he could not relate to anyone. He had to navigate foreign territory as a legally blind lawyer. He understood that representation is important and that he needed to step up as a leader for those who were in his situation. Scott reminded me that we all have unconscious bias and that we must be conscious of this bias. Scott also believed that one of the best ways to combat unconscious bias is through storytelling, something that also aligns with my beliefs.

Scott’s planning meeting in San Diego inspired me to propose this issue because I realized that articles and publications in general on topics related to disabilities in law and in law practice are scarce. He inspired me to further shine light on topics that don’t often get covered in bar publications. Scott was incredibly charming, and his kind yet funny personality shone through his interactions with our colleagues and me. Although Scott had a long list of accomplishments, I believe he most valued the relationships he had with others. He genuinely cared about the well-being of his extended GPSolo family. The grief our Division has felt with the loss of our Chair this bar year cannot be quantified. If you knew him for even a fraction of his life, he likely made a meaningful impression on you. I take any loss hard, especially if the person had done something consequential that affected me in a positive way. I know I speak for the rest of the GPSolo Division when I say that Scott was an absolute joy to be around, and his personal and professional legacy will live on in our GPSolo Division and in us. His love of life continues to inspire me to do everything I can to be an impactful lawyer and bar leader.

Take Time to Grieve and Transform

In early June of this year, my six-year-old Siberian husky, Maximus Decimus, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. According to the tests, the cancer had spread to at least six of his other organs, and there were several large masses in his stomach. I was absolutely devastated. I am still shocked by this diagnosis. He was a relatively healthy, active dog until he showed signs of deteriorating health—he had stopped eating consistently for a week before our visit to the emergency pet hospital. The veterinarian advised that Max had days to live. For about a week after our visit, Max showed signs of fight, improvement, and life. Unfortunately, a second opinion confirmed Max’s diagnosis, and we decided to take Max under palliative care. There was no cure for the cancer, and there were no future treatments advised. Even so, it did not feel right to cut Max’s life short so long as he was not in pain and he showed signs of happiness; we decided to let Max go when he was ready to go. I thought we had more time together because he showed signs of improvement, but his health deteriorated quickly toward the end of June.

On the evening of July 2, 2023, Max really struggled with his breathing, and we didn’t sleep all night. I had a deposition that next morning (that I actually took and did well) and checked up on Max during my breaks. He refused to take his steroids and pain medicine, and he had not eaten since the previous morning. After the deposition, we managed to get him to take his medications, and we spent time together, but we knew this was it. He went for one last car ride along the ocean and beach, and we picked up all his favorite things to eat. Before we got to the vet, he passed away in my arms. While this was probably the best way for Max to leave this world (he hated the vet), I was completely traumatized. He glanced at me one last time, and I felt his last breath. By the time we got to the vet, Max was lifeless in my arms, and I didn’t have the heart to get up. Max passed away on July 3, 2023, less than two weeks before his seventh birthday. The unconditional love I received for years from my pet just disappeared. I have never felt pain like that before, and I’d like to think I’ve encountered and endured a lot of trauma in my life that would prepare me for something like this. I was wrong. I bring this up because it doesn’t matter what kind of loss you go through. Loss is loss, and any loss requires time to grieve. There is no real preparation for loss. Grief cannot be ranked.

Loss of any kind can hurt. It takes time to heal, and the grieving process is different for everyone. The more it hurts, the more that loss likely means to you. However great the loss and all the trauma that comes with it, you need to allocate time to grieve properly, even if other obligations in your life, such as work, demand your time. I am still going through this process with the loss of Scott. And with Max, I am just taking it day by day. I understand that our time together after his diagnosis was, in a sense, borrowed time, and I am so grateful for it, even though there were so many challenges caring for a pet with cancer every single day. We brought Max’s ashes home a week after he passed away. I still have moments where my soul feels broken. Even with all the pain and uncertainty of the future, I personally chose to transform for the better after (and during) any loss because life is too short not to live it fully in the happiest, most fulfilling way. Our loved ones would want us to. The pain I feel from the passing of a loved one shows me how much they meant to me. And the pain is a reminder of the happy memories we shared. The purpose of healthy grieving is not to “get over” the death of a loved one but to integrate the experience of the death of a loved one into present life. So, try to be positive, push forward, and show gratitude. As long as we are still alive, we can choose to be impactful members of our communities and help cement our own legacies while carrying the legacies of the ones we lost.