On the Nature of Grief

“The most meaningful thing someone said to me after my father’s death was the following: ‘be kind to yourself. This phrase, although simple, is truly powerful. You may be angry, depressed, tired, happy, manic, etc. This is all okay. Allow yourself to feel. Do not be hard on yourself…There is no timeline for loss.’”

I received that email early the morning after I had learned that my father had passed away in the fall of my 1L year. It was from a 3L who I barely knew. And yet rereading the email today, I realize that not only was he right about the whirlwind of emotions that comes after loss, but how badly I needed to receive the message when I did. 

It is one of those things that is never talked about, and yet when I brought it up to friends, even professors who I barely knew at the law school, I always received that reassuring, comforting nod: I’ve been there too, and I know what you’re going through. 

That is why I wanted to write about my experiences coping with grief. Death is one of those things that unites us all. Losing a loved one, whether unexpected or not, hurts. And yet, until the pandemic, for many it was rarely talked about, especially for people my age who had yet to lose someone close in this early stage of life. 

During the past two years, I have experienced both forms of death: unexpected and expected. Nonetheless, it has taken me all of this time to write about my experiences. I originally wanted to write about coping with grief during the height of the pandemic—a time in which many people have been suffering. If there can be a silver lining to the past year and a half, it has been how discussions about grief have been brought to the forefront of our personal lives as we have comforted each other in our time of need. Sadly, I was not able to get myself to put pen to paper until now, ongoing proof that my grief persists. (To this point, my family still mourns on the same day every month.) In fact, because none of my losses were Covid related, I think my story shows the necessity of facilitating this discussion outside the time of a global pandemic. For those who needed this message earlier, I apologize. 

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People First, Lawyers Second

“Mary’s gaze fell on Henrietta’s feet, and she gasped: Henrietta’s toenails were covered in chipped bright red polish. ‘When I saw those toenails,” Mary told me later, “I nearly fainted. I thought, Oh jeez, she’s a real person. I started imagining her sitting in her bathroom painting those toenails, and it hit me for the first time that those cells we’d been working with all this time and sending all over the world, they came from a live woman. I’d never thought of it that way.’”

As part of the summer reading before my high school biology class, we were asked to read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. The book offers a fascinating take on the ethical issues surrounding the first immortalized human cell line, discussing the injustices at the intersection of class, gender, and race within the American research and medical system. What most resonates with me from the story – even years later – is the excerpt above. When Mary Kubicek, a lab assistant, is performing the autopsy on Henrietta Lacks’ body, she notices Lacks’ bright red painted toenails. For months up until that point, Kubicek had been focused on the scientific aspect of the HeLa cells and how significant they were for advancing medical breakthroughs. In that exact moment, she grasps the personhood and humanity of the woman whose body lies in front of her. 

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2L: Does It Get Easier?

Into the fourth week of 2L, I’m still waiting for it to be “easier than 1L,” as I’ve been told more than once. At BC Law, students are back on campus full time since the Covid-19 outbreak. For many of us, balancing in-person classes, work, student leadership, and free time is a new challenge. My recommendation for anyone who hasn’t started their 2L year yet is to avoid unnecessarily overloading your schedule. I’ve outlined a few tips that apply to classes and extracurriculars that are helping to ease the stress:

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1L Guide: What is a “Gunner”, and How Can I Stop Being One?

As we creep ever further into the month of September, new students are coming up on the one-month mark of their first semesters at BC Law. Remember back in August when no one was pestering you about what the district court ruled, or whether there really was a breach of duty? Alas, syllabus week is over, add/drop has expired, and now there is nothing but the next deadline, the next reading. 1Ls have gotten a sense of law school’s rhythm and flow – what the workload is like, where the classrooms are, how cold calling works, and so on.

They’ve also got a sense of who the gunners are.

Let’s define terms (this is law school, after all): a “gunner” is someone who takes up too many class resources for themselves – in particular, too much class time. A gunner goes beyond the scope of ordinary academic or competitive behavior in order to succeed in law school (or simply appear to be succeeding in law school), all while violating the most important rule in the unwritten student code: probably don’t behave in a way that makes all of your peers think you’re a bit annoying.

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Cold Called on Day One: Expectation Versus Reality

During law school orientation, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Daniel Lyons walked us through what we should expect from our first day. During this session, he showed us the infamous scene from Legally Blonde where Elle Woods experiences her first class. After we watched Woods get kicked out for not being prepared, he assured us that, while the movie gets some things right, it also gets some things wrong.

What did it get wrong, according to Dean Lyons? Our professors likely wouldn’t be as suave. Also, while they will call on you, they won’t pick on you with that degree of malice.

However, what it gets right is that there will be assignments before even the first day, and you will be expected to have done them. There also will be cold calling, probably not at first, but soon.

While this orientation session was surely meant to ease our anxieties mere days before we would begin a daunting academic adventure, it only made me more nervous. Experiencing anything like Woods’ first day seemed like a downright nightmare, and the only thing I didn’t have to worry about now was suave professors with outward malice? I started losing some sleep.

But after experiencing it firsthand — and living to tell the tale — I can assure you that the anticipation was far worse than the reality. 

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A Look Back on the First Semester of Law School: Words of Wisdom from Current 1Ls

When I started law school, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I had worked for a few years, and it was strange to think about being in a classroom and having homework again. Plus, I knew that law school was going to be a completely different beast than college, with things like the curve, outlining, and cold calls. Luckily, BC Law fosters an extremely supportive environment, including by assigning upperclassman mentors to 1Ls, and tries to give you all the tools you need for success early on. But most of what I figured out about law school was through trial and error. Therefore, I reached out to a few 1Ls with the following question to see what they learned from their first semester at BC Law.

You’ve survived your first semester of law school. Looking back, what advice do you have for your first semester 1L self?

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The Value of an Externship: My Experience at Tripadvisor

BC Law places a heavy emphasis on experiential learning, beginning your 1L year. But as a 2L and 3L, you have the opportunity to dive even deeper into practice through externships or clinic experiences. You can learn more about the clinic offerings at BC here, but because I decided to take the externship route, I’ll reflect on that experience.

Through BC’s Semester-in-Practice program, students are given the opportunity to secure job placements in Boston or beyond for course credit. The number of hours per week depends on the placement and the student, and all students must participate in a weekly seminar as well. I decided to spend last semester at Tripadvisor, where I worked (virtually due to COVID) 4 days a week.

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Good Vibes Only…Right?

I like to think I’m a generally positive person: I take time each day to note what I’m grateful for, I laugh a lot (maybe too much), and I try to maintain an upbeat demeanor. When the pandemic hit, I wanted to make sure I kept my positivity, so I took the free Yale University Science of Wellbeing course. I also started listening to podcasts like Ten Percent Happier and The Science of Happiness. Yet, as the year comes to a close and I reflect on 2020, I can’t help but think that, frankly, a lot about this year simply sucked.

Throughout the pandemic, there seemed to be a message of “good vibes only” created on social media and online, with many people touting the pandemic as ‘a blessing in disguise.’ Now, I will be the first to point out the benefits of gratitude and positivity; I know they work wonders for both emotional and physical health because they personally have for me. At the same time, I do yearn for my life to go back to “normal.” While I was able to discover silver linings throughout the year, the reality is that I didn’t want this pandemic in the first place, and I don’t want to feel guilty about feeling this way.

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I Can’t Wait Until This Is All Over: Three Ways To Respond To 2020

I proudly spend some of my time between Zoom classes, case briefs, and outlines, scrolling through Tik Tok while attempting to escape the pressures of 1L. I may browse Facebook and Instagram every now and then, too. I’m often left laughing at unbelievably clever people from around the world as they try to inject some joy into our current existence called 2020.

One of the recent video trends shows people preparing to “turn up” on New Year’s to mark the end of this infamous year. Most people would agree that 2020 has been unusually chaotic. We’ve experienced a global shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, heard Black Lives Matter chanted from every corner of the country, and we’re currently living through one of the most polarizing elections in modern history. Not to mention, our society lost some impactful people: Rest in Power John Lewis, Justice Ginsburg, Chadwick Boseman, Kobe, and Mr. Trebek, just to name a few.

It’s safe to say that we are living in transformational times.

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Mending the Political Divide

I think we can all agree that last week was unbearable. As Election Day turned into Election Week, we earnestly refreshed our news feeds while struggling through case readings. As of Saturday, it was finally over (kind of). I know many of us are tired of the political discourse, but there’s still work ahead. As members of a law school situated in an area that voted overwhelmingly in favor of Biden, it might be easy to settle into our bubbles and set aside the nation’s immense division. Unfortunately, that mindset won’t help to find a solution. In this post, I share a few proposed remedies to mend our polarized society. I’d like to include the caveat that I haven’t necessarily implemented all of these myself. 

First up is the work of René H. Levy. Levy is a neuroscientist and author of the book Mending America’s Political Divide, where he utilizes his scientific expertise to propose practical solutions. Levy attributes the increasing political divide to our primitive psychology. He breaks this down into two innate instincts: political tribalism and political hatred, both of which result in a profound loss of empathy. Levy’s action plan highlights impulse control and empathy skills as two main methods to rebuild and coexist:

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