Grief and grieving: How to cope with loss and aggravators

In Virginia, family members who lose a loved one through the negligence of another are entitled to file a wrongful death action under Virginia Code §8.01-50. What often surprises people about wrongful death actions in Virginia, is that the damages that can be awarded do not include the pain and suffering of the deceased. Instead, damages in a wrongful death case are primarily confined to the loss suffered by the family members remaining after the death.

gloomy romantic graveyard

What wrongful death damages are recoverable?

Per Va. Code §8.01-52 damages recoverable by loved ones include:

  • sorrow
  • mental anguish
  • solace
  • compensation for loss of income
  • medical expenses
  • services, as well as funeral expenses.

Lawyers presenting a wrongful death claim will need to spend time with the surviving beneficiaries to properly understand their loss and present that loss to the judge or jury. This may sometimes involve exploring deep feelings of loss, sometimes buried, but is necessary to effectively convey the sense of the loss to the strangers on the jury.

grieving woman

What are the five stages of grief?

One aspect of sorrow and mental anguish is grief. Grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss. It can feel all-encompassing, and when it follows the loss of a loved one, it may be compounded by feelings of guilt, and confusion.

In her seminal book, On Death and Dying, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross discussed the five stages of grief that most people are expected to experience: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance; but not all people experience all five stages or process grief in that order.

What are grief triggers?

Regardless of the order of the grieving process, many grieving people experience “grief triggers” when reminded of some event or feeling emotionally tied to their lost loved one. Even after the intense grief of an immediate loss has faded, an event or a memory can trigger those old feelings of grief. Counselors call these “grief triggers” or more recently, “grief aggravators.” Birthdays and anniversaries are common grief triggers. Songs, smells, foods, even places that remind the loved one of times shared with the deceased can be grief triggers.

Grief triggers are part of the natural grieving process. According to Sarah Kroenke, a grief counselor in Minnesota, “In the clinical world, [grief triggers] are not viewed as a step backward, but rather just a natural and normal part of the grieving process.” Grief counselor Jana DeCristofaro notes that grief triggers perform a useful service by reminding us “of the reality that the people in our life who had died meant something to us. They played a meaningful role in our lives and that they continue to play a meaningful role in our lives even if they are not here in their physical form.”

According to Camille Wortman, professor emeritus at Stony Brook University, grief triggers are difficult to avoid and can occur even years after the death. The key to dealing with grief triggers is to understand that they can be anticipated (anniversaries and birthdays, for example) and to create a plan in advance to address the feelings. Therapy support groups, calling a friend, listening to music, exercise, and meditation are some of tools that people can resort to, as part of the plan to deal with grief triggers.

Thus, while grief triggers can be disturbing by forcing us to re-experience the pain and anguish that we felt in the months after the death, they can be helpful steps in the grieving process if managed properly.

Further, in the legal field, for those whose loved ones were lost because of the negligence of another, these grief triggers can help a jury to understand the full extent of the loss suffered. If you have lost a loved one due to the negligence of another, you should contact a lawyer to help you get through the complicated legal process, so that you can focus on dealing with your loss.