The festive period is a hectic time of year for many of us. It is a period of both joy and stress as we juggle commitments such as finishing up work, preparing for family visits or making it to the nativity play on time. But the holiday season can also be a particularly challenging time for those struggling with feelings of grief and loss. During the festivities, and beyond, it’s important to take some time to consider how your peers and colleagues are coping.

Different forms of grief

At LawCare we have a free and confidential support service where legal professionals can get in touch (by phone, email or online chat) and talk to someone who understands life in the law. We hear about a wide range of issues, both professional and personal, and there’s never a need to feel your problem is too trivial for you to get in touch.

Many people think bereavement only happens when someone very close to you dies – perhaps an elderly parent, partner, sibling or friend. In this situation, your organisation is likely to know about it and support is usually offered in the immediate aftermath.

Yet feelings of grief and loss can also arise when someone who is not particularly close to us dies. This could be a work colleague or client, opposing counsel or an old teacher. There are no rules about how people should feel when someone they know dies. It can be a huge shock and trigger memories of past trauma or bereavements. This can be harder to spot in the workplace, as people might assume they have no right to grieve someone they weren’t particularly close to and mask the true impact it is having on them.

We often associate bereavement with death, but feelings of grief and loss can affect us at other times. Where a parent has been diagnosed with a terminal or life-threatening illness, it is not uncommon to experience “pre-grief” and is particularly prevalent when a parent has dementia. This anticipatory mourning can occur over many years, with the additional stress of caring responsibilities often exacerbating the feeling. We also hear from people who grieve the loss of their career, or their physical health, even of a particular life that might have been.

Couples and individuals who have had a miscarriage may also experience intense grief, yet many people don’t understand the associated sorrow and may not consider this to be ‘valid’ bereavement. Men, especially, can find sharing the loss they are feeling after a partner has had a miscarriage very challenging in a work environment and managers should create an environment where everyone feels comfortable talking about it.

The loss of a pet can have just as profound an effect as the loss of any family member and can cause people to experience particular guilt if they were forced to have the animal put down. It’s important to show empathy towards colleagues and acknowledge their loss.

Whatever the source of grief, there will always be anniversaries and other occasions, like Christmas, which can evoke memories and feelings. It can be upsetting when loved ones are no longer part of family celebrations, and deaths that occurred many years in the past may feel raw and painful again.

Insights from LawCare’s helpline

From the death of a beloved pet to loss of a partner, LawCare has heard from many legal professionals about the impact grief has on their lives. Everyone’s experience of grief and loss is personal to them, but there are some common themes:

  1. Grief can lead to feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, and an inability to cope with everyday activities.
  2. Grief and loss can exacerbate other issues, so it becomes harder to cope with additional challenges. If someone is overworked and anxious already, grief and loss will augment those feelings. Similarly, if someone already finds the Christmas period busy and stressful, grief may cause them to dread it even more.
  3. There can be a lot of pressure to please at this time of year: a desire not to let anyone down and to live up to the (often unrealistic) expectations of society. There’s regularly a temptation to bottle up our emotions and do what we can to hold everything together until the new year. This approach can be exhausting and leave colleagues returning to work not adequately rested after the break.
  4. There is no limit to the length of time people need to grieve, or a set point when they are ‘over it’. Sometimes, a subsequent death can evoke memories of a previous loss, even if this was many years ago.

How to support colleagues and peers who may be struggling with loss

Here are some ways you can support colleagues and peers who may be struggling with loss during the holiday season:

  1. People often feel they don’t have the vocabulary to talk about death. A simple, ‘How are you doing?’ or ‘What can I do to help?’ can go a long way in letting a colleague know you care.
  2. Be mindful of holiday celebrations in the workplace. Some individuals may prefer not to participate in festivities or may need some time alone, but others may appreciate the sense of belonging and support. Also bear in mind that certain holiday traditions, or even conversations, may be triggering for someone who is grieving, regardless of the type of loss.
  3. Check on colleagues after the holidays. Grief doesn’t have a time limit, so continue to check in on colleagues and friends after the holiday season when its impact might become less obvious.
  4. Avoid making assumptions. Don’t assume you know how someone feels or what they need based on the type of loss they’ve experienced. Everyone’s grief is unique, and it’s important to listen and ask how you can be supportive.
  5. The symptoms of grief can sometimes be similar to those reported by people who have depression, so you might encourage a colleague to make an appointment to see their GP if you are worried about how they are coping.

Find further support

In some cases, grief can be overwhelming, and individuals may benefit from talking to someone. This could be through counselling or therapy, or simply by calling LawCare or Cruse.

  • Contact LawCare: Call 0800 279 6888 or email, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. There is also live online chat available whenever you see the red ‘Chat Online’ button on our website:
  • Contact Cruse: Call the Cruse helpline on 0808 808 1677 or find information on their website:

For further resources, please see ‘Dealing with bereavement’ on

The Samaritans can be reached on tel: 116 123 or email:

International helplines can be found at

Things I learnt as I navigated grief – Anon (Barrister)
1. Grief is both a universal experience and extremely personal. How one person experiences it may be completely different from another, but everyone at some point will experience it. I think at the Bar we are taught to believe that we are exceptional – that the case is lost or won based on our actions alone – and that mentality can creep into our personal lives too making us think that we aren’t affected by loss like everyone else, and nor should we allow it to affect us.
2. Following on from that, everyone will understand that you need to take time off. Clerks and solicitors and colleagues were all very understanding and simply accepted the work would need to be covered by someone else.
3. Which leads to me to point 3 – take more time off than you think you need. Because of the mentality at the Bar, we can feel guilty about taking time off because others depend on us. In reality, we aren’t that special, and in the aftermath of a loss you will not be serving your client’s best interests by powering on. It is the better decision for your client to return the case, if you can, to someone else.
4. If your colleague is grieving, meet them where they are at. I had for some reason insisted that I would do a hearing in an ongoing case, the day in-between my dad’s funeral and my grannie’s funeral (see point 3!). I asked a few members in chambers for a draft skeleton argument they had done in similar cases, to help me draft my skeleton. Everyone very kindly told me to take time off and not do the hearing but for some reason I was determined to do the hearing. In that moment, I just needed someone to send me a skeleton. Listen to where they are at, meet them there, and offer to support them whilst letting them make their own choices.
5. The brain fog is real. For the next six months to a year, I found my brain was just not as quick as it was before. It would take me longer to read through papers, to prepare a case, and to form an argument. I would have to strain to listen to other people as it seemed like I was underwater while other people were talking to me, and I couldn’t quite hear what they were saying. I would also get more irritated with people and felt my empathy would drain quicker. I had to have an honest conversation with my clerks about this and the capacity to take on new work. They were completely understanding, and we worked on an arrangement which meant I could do my best, but on a reduced workload for about five months. If you communicate clearly with your clerks what it is that you need, they will make it work. But they can only do that if you tell them what it is you need. I did not then have the double bind of feeling terrible and then feeling worse because I wasn’t good at my job.
6. I have no words of wisdom on the stages of grief. I understand they exist, but for me they tended to happen all at once, and did not provide me with a route map out of grief I hoped I could follow. I thought that if I could follow the rules on grief I could deal with it quicker – but that did not work. For me, grief still comes in waves, as time goes on, the time between the waves gets bigger. I find it’s the little things that are harder than the big things. I got married last year without my dad walking me down the aisle and everyone expected that to be a real trigger point. While that was emotionally tricky, it’s the everyday things like not being able to call him and ask about how to fix the wobbly bathroom door or tell him about a joke he would have enjoyed that are a kick in the teeth.
7. The biggest thing for me was understanding that I was now a changed person. One day I had gone to bed in a world where my dad was alive, and then next day I woken up in world where he was dead. I was now a person whose dad was dead and that was part of my identity. Finding people who understood that, helped. I would generalise and say that it helps to find someone who is experiencing the same type of grief – i.e. someone who has also lost a spouse/partner, sibling, parent, child. It can feel quite isolating for a time, being around a group of friends who have not experienced the same type of loss, so it’s good to find people. I also found reading about people who were experiencing grief helpful. A few friends bought me Olivia Potts’ A Half Baked Idea. She recounts her time as a very junior member of the Criminal Bar whose mum died and how she used baking to heal. It helped to read about people experiencing the same thing as me, in the same environment at the Bar. It also meant that when I found it really difficult to explain to my now husband how I was feeling, I could just give him the page number in the book for him to read and say – ‘yeah that’ – when I couldn’t find the words.
The Bar is full of people who will support you, if you let them.