Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

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pkt63
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Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby pkt63 » Mon Mar 07, 2011 1:54 am

My father has been spiralling downward for a long time, and I am his only relative. Excuse if this seems dispassionate, but I just want to think about how to handle various outcomes.

So I've been getting different stories from different doctors, anywhere from weeks to months to "as long as he stays on dialysis he'll be fine" for my father's prognosis. Mostly, I have been preparing to deal with this within the next 5 months, prior to the start of law school, but since I talked to the doctor who told me the latter, I have realized I better be prepared for this to occur while I am in law school.

Have you dealt with this kind of thing during law school? I know it would be very different for everyone...closeness of family member, level of responsibility, etc. My best friend (currently a clerk for a fed judge) suggested I think about deferring law school. But I really hate to consider this. I have already left my job (other reasons) and would just spend the extra year ruminating on the awfulness of it all and be one year older (I'm already 33) when I begin law school. So I feel like this is not the right route. And besides, what if he lived till 2013? I can't put my life on hold forever. However, given his prognosis, and the fact that it is so critical to do really, really well during 1L, I am also very worried that if something did happen, I could ruin an entire semester, and ultimately skew my future opportunities.

What would you do/did you do? Thoughts and advice is welcome from anyone, experienced or no, in these issues. TIA.

Razorback2010
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby Razorback2010 » Mon Mar 07, 2011 2:27 am

pkt63 wrote:My father has been spiralling downward for a long time, and I am his only relative. Excuse if this seems dispassionate, but I just want to think about how to handle various outcomes.

So I've been getting different stories from different doctors, anywhere from weeks to months to "as long as he stays on dialysis he'll be fine" for my father's prognosis. Mostly, I have been preparing to deal with this within the next 5 months, prior to the start of law school, but since I talked to the doctor who told me the latter, I have realized I better be prepared for this to occur while I am in law school.

Have you dealt with this kind of thing during law school? I know it would be very different for everyone...closeness of family member, level of responsibility, etc. My best friend (currently a clerk for a fed judge) suggested I think about deferring law school. But I really hate to consider this. I have already left my job (other reasons) and would just spend the extra year ruminating on the awfulness of it all and be one year older (I'm already 33) when I begin law school. So I feel like this is not the right route. And besides, what if he lived till 2013? I can't put my life on hold forever. However, given his prognosis, and the fact that it is so critical to do really, really well during 1L, I am also very worried that if something did happen, I could ruin an entire semester, and ultimately skew my future opportunities.

What would you do/did you do? Thoughts and advice is welcome from anyone, experienced or no, in these issues. TIA.


I lost my mother when I was a junior at Arkansas, so I'll just be blunt since I know you're looking for answers and not sympathy. It depends on how much time you think you would miss. If you would miss a week of class you will be fine. Two weeks would be really really really difficult to make up and still know/understand what was doing on. If you ended up missing more than two weeks you would probably need to take Ws in all of your classes because it would be impossible to understand what was going on after missing that much class.

Professors are understanding and will be willing to help, but you can only miss so much class and still be successful. If he might live until 2013, enter school as scheduled and then figure it out.

Sorry for what you're going through--I know it's tough.

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DeeCee
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby DeeCee » Mon Mar 07, 2011 3:28 am

Yes. A very close, very young family member of mine had a mystery diagnosis that went on from my junior year of college until last October in my final grad school year (Oct 2010)--so essentially it went on for four years. In this time period every time he had a seizure we thought we were going to lose him because the doctors had no answers. The seizures kept getting more intense and kept leading to long stays in the ICU. I would travel back home a lot during this time.

Then, this family member had a seizure 4 days before my LSAT administration in Oct and went into a coma. I thought about not taking the test, but I went anyway because my mother pushed me, despite living 6 hours away from her. I scored about 8 points lower than my PT scores. In turn, I wrote addendums, and now I'm going to end up attending the school I wanted to attend, despite the lower score.

Anyway, although my family member's coma through the month of October was tough, it caused attention and his doctors finally discovered he had a rare heart problem. He has had extensive surgery, including placement of a pacemaker/ defibrillator, and he has been fine since. Although it was tough, I don't regret my decisions. I took off a LOT of time to spend with him, though I never withdrew from school and luckily still kept a 3.95 due to compassionate professors, so things turned out fine.

My advice is you have to do what is good for your heart and your life. For me, family is so important and if things kept going downhill, I probably would have taken off time from school and postponed law school for a year. However, it didn't. Listen to your gut emotions--if you don't have a lot of time with a family member you have to think about if you will regret the time you didn't spend with your them when they are gone. For me the only thing that lasts in life is family, so I have particularly strong emotions towards this, and I would favor enabling your schedule (not forever, but for a little while) to spend time with a sick family member.

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blerg
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby blerg » Mon Mar 07, 2011 2:35 pm

Not a family member, but I have been dealing with my own mystery diagnosis this year (1L). I haven't needed to miss class for anything except a plethora of appointments, and most of them have been scheduled as to not miss class. I have great friends who provide excellent notes. All of my professors have been supportive and the Dean of Students has been invaluable. HOWEVER, the emotional toll of just running around to deal with something that isn't law school is incredibly stressful in and of itself.

Before anyone says you can have a life, etc, I do have a dog, boyfriend, good eating habits, daily exercise, etc. My life is not normally consumed with going out with my classmates, etc (I'm a bit older and it's not really my style).

It's just a different kind of stress and one that I have very much come to resent and find tiring.

Good luck in whatever you choose to do.

simplyelle
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby simplyelle » Mon Mar 07, 2011 6:10 pm

My dad died during first semester 3L. The dean of students pretty much arranged everything for me. I took incompletes in all my courses and took my exams second semester. However, the timing of it was such that I basically missed exam week and a half week of classes and then just went on winter break. I think it would have been different had I needed to miss a month of school in the middle of the semester. When he was diagnosed with cancer during 2L, I met with my dean of students and she gave me a bunch of options including becoming a visiting student at the law school in my hometown for a year and taking a leave of absence, my dad didn't want me to do that though so I stayed in school and tried to go home a bunch to visit.

I have to say, it was really really really hard. Not only the emotional aspect, but just the technicalities of being in law school and apply for jobs during this time. You need to think about the fact that you aren't going to be able to convey on your resume or cover letter what was going on during these times that you're gone (if you have to leave during the semester or take incompletes). Getting your grades later than your classmates can have an affect on your job search, and being stressed and grieving can have a huge affect on your grades as well. I had to go home all the time 2L year and I think it had an impact on my grades. Ultimately, I'm still graduating on time with decent grades and a clerkship, but the fact that I missed so much nearly made my journal comment not able to be published and if the timing had been slightly different I could have ended up not graduating on time. And unless you get an interview, employers aren't going to know about the illness/death in your family and are just going to be confused by any resume gap. You also will lose time that you could be applying to jobs.

I can't really tell you what to do, but I can tell you that dealing with this during law school sucks soooooo much. I'm sorry for your situation, and I wish you the best.

rose711
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby rose711 » Mon Mar 07, 2011 7:23 pm

I would advise you to focus on your dad and defer school if at all possible. If all the responsibility falls on you, you can't do law school at the same time. There is no way you will do as well in law school as you would otherwise. Figure out what your options are so that you can attend school later, after dealing with the loss of your father, and then giving school your full attention.

I'm sorry you are in this position and I know it is really hard, but don't make it harder by insisting on going to school while you are managing all the issues with your father. In my opinion, only people who haven't been to law school will tell you that you should try to do both, as you are the only relative in the picture here.

Talk to the deans at your school and get advice from them. Don't let well-meaning people push you into undertaking more than you should be asked to handle.

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Gatriel
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby Gatriel » Tue Mar 08, 2011 2:50 am

A guy who sits next to my in Property this year almost lost his mom. He was out for 3 weeks of school. He talked with the deans about what was going on, and still did his reading, and had classmates forward him the notes, and lectures in digital format. I would assume you could do something similar.

nifer327
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby nifer327 » Tue Mar 08, 2011 9:38 am

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Last edited by nifer327 on Thu Mar 10, 2011 6:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.

nigelfrost
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby nigelfrost » Tue Mar 08, 2011 10:08 am

A friend of mine lost his father during the second semester of 1L year a week before finals. The school allowed him to take all his exams pass/fail a few months later in the summer. While that certainly made things a little more manageable, it took him months to "get back to normal." Because his parents were divorced, he ended up being the main executor of his dad's estate, a burden that distracted significantly from school.

At the same time, how are you supposed to prepare for something like this? Doctors can give timelines, but those are only estimates. Another friend of mine was told by three different doctors that his father had 6 months to live. That was two and a half years ago and the man shows no signs of dying anytime soon. I apologize if this comes of as cynical, but if you deferred school, there's always the possibility that your father goes on living for months or years. In which case, you've lost a year of your life doing . . . what? . . . waiting for your dad's death? Is that something your dad would want you to do?

I say go to school and deal with tragedies the same way we all do: grieve, mourn, and, ultimately, keep on living.

PolemisLopez
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby PolemisLopez » Tue Mar 08, 2011 1:35 pm

My mother became gravely ill during my 1L year. I will skip the details, but I was out of class for more than a week in early October. I then spent the next two months covering what I missed and planning/studying for exams. I ended up doing very well.

OP, this is a very difficult decision, but please know that it is not impossible to deal with such tragedy while doing well in law school. Personally, I refused to take extensions on midterms and LRRW deadlines, but I was thankful the school offered them. Just know yourself, and know how you cope with stress. If you're the type that can handle this kind of thing and still maintain your school work, go for it. But if you're not or you do not know, then I would recommend laying off for a year or two.

Good luck.

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eandy
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby eandy » Tue Mar 08, 2011 1:39 pm

I think you should defer.

Talk to your deans. My school's attendance policy is NOT forgiving to these types of things. 6 absences are allowed a semester. Pretty much no matter what. Then 1/3 a letter grade off (or more) every day after that. Or you can repeat 1L.

pkt63
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby pkt63 » Tue Mar 08, 2011 8:42 pm

Thanks for sharing your stories and thoughts, all. It's amazing what people can get through with determination and a little support from the campus admin. I still haven't decided of course. And there is time yet. All things being equal, I would defer, but I left my job a while back (diff story altogether)and am currently just volunteering part time. Which gives me most of the freedom I need to run at. A moments notice (helps that I'm volunteering for a friend and she is understanding) but I am also bored as hell. I can't imagine another year of this. Obviously there are options and things that are just unknowable. But these posts have helped me with how to think about it. Thx much

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king3780
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby king3780 » Wed Mar 09, 2011 12:33 am

My dad died in an accident during the middle of spring semester 1L. I missed a couple weeks of class, but my profs were understanding with missing class. It was tough getting caught up and my grades weren't great, but if I had taken a leave of absence I might not have wanted to go back. Your situation is different since you haven't actually started. I'm just a couple years younger than you and I believed that my father would have wanted me to press forward. Maybe you should ask your dad his opinion.

kshaw
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby kshaw » Wed Mar 09, 2011 7:08 pm

I'm sad to say my father just recently passed away after battling cancer for the last two years and I'm in the second semester of my 1L year. I missed the week after it happened, and then went back. But so far I haven't done any readings, haven't been able to focus in class. The professor and dean of students have been a tremendous help and extremely supportive. But still, they can only do so much. Despite what everyone says, not doing well your first year isn't a kiss of death and, besides, do you really want to work for people who aren't even interested in an explanation for a sudden drop in grades?

Losing a parent is awful. There is no way around it. But it will be awful no matter what you're doing, whether it's in law school or working full-time. Your 1L year is really tough, but don't get scared away. People exaggerate - you will still have a life, and you will still see your family.

I know I had talked a little about this with my parents before starting law school. My dad wouldn't hear of my deferring law school on his account, and he was very proud of me for starting. I know it made him happy to see me in law school, instead of being miserable in the crappy job I was working before. I also go to school in the same town my parents live in, so it was easy to go visit. My dad's cancer was a very big reason for choosing to stay here rather than moving away for school, and I certainly don't regret that choice at all.

I'm so sorry to hear about your father, but I hope you do start law school. You can never know what is going to happen, we had thought my dad would be around for at least another few years and would see me graduate. I don't know if I would have done things differently had I known what would happen and, trust me, I've driven myself crazy with the "what ifs." Do what makes you happy, and it will make your dad happy.

AverageGuy
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby AverageGuy » Wed Mar 09, 2011 10:31 pm

KShaw speaks truth.

My Dad's in a nursing home with a terminal illness, and I'm a 2L. Kind of the same boat in that we don't know how much time he has. I spend time with him when I can but he seldom knows when I've been there. Yes, there are days when it gets to me. On the other hand, I can't defer my life until the end because we don't have a clue when that will be. He could live one year or five years. There have been one or two medical emergencies, but they've hit during breaks and have only lasted a few days. I go to school near enough that I can spend an evening or weekend day with him as needed.

I just do the best I can. My Dad was a great guy, and I have no doubt that he wouldn't have wanted me to stop life and do a death-watch (same as KShaw). In a way, the fact that he has an extended illness is preparation. When the end comes, it will be a good thing for him to end suffering as opposed to being a tragedy (although I know there will be a bunch of emotions that I can only imagine now). The worst part of this was the beginning of his illness since that's when both he and I were figuring out everything.

I suggest that you find out what his support system would be without you. Does he have any siblings or other relatives? Does he have a nursing service? Does he have a neighbor who will help out? What is a realistic prognosis? Even if you sat with him every day, there will be times when you get a cold or other illness and can't be around him. And don't forget to get his health care power of attorney, durable power of attorney and living will. Check titles to property, and status of Last Will & Testament. Make sure he does the paperwork...and go to law school if it will make both of you happy.

rose711
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby rose711 » Wed Mar 09, 2011 11:07 pm

AverageGuy wrote:KShaw speaks truth.

My Dad's in a nursing home with a terminal illness, and I'm a 2L. Kind of the same boat in that we don't know how much time he has. I spend time with him when I can but he seldom knows when I've been there. Yes, there are days when it gets to me. On the other hand, I can't defer my life until the end because we don't have a clue when that will be. He could live one year or five years. There have been one or two medical emergencies, but they've hit during breaks and have only lasted a few days. I go to school near enough that I can spend an evening or weekend day with him as needed.

I just do the best I can. My Dad was a great guy, and I have no doubt that he wouldn't have wanted me to stop life and do a death-watch (same as KShaw). In a way, the fact that he has an extended illness is preparation. When the end comes, it will be a good thing for him to end suffering as opposed to being a tragedy (although I know there will be a bunch of emotions that I can only imagine now). The worst part of this was the beginning of his illness since that's when both he and I were figuring out everything.

I suggest that you find out what his support system would be without you. Does he have any siblings or other relatives? Does he have a nursing service? Does he have a neighbor who will help out? What is a realistic prognosis? Even if you sat with him every day, there will be times when you get a cold or other illness and can't be around him. And don't forget to get his health care power of attorney, durable power of attorney and living will. Check titles to property, and status of Last Will & Testament. Make sure he does the paperwork...and go to law school if it will make both of you happy.

This is great advice. Still, I think OP stated he was his father's only relative. That fact is the biggest reason to defer.

pkt63
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby pkt63 » Thu Mar 10, 2011 4:37 pm

Yeah, I'm his only relative. Although he does have some good friends, i.e. my ex-stepmother and his recent ex-girlfriend. But you know, when it comes down to it, he's my responsibility. It is so nice that he has other people to visit him and call him, though.

When he does pass away it will be tough and there will be a lot going on emotionally and logistically. In the meantime, I do feel like I am basically on deathwatch, but even then there are surprises every day. Like today, they want to release him from the hospital, but his condition is so bad that there is only one facility, apparently, willing to take him, and they are going to charge $15,000 per month (out of pocket, i.e. beyond his med benefits) to take him. So it's more like dealing with stuff like this, that somehow manages to come up every couple days, that I am afraid of during law school. It's like he never gets settled. he gets released to a nursing facility, then something goes wrong and it's back to the hospital. Then they stabilize him and discharge and the process repeats. It is not a full-time job to take care of all this for him, but it is just enough that it causes serious stress and anxiety and general mental unhealthiness for me. And it's not like law school is going to improve my mental condition! Still, I want so badly to go and work on making my dreams come true. I actually already put off even applying for one year because of all this, and in some ways I wish I hadn't, but in some ways it was the only thing to do.

Anyway, enough blabbering on my part, but thank you again to those of you who have shared your tough stories. And especially to those of you still dealing with the loss of your loved one.

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iminlstrick
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Re: Anyone deal with family illness/death during school?

Postby iminlstrick » Thu Jan 09, 2014 12:16 pm

I know this is an old thread, but reviving in case anyone is going through this at present and wants to hear the perspective of someone who has dealt with this straight through law school.

Background -- sole parent diagnosed with terminal illness in the middle of 1L. Took a year off after 1L to go home and help out. 3L now, so ... law school has been a four-year process. What have I learned?

1) If you need to take time off, take time off. But if you do, try your best to stay involved in law, whether it's working as an RA for a law professor; interning for a legal organization; volunteering; paralegaling, etc. For me personally, having a year of solid law-related work experience on my resume in the interim period between 1L and 2L immensely helped with the job search.

2) It's not necessarily going to get easier, but you are not alone. My Dean of Students, professors, and administration have been immensely helpful. Make it clear from the get go that you need help, that you've got [x] situation going on, and that this is what it is. In the middle of 2L classes, my parent's illness took a turn for the worst, and so I took a week off and went home. My professors were all super accommodating, and though it did take more time than a week to catch up, all worked out fine. The key to things working out was my communicating with everyone who needed to know.

3) Prioritize your key life importances. Do not feel bad for cutting things out if you don't have time or they don't make you happy. It is so important to maintain a balance between carrying/worrying/coping with what's going on with your family and what makes you happy. Try to keep a broader perspective in your mind beyond what's going on immediately, and surround yourself with people who are supportive. For example, I turned down significant journal opportunities, because I didn't feel that I could give the positions the time and mental clarity that they required. Sometimes I regret the decision, but on the whole, not really.

4) Some rules can't be bent. When I took that week off as a 2L, one of my professors postponed my final to my 3L. Very kind of him, but I only found out much later that this meant I would not get my academic honors for the year, because not all of my exams were completed during the academic year period. While the rule seems straightforward, it wasn't clear to me at the time that I agreed to postpone the exam, and I was very disappointed that an entire year's worth of effort got thrown off track due to one class. The disappointment/frustration that arises from administrative inflexibility is inevitable; this is why keeping in mind (3) is key. Having or not having academic honors may impact your career, but probably (hopefully) won't determine your long-term happiness.

5) Law school therapists or counselors probably aren't equipped to help you with what you're dealing with (IMO). If you need to talk to someone and your campus support isn't sufficient, talk to your Dean of Students or a professor you trust about resources in the broader community that might be better suited to you.




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