The Cost of Loss
by Dr. Gwen Finestone, MFT, PhD, CT
Certified Thanatologist and Grief and Loss Expert Witness
I am a psychotherapist, not an attorney, an actuary, or a CPA, and putting a dollar value on a loss is not my area of expertise. I have an MFT, a PhD, and a CT, not an MBA. My expertise is in understanding the experience of loss, whether due to trauma, violence, accident, or grief, and its meaning to the person who is suffering the loss. My special gift is being able to articulate clearly, concisely, and in layperson’s words what I know to my patients and to the attorneys with whom I work as an expert witness.
First things first, usually when we use the word loss, we are euphemistically referring to death. We usually mean that a person has died. However, the concept of loss (and loss issues) is much, much broader than that. We suffer losses when we divorce, lose a valued job, move to a new neighborhood or school, amputate a limb, go into combat, suffer a life-altering physical injury, have an unwanted hysterectomy, survive a traumatic experience, endure rape, bear years of incest, have an abortion, suffer a miscarriage, or place a child for adoption. Though no sentient being may have actually died, each of these experiences involves a death of some sort and constitutes a loss of some kind: something dies within us, some part of our Self dies. Every loss involves the death of some “thing”.
We can see that each of these experiences has the power to deny us the potential that we hoped for or worked for, and it can alter our idea of who we are or will be. It may negatively impact our self-worth, cause depression, and change our world view.
Why is loss so powerful and potentially crippling? Because loss has meaning. The meaning of an experience, the meaning of the loss, differs for each person. What does it mean that my spouse cheated on me or is divorcing me, or that I was fired or forced to retire, or that my husband was murdered or paralyzed, or that I was incested or raped, or that I am now facing a lifetime with a neurological deficit? It is the meaning of the loss that can change an individual’s personality, world view, and life path. Truth be told, what constitutes a deep narcissistic wound for one person (a piercing wound that erodes one’s identity and sense of Self), may be barely a scratch to another. There are important factors that make this true, not the least of which is resilience. Unfortunately, resilience cannot be purchased online, leaving most of us to face Life with what little resilience we might naturally possess.
What is the cost of loss in financial terms? I cannot put a value on it, but I do know, unequivocally, that loss has the power to cost a person his or her truest and most potentiated life, and to negatively alter the lives of those who are in significant relationships with the aggrieved party. As a therapist, it is my job to help the patient understand his losses and the costs to his life, and to guide him out of the darkness of his life and into his potential. As an Expert Witness, it is my job to evaluate and assess the full psychological impact of a precipitating event on what would have been her realistic life trajectory; to answer the questions, “How has this event affected a client’s realistic potential, redefined her personal efficacy, altered her sense of meaning and purpose, and limited her future? What are the long term, or irrevocable, or mutable consequences of this event?” And, of course, it is my job to convey my knowledge and understanding of the client in an intelligent and readily understandable way to the attorneys, judge, and jury.
My area of specialization is grief and loss issues; consequently, I treat patients who are trying to live their lives under the burden of significant losses. Some are doing it bravely, some are doing it self-destructively. All are suffering the lifelong costs of their losses, many of those losses hidden from view. It is my job to expose and convey the psychological costs and it is a part of the attorney’s job to determine the dollar value of the loss. Together, we humanize a case by creating a verbal picture of a person and their suffering that is compelling and demands financial justice.
Dr. Gwen Finestone, MFT, PhD, CT
A practicing Marriage and Family Therapist in Huntington Beach, CA, Dr. Finestone’s doctorate is in Pastoral Ministry, with a specialization in interfaith chaplaincy, and she is nationally certified in Thanatology (the study of death, dying, and bereavement). She served for many years as a therapist and an interfaith chaplain in hospice, working with the dying and the bereaved.