It’s hard to watch people you care about going through a tragic situation – even harder to be the one going through it. If your clients have recently lost a loved one, they’ll need your support and understanding.
- Slow things down. When you’ve suffered a sudden loss, you can’t think straight. And you can’t handle any amount of pressure. I’ll never forget talking to Mark Colgan, a CFP in New York, and founder of Plan Your Legacy, who lost his wife to a sudden ailment when she was 28. Years later he said that this experience made him realize how debilitating grief can be. He was a financial professional who’d always been good with figures, but during the depths of his mourning, he said he “couldn’t add two plus two.”
Your grieving clients no doubt feel the same way. Give them plenty of space. Don’t expect them to make any important decisions when their heads aren’t processing anything. Give them a few weeks or months grace period to come back to their normal emotional states. When we’re grieving we just need to work things out in our own way.
- Anticipate problems to be solved. Knowing that people can’t think straight when they’re grieving means you’re going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting for them. They’re not going to be able to locate documents very quickly—if at all. You may have to find them online for them. Sometimes they’re not going to remember to pay bills—and they’re not going to be on top of their tax returns. Anything you can do to lighten their load will be much appreciated—including coordinating with other caregivers. As grief counselors remind, it’s never enough to just say, “Let me know if I can help you with anything.” Because people in grief might not even know what they need help with – you’re going to have to anticipate their potential problems, and find ways to solve problems.
- Don’t take things personally. When people are encountering searing pain, they’re not always pleasant to be around. Grief is personal. It may mean they just don’t want any contact with anyone and wish to be left alone. They may not return phone calls or respond to emails. It’s not about you. People in pain tend to lash out occasionally, too, so if you get an angry phone call, or your client is unusually terse with your assistant, be patient. Again, it’s not you. It’s their pain.
- Offer emotional support. You can’t fix people’s grief. It’s a process they must go through alone. But you can send flowers, a plant, or a card. You can check in on them occasionally – especially your clients who may be feeling alone. Having someone they know they can depend on can be a big boost to your client – even if they don’t tell you. And even if they don’t respond right away because they need space.
Help them work through the details. Of course one of the best ways to help a grieving client is before they’re grieving, by making sure they have a well-conceived estate plan, with insurance, and legal instruments that will ensure a smoother transition in the event of losing a loved one. For a client who is working through the aftermath of a loved-one’s death, you might also consider giving them Colgan’s new book Details After Death: Navigating the Logistics After a Loved One Dies –published last month. It is an updated version of his previous book, The Survivor Assistance Handbook. The new book covers all the logistical details that follow the death of a loved one, including the mountain of legal and financial paperwork. It helps people make sense of the financial details while also offering personal and practical tips on surviving a difficult personal