Professional Empathy and Helping Clients through a Loss - Alaska Permanent Capital Management

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Professional Empathy and Helping Clients through a Loss

In the wealth management field, at AWMI in particular, we are not immune to having a client come to an appointment after suffering a close personal loss of a loved one. We see our clients through the joys and the sorrows of the human experience, and while the joys are easier and more fun, we have been trained to be there for our clients in the difficult times – to really be there, when we are needed most, with a box of Kleenex and all the time they need. 

Our AWMI team has utilized resources from Amy Florian*, CEO of Coregenius and expert on grief, to improve how we help clients through losses and life transitions. Florian has several books and resources for professionals (and non-professionals) about how to better help people in periods of grief.  Several AWMI team members have attended her live events in Anchorage and read her book, “No Longer Awkward.”

As a financial advisor, Florian’s work has taught me how to respond to that first call from a client after death and how to invite them to share stories of their loss and to be a listener. While my examples below focus on the loss of a loved one, it is essential to note that loss extends beyond death. In fact, according to Florian, loss has six classifications: Material, Relationship, Intrapsychic, Functional, Role-loss, and Routines. However, the most common type of loss most of us experience is losing a loved one.

Often when someone shares that they have suffered a loss, the most common response is, “I’m sorry for your loss.” In reality, this helps no one, and what do you have to be sorry about? Should the new widow say thank you for your apologies? Additionally, saying “you have my sympathy” typically ends the conversation about what that person is going through and tells the suffering person that you are not comfortable talking about their loss. Similarly, “they are in a better place” doesn’t work because what place could be better than next to their spouse at home or watching a grandchild’s hockey game? 

Instead, at AWMI, with the help of Florian’s work, I have learned to respond with statements that open the door and invite clients to share more about their grief and loss. For example, a more empathetic response could be, “That is heartbreaking news, were you prepared for this? Did it hit out of the blue? No one will ever replace Sarah.” Another response inviting conversation might be, “Were you able to communicate with her at the end? I am grateful she is no longer suffering, and yet we will miss Sarah. Is there going to be a service of some kind?” 

To effectively speak with people in grief, I try to keep a door open for clients to share what they are going through. They may choose to shut that door and not to talk further, but grieving people are often eager to share about their loss to ease their pain and to keep the memory of their dear one alive.  I try to invite clients to share their stories with me by responding with empathy, for example, “I can’t imagine what this is like for you, would you like to tell me about it?” Or, if I have had a similar experience, I might share that experience, but I am mindful always to turn it back to the person grieving by asking, “What is it like for you?” It is okay to ask specific questions, such as, “What do you wish people knew about what you are going through?” Or, “How do you wish people would act around you? How is the family reacting to the news of loss?”

Most importantly, try not to avoid the hard words. Dancing around words like death, dead, died, and cancer tells people you are uncomfortable talking about the loss, and it will cause them to avoid talking about their grief. Remember the deceased’s name and call them by it. Most people find comfort that their loved one is remembered.

My team and I show we care, and that the grieving person is not alone by following up, calling, or sending cards, flowers, or meals. I always remember to keep the onus on me. When I ask a grieving person if there is anything they need or suggest that they call me anytime, their most common answer will be to thank you, and their most common action will be to do nothing. I need to take the action. I need to follow up with a call to listen, with a meal, or with whatever meaningful gesture fits the situation.

Additionally, as financial professionals, we help clients prioritize the actions they need to take in the first few weeks following a death. That typically starts with getting death certificates and making sure our client has sufficient cash flow to meet their needs. We can call social security or life insurance companies to notify them of the death and help with the application for death and survivor benefits. We find that assisting clients to finish shortlists of tasks helps them get through the necessary steps without overburdening them.

If you or someone you know has lost a loved one and do not know where to begin, we are here for you. At AWMI, we are prepared to be a guiding hand for these challenging times in life.

Nic Cohen
Associate Financial Advisor

*If you want to know more about Amy Florian, you can visit her website: corgenius.com/amy-florian.

5/10/21

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