With the aging population, it’s not just long-term care insurance and Medicare Part D with which our clients are struggling. Many people are facing the death of a loved one for the first time in their lives.
Our culture emphasizes achievement and success. We’re taught to set goals that are specific, measurable, tracked, and defined by deadlines. Success can leave people with a false sense of control. This may actually work against them emotionally in times of significant personal loss. Grief emotions are foreign, frightening, and unpredictable.
Because successful advisors work with goal-oriented people, the focus is primarily on the monetary part of their success and financially planning to preserve that component. But what happens emotionally when a client loses a loved one? How do we communicate in times like that when neither feels naturally equipped or therapeutically trained to talk about the emotional excursion of bereavement?
I am grateful for the therapy training that helped me become more comfortable when others share their emotional pain. It helps me find words that comfort, while asking therapeutic questions to help my clients move forward with their highest priority matters.
You don’t have to BE a therapist to listen like one. Knowing the basic stages of grief can also be tremendously helpful when your client is grieving. The easiest way I have found to help advisors remember them is using the acronym NEAR:
• Numbness is part of the shock in the early stages of grief. There is often an intellectual grasp of the loss, but the full emotional load is not yet felt.
• Emotions of many depths and dimensions can become nearly overwhelming in their intensity. Often the bereaved feel tremendously sad, angry, guilty, lonely, and afraid. The sheer lack of familiarity with such feelings can heighten a fear that they’re “going crazy.” The ability to make decisions is diminished. But emotions like this during bereavement are normal.
• Adjusting occurs over time, especially with people who pursue healthy avenues of expressing their sense of loss and ways to focus on their remaining strengths to function in a changed life.
• Rebuilding is when life has incorporated the changes brought on by their loss into a new structure.
The book Rays of Hope in Times of Loss: Courage and Comfort for Grieving Hearts* helps people in all phases of the bereavement process. It offers beauty with simplicity and meaningful tools for navigating through the unfamiliar terrain of significant loss. When giving it, you can simply say, “Please accept this as my gift and expression of deepest sympathy.” This alone opens up a meaningful dialog. Tera Wiggins, CFP, ChFC, CLU, a financial advisor in Alabama said, “Everyone loves the book. It’s a perfect gift to give to someone who is grieving a loss.” Our primary job is to listen. For those in the emotional phase, keep the essential financial transactions as simple as possible, with a suggestion about what can wait. Your client will appreciate your patience, sensitivity, and prioritization, and will welcome hearing from you again.
*Available at volume discounts in the products tab of this web site. I’ll be speaking on this topic at the FPA-MN Symposium October 8, 2012. Go to www.fpamnsymposium.org for conference information.