Understanding Grief: How to Help Clients Who “Chase After Closure”

Understanding Grief: How to Help Clients Who “Chase After Closure”

When your clients experience a loved one’s death, they often seek “closure.” Yet no one really defines what closure means, whether it is possible, or how to get there.

By understanding a few things about the grief process, you can equip yourself to help them find peace.

For many in our society, closure means leaving grief behind, a milestone they usually expect within a matter of weeks or months. Closure means being “normal”, getting back to your old self, no longer crying or being affected by the death.  It means “moving on with life” and leaving the past behind, even to the extent of forgetting it or ignoring it. Yet for those who have experienced death, this kind of closure is not only impossible but indeed undesirable. 

Closure, if one even chooses to use the term, is more of a process than a defined moment. The initial part of closure is accepting the reality. At first, survivors keep hoping or wishing that it weren’t true. They expect their loved one to walk through the door. They wait for someone to tell them it was all a huge mistake. They just can’t accept that this person has died, that they will never physically see their loved one again or hear the voice, feel the hug, or get that valued input on a tough decision. Usually it takes weeks or even months for the reality to finally sink in. In time, they come to know, in both their heads and their hearts, that their loved one has died and is not coming back. They still don’t like it, but they accept it as true.

As your clients accept this reality, they can more actively make forward-looking choices that help them heal. They slowly begin to envision a life different from what they had planned before, a life in which they no longer expect their loved one to be there. They still feel the pain and loss, but except for short periods of time, they are not crippled by it.

For most of your clients, especially if it was a significant person who died, this healing phase is long and slow, and it involves a lot of back-and-forthing. They may alternate between tears and joy, fears and confidence, despair and hope. Sometimes they feel like they are taking three steps forward and two steps back.

It is important to give clients permission for whatever they are experiencing. Everyone else is telling them to put it behind them and get on with life. Set yourself apart by encouraging them to tell the stories and build memories that they will never “put behind them”. Reassure them that healing does not mean forgetting; it means taking the life, love, and lessons into the future with them.

Eventually your clients are able to let go of what can no longer be. Yet at the same time they realize they are taking the past, with all its pain and pleasure, into a new tomorrow. They become different and hopefully better, more compassionate, more appreciative, more tolerant people. They fully embrace life again, connecting, laughing, and loving with a full heart.

Still, there is no point of “final closure.” There is no point at which your clients can say, “Ah, now I have finally completed my grief.” Or “Yes, now I have healed.” There is no point at which they stop missing their loved one or wondering what life would be like if they were still alive. There is no point at which they will never cry again, although as time goes on the tears are bittersweet and less common. Because we never forget, we carry our loved ones with us forever.

“Closure”?  No, or at least not in the way people usually use that term. Acceptance – yes. Peace – yes. A future enriched with love, joy, and hope – absolutely. But putting a period behind the final sentence, closing the door and locking it behind you?  No, life and love are much too complex for that. This part of your client’s story does not end; instead it awaits the next chapter, which will undoubtedly build on all that came before.

Stand with your clients as they grieve.

Let them know they do not have to forget or leave the past behind. Encourage them to create memories out of what can no longer be, and to live their lives as fully as possible enriched by those memories. Offer them the patience and understanding that few other advisors do. You will reap rewards both personally and professionally.

Amy Florian
Life Transitions
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Amy Florian, CEO of Corgenius, combines the best of neuroscience and psychology with a good dose of humor in training professionals to build strong relationships with clients ... Click for full bio

Most Read IRIS Articles of the Week: April 17-21

Most Read IRIS Articles of the Week: April 17-21

Here’s a look at the Top 11 Most Viewed Articles of the Week on IRIS.xyz, April 17-21, 2017 

Click the headline to read the full article.  Enjoy!

1. Market Keeping You up at Night? Look for the Right Hedge

Like so many others in the industry, I was wrong. For years, I was certain that the bull market was nearing its end. I thought the market was over-extended, and that, surely, the wild equities run was coming to an end. But everyone else was bullish, and perhaps rightfully so. And while I’ve watched equities continue on their spectacular rise, I do think now is the time (really!) to put a hedge in place. Here’s why. Here’s how. — Adam Patti

2. How to Manage Bond Market Pain and Seek the Gain When Rates Are Rising

The realities for fixed income investors have changed. How is this being reflected in markets? Bond investing has become increasingly difficult over the past decade. Markets have been heavily distorted by ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing, as well as by extreme risk aversion in response to the global economic crisis and the eurozone debt crisis. — Nick Gartside

3. Seven Reasons You'll Fail as a Financial Advisor

Is being a financial advisor worth it? I am an optimistic person and I encourage other people to keep a positive mental attitude (shout-out to Napoleon Hill and W. Clement Stone). However, by taking a good, hard look at the negatives in life, we can successfully pivot towards the positive aspects that will help us achieve our goals. — James Pollard

4. The Secret to Turning Every Prospect into a Client

How do you treat one of your most valued, existing clients? Here’s a list of some things that come to mind. — Andrew Sobel

5. Why Do Clients Change Advisors?

According to many advisors I speak with, the only clients that leave are those who have died. And while attrition may not be a big problem in this industry, I have to assume that at least a few clients change advisors without doing so via the funeral home. — Julie Littlechild

6. Why You Should Focus on Getting Referral Sources

I was talking with an advisor last week about how to get into conversations about what he does. He was relaying the story of going jogging with a friend who could be a good client but is, more importantly, connected to a large network of people who fit this advisors ideal client description. — Stephen Wershing

7. How Big Picture Thinkers Seize More Opportunities in 7 Steps

Big picture thinkers are not unicorns - rare and mystical. And they were not born with the innate ability to think big. They do, however, pay attention to the broader landscape and take the time to think, analyze and evaluate. — Jill Houtman and Danny Domenighini

8. 5 Actions to Build Your Reputation

Your reputation is who you are and how you show up, Monday to Monday®.  Many of us take our image and reputation for granted.  Give careful thought to the kind of reputation that you would be proud of Monday to Monday® and that would resonate with your purpose and priorities. — Stacey Hanke

9. How Are You Poised to Begin Welcoming GenZ to Your Workplace?

The generational changing of the guard is a fact of life as old as time. Young replaces old in responsibility, importance, control and culture. Outside of the family, the workplace is perhaps where this is seen most regularly by most people. — Shirley Engelmeier

10. Are Price Objections REALLY Price Objections?

Next time you hear your prospects give you price objections, it’s not because of the price. The give price objections because they don’t know the full value proposition that they’d be paying for. And it’s not based on their need, or your features and functions. It’s based on the buying criteria they want to meet internally. — Sofia Carter

11. Understanding the Economic Value of Transition Deals

Last week we wrote about the economic rationale behind going independent vs. moving to another major firm as an employee. As a follow-up topic, we thought it prudent to analyze transition packages attached to big firm moves and peel back the layers of the onion to show the components of these deals. — Louis Diamond

Douglas Heikkinen
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IRIS Founder and Producer of Perspective—a personal look at the industry, and notables who share what they’ve learned, regretted, won, lost and what continues to ... Click for full bio