How to be the best advisor at your client’s worst time

August 22, 2017

BCF is excited to announce that Amy Florian, a thanatologist (expert in grief and death) will be returning to Baltimore in 2018 to speak with the community of professional advisors on Oct. 18, 2018. She'll talk about multi-generational planning. Please stay tuned for more information, and pencil in this exciting seminar on your 2018 calendar. We'll post more information on our calendar. 

Amy Florian also visited BCF in 2014. Here's a summary of the talk she gave to professional advisors that year: 

At BCF's 2014 seminar for professional advisors, Amy Florian, a thanatologist (expert in grief and death) and award-winning speaker spoke to the 75 attendees about how to help clients who have suffered a significant loss. Many of her specific recommendations were surprising to the listeners, who expressed gratitude for the opportunity to better serve—and to retain—clients who are going through transitions in their lives. 

Florian cited common expressions about death, such as “pushing up daisies”, to illustrate how uncomfortable we are with death as a society. She stressed that when this discomfort spills into work with grieving clients, they can end up looking elsewhere for guidance. For example, a simple action, such as handing someone a box of tissues while they’re crying, unintentionally signals to the griever: STOP, you’re making me uncomfortable. 

Here are a few specific examples of Florian’s insights and recommendations:

  • Avoid catch phrase everyone uses, such as “I’m so sorry” or “You have my sympathy.” 
  • There are multiple ways people grieve, and they are not gender specific. Don’t judge how others grieve. Instead, ask open ended questions to learn how they wish to be supported such as “How would you like people to act? Is there anything you would like me not to do? What do you wish people knew about what you’re going through?”
  • As mentioned above, do not offer people what she calls “the shut up box” of tissues. Instead, support and listen when clients cry and have a box of tissue available, if they wish to use it. Science has shown that tears contain stress-relieving chemicals that aid those who are grieving.
  • Encourage clients not to let people “should” all over them, that is, tell them what they “should” be feeling. Experiencing feelings is the way to healing and there is no one path or right way to get there. Suppressing feelings is a waste of valuable energy.
  • If a client says she’s FINE, comment that you know what that really stands for: Frightened, Insecure, Neurotic and Exhausted. Encourage her to open up by using open an ended question such as, “Would you like to tell me what is really going on?” “Would you like to tell me how you really feel?”
  • Never say, “I know how you feel.” You don’t. Instead, ask an open question, such as, “What is it like for you?” If time has passed, ask, “What has changed or is different now?”
  • Most movingly, Florian suggests the following response when clients express a desire to return to “normal.” Rather than validate the common “it’s time to put it behind you” language, she suggest that healing is about creating a memory of what can no longer be. “We must unlearn the expected presence of the other, but we can never forget them.”

The Baltimore Community Foundation hosts many funds created in the memory of loved ones.  We understand that one of the best ways to assist those suffering a significant loss is to help them create a lasting legacy. Learn about ways to help your clients remember those they love here

For information about Florian’s work, visit her website.

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