Talk and process the experience
Since grief is my field, I learned long ago the value of being able to decompress with others, to talk through a difficult situation or conversation, and to feel supported by others who know and care for me. If you hold all the grief and pain of your clients inside yourself, it’s a sure recipe for burnout. Develop a network of people - perhaps including other advisors or colleagues, certain family members, trusted friends, a therapist - with whom you can talk about your experience of client losses or their difficult stories.
Find ways to honor the memories
Clients you cherish who die are forever a part of you. See if you can find ways to honor those memories. Just a few ideas:
- At least temporarily name your conference room as the Jane C. Doe Conference Room in honor of a particularly cherished long-term client, putting their picture on the door or on the conference table.
- One advisor I spoke with posted pictures of all the cherished clients who had died that year on a mural in the waiting room, along with a story or memory about them. That allowed all staff members to remember, and also alerted prospects and other clients that the firm cared about them that much. At the end of the year, the photos and storied when into a leather-bound three-ring “memory binder”.
- When a treasured client dies, have a private “celebration of life” with the office staff by going to lunch together to talk about that person and tells stories. Invite the deceased person’s family members to join you.
Write in a journal
Paper is unconditionally accepting and it’s available 24/7. It can help you process emotions about your clients (and anything else you’re struggling with). In addition to writing about and processing your experience, you may wish to compose a letter of appreciation to the client, and then do what seems right and healing for you - i.e. give it to the surviving spouse OR bury it at the gravesite OR share it with your staff OR burn it and bury the ashes in a garden so they give life, etc.
Rely on your own spiritual practices
i.e. prayer, scripture, meditation, chanting. You may wish to envision that you are breathing your grief out into an entity, deity, force, or just the air that is larger than yourself.
Engage in activities that bring comfort to your body, mind, or soul
For instance, walk or bike outside and appreciate the natural world around you, listen to your favorite music or play an instrument yourself, cook or bake, soak in a hot tub with candlelight and soft music, enjoy a cup of tea, use aromatherapy - whatever practices refresh you and lighten the load.
Sing out loud
The longest nerve in the body runs right next to the vocal chords and resonates with singing. You don’t have to have to a good voice, nor do you have to let others hear you if you’re feeling shy about it. (The car or the shower are great places to sing!) Or conversely, you can sing with your colleagues, kids, significant other, relaxing all of you at the same time.
Take a deep “belly breath” and feel it fill your body
Hold it briefly. Then blow it out slowly and consciously, taking at least as long for the outbreath as for the inbreath. Repeat three times.
Laughter releases a hormone that signals pleasure and reward. It lowers blood pressure, increases immune response, and works your abs! So find excuses to laugh and enjoy yourself and help your staff to do so as well. Remember that it is never a sign of disloyalty to a person who dies if you laugh now. In fact, it honors them when you go on to live fully, enriched by their memory.
Let it go
Let go of judging yourself or your feelings or telling yourself what you “should” or “shouldn’t” feel. Just accept and allow whatever arises. Allow the tears, which actually are a stress-relief mechanism in our bodies. Be patient and kind with yourself.
Be consciously grateful
Appreciate what and who you have right now, knowing that all of life is temporary. Each day, make a list of at least three things for which you are grateful, plus at least one thing you did that day to make someone else smile. Read that list out loud to yourself every evening.