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9/11 memorial flower J-Picture/iStock/Getty Images Plus

When the Towers Fall in Your Clients’ Lives

How to be one of the rare people who understand how to offer true support to grieving clients.

Everyone remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news about 9/11. They ran into the streets of New York or flipped on the television to see the clear blue sky muddied by acrid smoke amid the dizzying sounds of sirens, screams, crashing buildings and death. The day is seared into our national consciousness, and September 11 will never be just another day again. 

We recognize other national days of tragedy as well: the attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and JFK, natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, mass shootings like Columbine and Parkland, to name just a few. 

At times like these, we show the pictures and videos, and we tell stories of fallen heroes and lost lives whose deaths ripped through families, firms, towns and hearts. We wipe away a tear, hug others who understand and smile at the memories of those we loved who died these fateful days. We remember, we celebrate, and we honor our losses. 

The Goal of Grief Is Not to Forget

These kinds of anniversaries illustrate important lessons about grief that you need to remember when supporting grieving clients and friends. The goal of grief is not to forget.  We do not “put this behind us and get on with life.” Instead, we move on precisely because we remember, because we created an enduring memory to carry with us into a future that is different from anything we could have imagined before. We say the names, tell the stories and share gratitude for the gifts these people brought to our world. We learn lessons that deeply affect the way we live and the way we think about life. We try to understand the best we can, and incorporate practices to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again. We share our grief and our healing, allowing both to coexist in the everlasting rubber-band-like tension between sorrow and joy. 

Interestingly, on the yearly anniversaries of a spouse or close family member, this same compassion is rarely allowed. Those who live with or work in the same office as bereaved people expect them to be “fully healed” by a year, or at most two. They believe it is unhealthy eight or 10 years later to have “ambushes” or sad emotions, to need to say the name or tell the story, or to recognize that this day is forever unlike any other. Like so many in our society, they don’t understand what “healing” means.  

Acknowledge Your Clients’ Personal Days of Remembrance

Don’t make that mistake. Learn your own lessons from the anniversaries of these national remembrances so you can be one of the rare people who understand how to offer true support to clients. 

Note important dates and set reminders that mark the anniversaries, birthdays and other occasions that reflect your clients’ major losses. Then, consider one of the ideas below to offer genuine support during these difficult days:  

  • Acknowledge the anniversary of their loved one’s death, perhaps by sending a single flower with a note that says, “Those we love are forever remembered. I’m thinking of you today on Al’s anniversary.”   
  • Send a bottle of your client’s favorite craft beer or wine and write a note that says: “We’re raising a glass together with you today in memory of Eileen. She is worth remembering, and we will never forget her.”
  • Give a call and say, “I know it’s Helen’s birthday today. So what do you have planned? Will you visit the cemetery, get together with family or friends, or just cocoon at home all day? What is it like for you today, on Helen’s birthday?”
  • Send a gift card for a massage with a handwritten note that says: “I know it is always hard on the anniversaries and birthdays of those we love who have died. As we approach Tom’s anniversary, I hope this gift card for a massage affords you a moment of peace and pampering that helps you get through. We’re thinking of you, especially today.”

Your clients remember exactly where they were when they heard the news of their loss, and the day is seared into their consciousness. When you acknowledge their loss, even years later, they know why they chose you as their financial professional—because you understand in a way few others do.   

Amy Florian is the CEO of Corgenius, combining neuroscience and psychology to train financial professions in how to build strong relationships with clients through all the losses and transitions of life. 

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