Happy New Year?

Posted December 21, 2012 by Corgenius
Categories: educational, for all people

The closer we get to January, the more the typical holiday greetings are mixed with “Happy New Year!” It is a good thing to wish people happiness. If you have a client who recently experienced a major loss, trauma, or death, though, the words can seem superficial or even impossible to attain.

When my husband died, I remember thinking I would learn to function again. I would raise our son, go to movies with friends, laugh and have a good time, but I would never be deeply down-to-my-toes happy again. That kind of happiness, I believed, died with John. I was wrong. I am indeed happy again, and living vibrantly. Yet I remember the pain, and the inability to imagine such a future.

When you extend greetings to your grieving clients, avoid “Happy New Year”. Instead of wishing them joy, cheer, or happiness, wish them peace and hope. For instance, you can either write in a card or say to them, “If I were in your shoes, I think I’d have a hard time imagining ever being joyful again. Perhaps that day will come. For now, though, wishing you a Happy New Year seems hollow. Instead, I wish you peace. I wish you healing. I wish you hope.”

You can combine that message with reassurance that you will continue supporting them as they walk through the coming year, so they do not have to worry about finances and can concentrate on the more important things. As we end 2011, we at Corgenius wish the same for you. We wish you peace. We wish you healing. We wish you hope. May it be a very good year indeed.

When Holiday Cheer is Not so Cheery

Posted December 4, 2012 by Corgenius
Categories: Uncategorized

Ah, the holidays! “All is merry and bright” as we gather around the menorah or the tree. It’s the “most wonderful time of the year”, filled with joy and love. But what if your client is grieving a death and the holidays are not so wonderful? Many grieving people feel they are swimming against the joyful tide or standing alone on the riverbank while everyone else enjoys the water.

Remember, the absence of the one they love leaves a gaping void during this time. The daily experience of waking up next to an empty pillow and seeing the unused coffee mug eventually become part of the “new normal” of life. Yet it’s only once a year that mistletoe is hung everywhere, Elvis sings “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, and we celebrate a seven-night celebration of light with no gifts from or to the person who may have been the world to us.

Most financial professionals are at a loss for what to do. Afraid to risk being an unwelcome reminder of sadness, they avoid mentioning the name of the one who died or bringing up the topic in any way. Yet if you send the same holiday greetings you send to everyone else, your client knows you treat them generically even in their toughest times. They also learn that you, like the rest of society, hope they can set their sorrow aside for the sake of the season. Your good intention is to “cheer them up”, yet you add to the sense of isolation they already experience.

So what can you do to sensitively name the reality, let your client know you understand, treat them uniquely, and build a stronger bond?

One suggestion: Decide on a gift that will be comforting to that client – Let’s use the example of a massage. Then choose a card that wishes them peace, rather than joy or cheer. In your own hand, write this or something similar:

“This year the holidays are sure to be a time of intensely mixed emotions. There will be moments when you enjoy yourself, smile, or even laugh. Yet <name>’s absence is always with you, and those lighter moments will be mixed with times of deep sadness. In the midst of the craziness, it is especially important that you take care of yourself and renew your spirit. I hope the enclosed gift certificate for a massage helps you do just that. Use it when you feel stressed and isolated, or when you simply wish to be pampered. My thoughts are with you throughout this time.”

The holidays may not be the “most wonderful time of the year” for your client. You set yourself apart from the crowd when you recognize that fact and support them in way that most others do not. They will appreciate it, for that kind of support is indeed wonderful.

Moving Beyond “The Five Stages of Grief”

Posted September 19, 2012 by Corgenius
Categories: educational, for all people

Have you heard about the “five stages of grief”? That phrase most commonly refers to the five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) formulated by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969 when she studied dying patients. However, there has been a great deal more research about grief in the intervening 40+ years, and those five stages are no longer considered the best description available.

For instance: In the field, we talk less about “denial” and more about “disbelief”. When someone you love dies, or you get served with divorce papers, or you get fired, or your house burns down, you rarely deny that it happened. The evidence is right in front of you and you know it happened. You simply have a hard time wrapping your mind around it and letting the reality sink in. You feel numb, unable to comprehend the event or its implications. Over time, the disbelief transforms into belief and reality.

On rare occasions, you may encounter a client who is truly in denial, who not only struggles to believe the reality but who actively refuses to admit it happened and insists on living as if it didn’t. That client needs psychological support and you are best to refer to a professional.

In most cases, though, it is helpful to explain this distinction to your grieving clients. They do indeed know the loss happened; it just takes time to really believe it and understand what the loss means. This will likely ring true to their experience, reassure them that they are normal, and establish you as both unusually knowledgeable and understanding.

Don’t rely on old formulations. Get the updated information you need to better serve your clients.

In a Better Place

Posted September 7, 2012 by Corgenius
Categories: educational, for all people

It is nearly inevitable. When someone dies, especially if the person had a tough life or suffered through illness, visitors and preachers offer comfort to survivors by saying, “Just remember she’s in a better place.”

Few people realize the lack of consolation that offers. First, do not assume the survivors actually believe in the existence of that “better place”. Some religious traditions teach such, and some do not. Some adherents believe it; some do not. Even if the family’s belief system allows for it, right now they can hardly imagine a “better place” for their loved one than right here by their side. The absence is huge and the pain immense.

Besides, the phrase can feel to mourners like they are being chastised for being sad. Sometimes the chastisement is even explicitly spoken: “You shouldn’t be sad; that’s selfish.” Or “Don’t you realize your loved one is in a better place? You wouldn’t wish them back here in pain, would you?” Or “You’d be better off if you stop crying and think about how happy he is.”

Here is the truth: Grief from the death of a beloved person is always a mixed experience. There are indeed things for which survivors are grateful – i.e. that she’s not suffering, that he’s in heaven, that no one needs to keep constant vigil, that the person lived long and well, etc. Yet at the very same time, survivors desperately miss that irreplaceable laugh, touch, wisdom, or presence. You offer your clients far more consolation if you recognize both sides.

When you are faced with the death of a client’s family member, say or write things like “It must be a relief that she’s finally at peace, and I know you have precious memories of your time with her. And yet, it’s hard to ignore the pain in your heart and the gaping void caused by her absence in your life. Most grieving people constantly bounce back and forth between gratitude and sadness. That’s entirely normal and expected. I hope you can just let yourself experience whatever it’s like for you at any moment in time, without anyone judging you for it. Be patient with yourself, and healing will come.”

When you acknowledge and validate your client’s experience of intensely mixed emotions, you immediately stand out from those who urge them to suppress the uncomfortable half of the equation. You offer genuine consolation, your client feels understood, and you become a trusted resource through the transition. Balance your clients’ financial equations while also helping them balance the emotional equations, and you have a client for life.

Dancing and Dementia

Posted August 26, 2012 by Corgenius
Categories: educational, for service professionals

As your clients age, both you and they worry about dementia. Statistics can be frightening. One in every eight people over 65 has Alzheimer’s disease. An American is diagnosed with dementia every 20 seconds. There are drugs that can slow the progression of the disease for a few months or years, but ultimately Alzheimer’s is fatal.

What recommendations can you give to clients who want to avoid contracting this dreaded disease?

Interestingly, the number one recommendation is to dance. People who dance several times a week reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by an almost unbelievable 76%! This was confirmed in a number of studies conducted at both Mayo Clinic and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, and results were published in the illustrious New England Journal of Medicine. While the underlying reason remains unclear, scientists suspect a combination of aerobics and the necessity of relatively complex mental decisions. In fact, the significant impact of dancing on Alzheimer’s prevention is higher than for any other activity, whether physical, mental, or cognitive.

You may have heard, for instance, that doing crossword puzzles and board games reduces Alzheimer’s. Studies found that if you do them at least four times a week, they decrease the chances of Alzheimer’s by 47%. Reading regularly can reduce incidence by 35%. Other factors with less individual significance are common sense: quit smoking, lower cholesterol and blood pressure, eat a healthy diet, control diabetes, and stay socially involved.

A related, fascinating read on the general subject is “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by Dr. John Ratey. You may wish to especially note chapter 9, an excellent exposition of the effect of light exercise on aging and dementia.

So if you want your clients to stay as sharp mentally as possible, think about giving them a gift certificate for dance lessons. It may be the best “investment” they can make.

A Day Unlike Any Other

Posted September 15, 2011 by Corgenius
Categories: financial advisor, Inspirational

Tags:

Imagine going about your usual day. You grab a coffee and settle in at your desk. You conduct two productive client meetings and go for lunch before returning for the afternoon’s tasks. There’s nothing unusual; it’s just a typical day. Then you answer the phone, you hear the hospital chaplain’s voice …..and nothing is ever the same again.

Now imagine it’s the 10th anniversary of that awful day. Almost everyone who lives or works with bereaved people expects them to be “fully healed” by a year or two, much less eight or ten years. They expect no lingering emotion (or can barely tolerate it), no need to say the name or tell the story, and no recognition that this day is forever unlike any other. They don’t understand what “healing” means.

Perhaps we can learn something about grief from the 10th anniversary of 9-11. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news that day. They tell of running into New York streets or flipping on the television as the clear blue sky was 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.

Now, ten years later, we stop our usual activity and pause to reflect. We show pictures and videos. We tell stories of fallen heroes and everyday workers whose deaths ripped through families, firms, towns, and hearts. We wipe away a tear, hug others who understand, and smile at the memories of our beloved dead. We remember, we celebrate, and we honor our loss.
When you are supporting grieving clients and friends recall that, as 9-11-11 illustrates, the goal of grief is not to forget or to “put this behind us and get on with life”. Instead, we move on precisely because we remember, because we create an enduring memory to carry with us into a future that is different than anything we could have imagined before. We say the names, tell the stories, and share gratitude for the gifts these people were to us. We try to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening to someone else. We change our thinking and assumptions. We live with grief and healing, allowing both to co-exist in the everlasting interplay between sorrow and joy.

When you recognize that your client’s needs parallel our collective grief over 9-11, you can be one of the rare people who offer true support. Instead of assuming they are “finished” with their grief, gently 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.”

Your clients know exactly where they were when they heard the news, 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 their experience in a way few others do.

How Are You? Really.

Posted April 18, 2011 by Corgenius
Categories: educational, financial advisor, for all people, for service professionals

Tags:

We all do it countless times a day.  You pick up the phone, a client comes in for a meeting, or you see someone on the street, and the first thing you say is, “How are you?”  Almost invariably, the other person says something like, “I’m doing fine.  How about you?”   In most cases, the question is essentially meaningless.  It has become a standard, polite greeting that doesn’t really expect or desire an answer.  It is merely another variation of “Hello”.

In general, that is not a bad thing.  Like a handshake, it gives us a way to connect easily with the other person in accepted fashion before we begin the real conversation that brought us together.  With people who are grieving or in transition, though, it sends the wrong message.  They know that when they hear “How are you?” the inquirer doesn’t really want to know the answer.  It doesn’t feel to them like standard practice; it feels like avoidance of the reality of their lives. Recall from Corgenius training that grieving people are usually hungry to tell their story. They are usual want to have a sincere listener ask them “how are you doing?” so that they can tell, again, their story of loss.

Of course, if you ask compassionately, looking them in the eyes, perhaps putting a hand on their shoulder, and conveying that you really do care, that is far better.  Yet you can be even more comforting by asking an open-ended question that invites the person to share something of consequence if they choose.

So greet your grieving client and then use questions like these:

 

  • What kind of a morning has this been for you?
  • I can’t imagine being in your situation.  Would you like to tell me what this has been like?
  • What is different for you now compared to the last time we met?
  • What do you wish people knew about your experience right now?
  • Who has been supportive to you, and in what ways?
  • How has this been easier and how has it been harder than you thought it was going to be?

I know that when people ask how you are, they usually don’t really want to know. I want to assure you that I care and will always listen to the truth, even when it’s hard.”

In all of your contacts with them, rise above the standard.  Offer genuine support and to let them know they are not just a number in a portfolio.  If you can do that, you will help them heal while building trust that lasts a lifetime.


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