Some months back, as I was about to leave the house for a 30-minute drive to a church where I was the guest minister, the name of an elderly client appeared on my phone. Not only are these folks clients, but they have been dear friends of mine for over 25 years.
“We had to put John in the hospital yesterday and I wanted you to know.”
I had recently shared lunch with him, so I was a bit surprised. I asked Mary, “What’s going on?” She told me John had gone to Prompt Care with stomach pain only to be sent immediately to the ER because his condition appeared more complicated. After a brief conversation, I assured her of my concern and prayers and told her I would be at the hospital soon. When I got to John’s room, an aide was preparing to take him for an MRI, so our visit was short. I spent time with Mary and then left for home and a late lunch.
We expect health challenges with elderly clients. Though all of us are aging, reaching the ninth decade of life brings a nuanced definition to “mortality.” When a client has a death-facing moment, we who journey with them as advisors have agenda topics we are wise to bring to the top of the list. For example, before I hung up with Mary yesterday morning, I asked her to find and take to the hospital John’s medical advance directive. The hospital had asked her if he had one.
Even more acute may be the task of going through a checklist of documents scanned to the client’s account. Is there a durable power of attorney in effect? Are there children living away we need to call? Are there other calls we could make to help a couple in this situation? If the client is conversant, are there life management issues needing attention? These questions and others tend to line up in my mind like planes awaiting takeoff.
And then there are the tough “what if” conversations that all of us have. In crisis moments, the depth of our advisory relationship either draws strength from those months and years of working with a client or we hide behind our failure and insecurity to have those deeper, meaning-of-life discussions.
Advisors who choose nourishing relationships have reserves of compassion and care that come to the surface, especially when a client stares mortality in the face. We know the other person’s heart and he or she knows ours. Such bonds transcend statements and reviews and are more powerful than any other work we may do past, present, or future.