Dealing With the Death of a Client

I’m including the text of an article written by Rodney Bolejack, DMin, a hospice chaplain, for the Life Care Planning Law Firm Association. While the article is specific to this type of law firm, many social workers in many different fields experience similar feelings for our clients and patients.

Life Care Planning Law Firms are a unique group. Relationships with clients reach far beyond the business side of things. Before you know it, clients become real people with real lives. The client becomes more than a client. You’re not family, but you know them. You them well. You know them personally, either from the uniqueness of their character, their multitude of struggles, or simply because they are just nice folks to work with. You meet them when they are healthy and independent. You know their family adventures, celebrations and woes. You hear about illnesses and financial worries. You witness the onset of dementia. You learn they have elected to begin hospice care.

And when they die, you miss them. You feel their absence in small, and sometimes, in a great way. You may have heard that they struggled with an illness and expected their death. Or, you may receive a surprising phone message that tells you of their death. Either way, the attorneys and staff of Life Care Planning Law Firms will experience grief, great or small, whenever a client dies.

Grief is our total and varied experiences associated with a loss. No matter how professional a law firm may relate to a client, the personal aspects of the relationship cannot be avoided. Grief will come, in small or large degree, when that client dies. It’s just the way humans are wired. For many it is experiences as a “disenfranchised grief.” That is, a grief not validated by society. Yet, it remains quite real. Our humanity asks us to respond to the loss of someone, no matter how brief our encounter or professional our relationship. To ignore grief helps no one. Our hearts and minds need a way to acknowledge the loss and validate our personal grief and simultaneously maintain professionalism. Here are a few ideas. Use them as you see appropriate.

* Personally communicate the news of the death. Although efficient, e-mail announcements of a death may be experienced as abrupt and impersonal. Provide funeral information and allow a representative of the firm to attend.

* Provide a sympathy card and encourage all staff members to sign it, including a personal memory or thought.

* Lighting a candle or placing a single flower in a central part of the office is a simple but significant way of acknowledging the loss and validating the grief of staff members.

* Sharing stories of a client is one of the best ways to respond to grief in an office setting. This can be done informally, around the coffee pot, and usually when someone says, “I remember when Mr. Jones first came to the office and….” Stories can also be shared in an e-mail blog that is confined to the office. When appropriate, these stories can be printed and given to the family as a way of saying this person was more than a client to us.

* Some firms may benefit from conducting a memorial service annually where each client who died the previous year is remembered. Chaplains from hospitals as well as congregational ministers can assist with these.

* Donations for flowers or to a memorial fund may be collected from employees. If a donation is given from the firm. be sure to inform the staff so they will feel they contributed.

* A special place in an office may be selected to create as small memorial where symbols of the person’s life may be displayed. If the client was an avid fisherman and traveler, a lure and reel and map and compass might be displayed. If this is done it is best to encourage staff to bring items for the memorial.

In all losses the importance of acknowledging, validating, normalizing and expressing grief cannot be overstated. Some may shed tears. Others may tell stories. A time of sadness and even a few laughs may expressed by a few or by all. As you give opportunity for grief and expression, always be mindful that grief is a normal experience whenever the client is more than just a client.

Published in:Uncategorized |on April 4th, 2010 |No Comments »

Death, Dying, Denial and Living

An interesting article about a palliative care doctor who refused palliative care when her cancer was deemed terminal. There are a number of ethical issues that I can see, I’m interested to see what issues any of you identify. Be sure to read at least some of the comments, if they are available.
Helping Patients Face Death, She Fought to Live

Published in:Uncategorized |on April 4th, 2010 |No Comments »


Here is an article comparing the St. Louis University Mental Status (SLUMS) exam with the Folstein Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE).

Early Detection of Dementia

Published in:Uncategorized |on February 21st, 2010 |No Comments »

Music as Stroke Treatment

We talked in class a few weeks ago about how speech is affected by a stroke. One of the things mentioned is that some people with affected speech can still sing. Here is an interesting article about possible new treatments.
Research Finds Brain Link for Words, Music Ability

Published in:Uncategorized |on February 21st, 2010 |No Comments »

An Emergency Room for Older Adults

Here is the article about the emergency room I mentioned in class last week: An Emergency Room Built Specially for Seniors

I have a colleague who is a guardian, and here is an experience in the emergency room she told me about last year:

“I spent Saturday morning in the emergency room at “Memorial Hospital” (the name has been changed to protect the guilty) because my ward had fallen and had cut her head. The nurse was awful insisting that she “settle down” so they could do the stitches. I kept telling the nurse that she has dementia and that her agitated stage was normal. I asked if they could give her something to sedate her. The nurse said they did not sedate patients for stitches and that she was just going to have to relax otherwise they would not be able to do anything. What an experience. Fortunately, the doctor came in, saw what was going on, had her sedated, an stitched her up. When we got her back to the nursing home, we discovered her hip was very swollen and bruised – something they did not see in the emergency room.”

Imagine how different the ER experience would have been if the nurse had a better understanding of the issues involved. As it was, it would have been a different experience if the nurse had just paid attention to my colleague.

Published in:Uncategorized |on February 12th, 2010 |No Comments »

Health Literacy

ER Patients Often Left Confused After Visits

Here is a good article that demonstrates the impact of limited health literacy.

Published in:Uncategorized |on February 4th, 2010 |No Comments »


Here is a good article from the New York Times about the effect that language can have. Now, I have to take issue with the title of the article itself, because I prefer the term “older adults” rather than “elderly”, because “elderly” tends to be used in negative contexts. I’m interested to hear what others might think about this.

In \'Sweetie\' and \'Dear,\' a Hurt for the Elderly

Published in:Uncategorized |on January 30th, 2010 |No Comments »


Welcome to the new Issues in Aging blog. This is a place where I will address topics and provide links to interesting articles about aging and older adults. Be sure to check here often through the semester.

Published in:Uncategorized |on January 29th, 2010 |No Comments »

Hello world!

Welcome to Maverick Blogs. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!

Published in:Uncategorized |on January 28th, 2010 |2 Comments »