Helping Clients Answer "Who Am I Now?"

We now turn to another type of grief-inducing change that clients often experience: Role loss. 

One’s role is their accustomed “place” in a friendship network, family, workplace, or other social construct. We get very attached to our roles, especially when they become part of our self-identity. When they change, we grieve. Some examples:

  • A natural caregiver must become a care receiver.
  • A widowed or divorced client is no longer part of a married couple.
  • A breadwinner is laid off, losing the role of family provider. 
  • Clients became in-home teachers to their kids during COVID.

Like many types of grief, role loss can even be triggered during positive life events. For example:

  • A long-time member of the workforce retires.
  • A couple has a baby and leaves behind child-free life. 
  • An employee gets a promotion but now has entirely new coworkers.
  • A graduate leaves school and enters the workforce.

These types of changes can create a “both-and” emotional state, where a client feels joy about some aspects of the transition and sadness about others. In the case of retirement, many newly retired clients are thrilled not to have to work, but they also grieve for what they’ve left behind. After all, they lose their title and prestige, purpose in life, standard routine including their reason to get out of bed in the morning, regular cognitive stimulation, daily interactions with colleagues, and more. Research shows that men who retire (more so than women) tend to drink more, watch more TV, have fewer social interactions, become more sedentary, and are at higher risk of illness. Of course, this is not true of every retiree, yet it is something to watch for as clients adjust to their new role.  So that you can support them during this transition, ask good questions like these:

  • "What do you most miss about your job or going to work?"
  • "How often are you still in touch with colleagues you enjoyed?"
  • "What is it like when people ask what you do, and you answer, 'Well, I used to…but now I’m retired'?"
  • "What gets you out of bed in the morning now that you aren’t going to work?"
  • "Is it easier or harder to get a good level of physical activity now?"
  • "What do you find most satisfying about your new role in life, and what is most challenging about it?"
  • "How are the family dynamics different now that you’re retired?"

Use similar questions for the array of role changes that occur in every stage of clients’ lives. When you address this type of loss and the grief it entails, you set yourself apart because few others are doing so. Clients know you understand them and serve them in ways other advisors don’t, which is always a good thing!

Related: Help Clients Find Exceptional Memory Care