Grief: Dealing With the Death of a Client

A fellow massage therapist and friend had a client pass away last week.  As she was contemplating attending the funeral, and how to best go about being a support for the family – I realized that this is not something that massage school prepares us for.  (At least, not mine… did yours? If so, I'd love to hear more about your experience.)

Dealing with death is difficult enough on it's own.  Add in the professional relationship (and in the capacity of a therapeutic one at that) creates it's own special challenges.

The stages of grief are:

  • shock or disbelief
  • denial
  • bargaining
  • guilt
  • anger
  • depression
  • acceptance/hope
The funny thing about these stages is that it isn't always nice and organized – experiencing the list in order.  Often times, these feelings jump all over this list, bouncing around to different aspects with no rhyme or reason.
I don't have any secrets for dealing with the death of a client.  It's a very personal thing and how to best deal with it will vary from therapist to therapist.  Whether or not you choose to go to the funeral, or simply send a card… so I guess, although it would be nice to have some kind of preparation for this situation in massage school … What would that entail?
Grief is a crazy thing.
Myths and Facts About Grief
MYTH: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.
Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.
MYTH: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.
Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.
MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.
Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.
MYTH: Grief should last about a year.
Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from person to person.
Source: Center for Grief and Healing
 
This help guide offers some great tips for dealing with grief http://www.helpguide.org/mental/grief_loss.htm

Coping with grief and loss tip 1: Get support

Family, friends, a support group, a counselor, etc.

Coping with grief and loss tip 2: Take care of yourself

This one is often difficult for massage therapists.  We're used to being the ones who take care of others.
Remember to take care of yourself during this difficult time.
Eat right, get enough sleep, and up your appointments with your massage therapist.
Have you dealt with the death of a client?  How did you support yourself during that time?
Cindy Iwlew is co-founder of Bodywork Buddy Massage Software, a complete online management solution for independent massage therapists that includes online scheduling
She continues to operate her own private massage practice of 14 years, and has been an associate instructor for Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy since 2007.  She blogs regularly about business issues and technology for solo massage therapists.