My Client Died Suddenly, and I Will Spend the Rest of My Life Missing Him

Gillian Sisley

He was a one-in-a-million kind of guy, and despite our unusual kinship, he was a beloved friend with an abundance of wisdom.

Photo by Mayron Oliveira on Unsplash

“I’m going to warn you — he’s a little out there.”

These were the words of one of my oldest clients. Several years ago, she referred her uncle my way, because she has a rule that she doesn’t work with family.

She felt a warning was necessary.

I look back on that now and laugh — for many, Jeff may have warranted a warning.

For me, he was an absolute delight. A happy surprise as a new friend and client.

We were an odd pairing — professionally speaking.

But we got along so well because we were both quirky creatives — we were kindred spirits in the professional working world.

I chuckled, ready for this interesting encounter.

I fell (non-romantically) in love with his bright character and lively nature from the first meeting.

I often avoid working with middle-aged men, but Jeff was different.

I have more than my fair share of stories of middle-aged male clients making assumptions about me because I am a young, quite young, blond, female entrepreneur.

I’m there to be professional and consult, and most often older male client used up precious time to comment on how pretty they think I am, and belittle my professional experience in either social media marketing or ghostwriting.

But Jeff was so much different.

He was past retirement age, and you could tell he was a total flower-child in the 60s. He treated me with unfailing mutual respect, despite our 40 year age gap.

He respected the expertise and insights I brought to the table.

Never once did I feel unsafe or judged or belittled. Age didn’t matter. Industry didn’t matter. He valued sincerity and that the consultant he was talking to knew their stuff.

I confidently know what I know.

But he respected me even more deeply for the things I didn’t know, and said I would research and get back to him with an answer.

Honest and humble humans… we were truly were kindred spirits.

We bonded over poetic writing and flowery words.

Even in the everyday way he talked, his words were poetic and lyrical.

I could listen to him talk all day, and hear him reminisce about his youth and life lessons. He instilled so much wisdom into me.

His wife was just as lovely and sincere. After completing the website copy for Jeff’s website re-design, I then moved on to his wife’s dental practice website.

Adverse to technology, I drove out to their home and farm for the client meeting to ask questions about her brand and get a feel for her brand voice.

The drive was two hours. I didn’t mind it one bit, and I didn't charge for it.

They welcomed me into their home with open arms. She gave me a tour of her dental practice, to give me a better feel of the brand she needed to be represented.

I saw a black-and-white photo on the desk in her office, and pointed at it, dumbfounded.

“Is that… Jeff?!”

She nodded cheekily.

I couldn’t believe it. This young man, 20 she said, was probably one of the most handsome men I’d ever seen. And there he was, Jeff of decades ago, with that same big smile and bright, sparkling eyes.

It warmed my heart.

Just before I drove off, she gave me a big hug and said if I ever wanted to do some horseback riding, I was always welcome at the farm. Jeff would be happy to show me the ropes.

I’ve learned that sincere people hold on to each other.

It was several months later, as we were in between projects, when Jeff’s niece (who originally referred him to me), informed me that he had passed away suddenly from an aggressive illness.

I hung up the phone and wept for a whole hour.

A little piece of my heart broke when I heard that news.

I regret not going to his funeral.

I was set to go. I owed it to him and his wife. They had been so kind of me, and I had grown to consider Jeff a friend.

I tried to rationalize that he was only a client. It almost felt inappropriate to be too upset.

If almost felt unprofessional, in a way.

And so, I didn’t realize just how upset I was about his passing, deeply upset, until the day of his celebration of life.

It took me entirely by surprise.

My anxiety started to skyrocket as the grief consumed me. I fought off a panic attack on the way out the door.

My fiance suggested that we instead visit his gravesite privately to say goodbye, in a few months.

I didn’t attend his celebration of life, and I really wish I had sucked it up and gone.

But I missed my chance.

Final word.

By the time I felt ready to truly say goodbye, many months later, his niece suggested I go for a walk in the woods, one of his favourite places.

It turns out, Jeff was buried on his family farm, under the big oak tree he’d watched grow tall and proud throughout the years.

It is the most fitting place for him to rest, of anywhere in the world.

He was in his late sixties, but still, he was taken too soon.

He had the spirit, and energy, of a 20-year-old.

He had so much more to offer the world.

And yet, a sudden illness just took him, completely unexpectedly.

I will never forget his warm heart and pure spirit.

I will miss that special, special man for the rest of my life.

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