For the last few years I have been focusing a lot of my time and energy on helping baby boomers begin to communicate in a meaningful way with their elderly parents. As a financial adviser I saw too many situations where families didn’t talk about crucial issues until there was a crisis in the family. As a result I wrote a book entitled, “ Can We Talk? A Financial Guide for Baby Boomers Assisting Their Elderly Parents.” available through www.parentcareplanning.com
I’ve also spent a lot of time doing research on what is really important to the older generation. I learned a great deal from Allianz Life’s work with elders. They engaged Age Wave to design a study of boomers and their elderly parents to find out how they dealt with important financial issues that impacted both generations. This study, “the Allianz American Legacies Study” made some very interesting discoveries. Harris Interactive, who conducted the study, learned that boomers and their elders were very uncomfortable discussing the topic of leaving an inheritance but both generations embraced the idea of the parents leaving a legacy. They learned that families want to capture all facets of the elder’s life, including their family traditions and history, their stories, values and wishes..
David Solie, in his book “How To Say It To Seniors” came to similar conclusions. He learned that two things are very important to seniors. First they want to stay in control of their lives as long as possible. Second they want to discover their legacy, that which will live on after they are gone. Control seems to slip away from them each day as they start to deal with health issues and their friends and colleagues slip away. As they try to maintain control of their lives they become aware that they must also learn to let go. They begin to review their lives, look at what has happened over the years and assign meaning to these events. This “Life Review” continues almost daily. It is a relentless conscious and unconscious process that they are immersed in for the rest of their lives.
How can you help your parents discover their legacy? When they tell you stories pay close attention, especially when a story is being repeated several times. There is often an important message here. Appreciate the details of the story and listen to them carefully. Be alert to the values that the story describes. Ask open ended questions such as “I know how important Uncle John was to you, Mom, but I never realized how much his loss affected you, What was your life like with him when you were growing up?”
In these conversations you’ve got to be patient and understanding. But if you listen carefully you can help your mom or dad sort out their lives and discover what their legacy will be.