In the process of writing my book, “Having “The Talk”: The Four Keys to Your Parents’ Safe Retirement,” I’ve found that one of the ways that adult children can connect with their retiring or retired parents is to view the process of creating a legacy for them as a very fulfilling project that can be jointly undertaken.
The reality is that as we retire and get older there’s a need to understand the legacy that we’ll leave behind.
As my good friend and expert of communication with the elderly, David Solie puts it in his book,“How To Say it to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders,” ” Every day, whether they are millionaire moguls or retired postal clerks, former CEOs or homemakers par excellence, our elders are engaged in an elaborate process of reviewing their lives to find something of meaning that will last long after they depart. ”
Leaving a legacy goes beyond just the financial and philanthropic gifts we leave behind. A legacy can just be the stories and memories that you leave with our friends and families that forever remind them of who you are.
Documenting this legacy can be a worthwhile and compelling experience for families to do together.
For the adult child, an easy way to start is to ask your parents questions about their life and let them work out the levels of importance. We tend to think of our parents as only filling that role of parenting, but actually, they’ve worn just as many hats as you have-maybe more. Encourage them to talk about their lives; what they’ve achieved and how they did it.
There’s a wealth of resources that are available to people and families interested in compiling “legacies.” One of the leaders in the area of helping others to create legacies is the Legacy Project. They have a resource called “Across Generations” which includes questionnaires that can be used when interviewing our older family members. These questionnaires include questions such as:
- Can you describe the neighborhood that you grew up in?
- What was the best gift you received growing up?
- What did you want to be growing up?
- Who has been the most significant person in your life?
- What was the happiest time in your life?
- What has been your greatest accomplishment?
- Share with us a story that you’ve never told us.
I promise you’ll hear amazing stories that will open new windows into whom your parents really are.
I think of the time when I asked my dad in his later years about his experience in the Navy. He was on an aircraft carrier called the USS Guadalcanal. His job was to work on the deck where the planes landed.
One night, while on the deck, he was standing with another sailor when the cable that caught the planes when landing snapped. The man standing next to him was significantly injured when the cable hit him. I was amazed by a story that was obviously traumatizing to him but was news to me. So I asked my dad what he did after this. He told me, “After it happened, I walked down to the kitchen and requested a job there.”
By asking your parents these types of questions, you’ll gain new insights into who they are, and believe me, they’ll love talking about it. And for retirees, feel free to open up to your children and grandchildren about these stories, they’ll love hearing about them.
For a list of resources to help you begin the Legacy process, read my article on “Working With Your Parents to Create a Legacy”.