June 5, 2004

Boomer Orphans

About 4900 parents of boomers die every day. The generation that always thought of itself as young are becoming inescapably adult as they deal with the deaths of their parents and administer their estates. Some 76 million boomers, ages 39-58, will have to deal with the inevitable matters of life and legacy. This has huge implications for the financial services industry that so far has done little to meet these growing needs of boomers to put their affairs in order and maintain family legacies.

Jeffrey Zaslow at the Wall Street Journal writes Baby Boomers Confront Another Rite of Passage: Burying Their Parents,

“Losing their parents has led them to rethink their life and career choices, and to reinterpret their relationships with their own children. Some have found solace by creating new ways to keep their late parents in their lives,” writes Zaslow.

I will quote extensively because I believe the article is important and it's behind a subscription wall.

Zaslow highlights 41 year old Andrew Doctoroff, a psychologist and judge, who lost his mom in 1999 and his dad in 2002.

    "They were exceptional people -- warm, empathetic, vibrant and good," Doctoroff says. As his mother was losing her struggle with cancer, he dreaded that his young children would grow up without a sense of her.

    So he began videotaping his mother, asking her about her regrets and triumphs, her values and her sickness. He taped her at the family dinner table as she cradled his baby daughter. After she died, and his father was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, he taped him, too…. Mr. Doctoroff says that since losing his parents, he feels disoriented. …those 28 hours on videotape are "magical elixirs that animate my parents, bringing them back to life," he says.”

    While they're alive, boomers' parents can take steps to soften the mourning process their children will endure, says Phyllis Davies, author of "Grief: Climb Toward Understanding." Her parents died in 1997 and 1999, and years earlier, her mother wrote a letter to the family and left it with her will. Her mom wrote: "I hope that the initial shock of my departure has begun to wear off, and that the kind carpet of pleasant memories has started to unroll."

    She asked her children to recall the happiest family memories, and she listed many: "Christmases...the nights we slept under the stars...the pets we loved..."

    She also wrote that someday, her children would be standing at the Pacific and feel a sudden, soft breeze, or they'd be in the mountains, noticing the stirring of trees. "Feel that I'm sharing the moment with you," she wrote.

    The letter was "an incredible gift" and continues to resonate, says Ms. Davies. "I have a real sense that my mother is walking with me."

Posted by Jill Fallon at June 5, 2004 11:26 AM | Permalink