I Forecasted My Parents’ Death. This is What I Learned.

I only have 15 real more months with my parents (Inspired by Tim Urban). All images by the author.

I created a death model to forecast how much time I have left with my parents…the results shocked me.

While they might have another 15 years to live, I may only have 15 months of real, in-person time left with them — I’ve already used up 95% of my in-person time with mom & dad.

Keep reading to see the analysis…

I re-read Tim Urban’s The Tail End during the new year, and it hit me like an emotional tow truck. Perhaps it’s the pandemic coupled with the new year blues and a few unexpected deaths, but I wondered…

How much time do I have left with mom & dad?

I live far away from home — 5,448 miles to be exact from Amsterdam to San Francisco. And every time I come home…my parents seem to have aged a whole decade. It’s frightening.

They used to tell me they were lucky to live past the age of 60 growing up in the Cultural Revolution in China— well, they are now 70.

We think we have all the time in the world with our loved ones, but we do not.

We only have 5% left with our parents

If you haven’t read Tim Urban’s “The Tail End,” I encourage you to read and bookmark it — it might just be the most emotionally-charged post on the internet.

The story goes like this…

Many of us grow up spending every day with our parents until adulthood when we leave home. Some of us remain close to home, while many leave and never return except for the holidays. Unless you continue living at home with your parents, most of us will have used up 95% of our in-person parent time by the time we are 18.

So I was curious…

Coming from a finance background, I decided to forecast and model out how much time I have left to spend with my parents.

Here’s what I did in 3 steps…

(Step 1) How much time I’ve already spent with my parents by age 33 (in-person)

Step 1: I estimated how much “in-person” time I’ve already spent with my parents. For example, I assumed I spent every day with my parents up until age 18 (college). And during college, I returned home 4 months per year on average (summer, winter, and spring breaks).

Currently, at the age of 33, I estimated that I’ve already spent 286 months or 3,426 weeks of in-person time with my parents.

(Step 2) Life Expectancy at 65: https://data.oecd.org/healthstat/life-expectancy-at-65.htm

Step 2: I looked at life expectancy tables at age 65.

For example, OECD predicts the average life expectancy of a 65-year old to be 83 (male) and 86 (female) years old.

Based on this estimate, my parents may have another 15 years to live.

(Step 3) How much time I have left with my parents (in-person)

Step 3: I created three scenarios (Low/Pessimistic = 10 years to live, Base/Realistic = 15 years, High/Optimistic = 20).

I assume that I will visit my parents 1 month per year based on my current situation of living abroad.

Based on the Base/Realistic scenario, I’ve already spent 95% of in-person time with my parents and only 5% remains. Holy crap…

“We’re in the tail end.” — Tim Urban

Are we setting the right goals?

Many of us start the new year thinking about what we want to achieve. A new job. More success. A new country to travel to. Goal setting is great because it has been linked to higher achievement and with a new year, we can take advantage of the “fresh start effect,” but…

How often do we set goals based on what really matters?

According to one of the longest studies on human life (Harvard Grant study), scientists began tracking 238 Harvard students in 1938 to understand what truly matters—what makes a good life. And after 80 plus years, what they found mattered at the end of life was quality relationships—it was the people.

So how often do we set goals based on the people who truly matter?

Not often enough.

Many times, I’ve set achievement-oriented goals based on expectations of what I should do rather than focusing on what I want or what (who) I value.

There’s a theory to explain this. Philosopher and Stanford University professor René Girard called it mimetic theory — human beings naturally imitate the desires of other human beings. We are influenced by the people and media we surround ourselves with.

Essentially, mimetic theory is the undermining mechanism that drives modern-day advertising.

  • When we see celebrities with their new Ferraris, we also want one.
  • When we see bikini bodies on Instagram, we also want that body.
  • When we see our colleagues getting promoted on LinkedIn, we also want to climb that corporate ladder.

Society socializes us to focus our priorities on achieving status rather than spending more time with mom and dad…

It’s time to rethink our priorities

If there’s anything the pandemic has taught me is that life is finite and time is limited—I can’t have my cake and eat it too. We talk a lot about 80/20 (Pareto Principle) in business and productivity—but are we also applying it in our daily lives based on what makes a good life?

I want to rethink my priorities to align more with my values and what truly matters to me—I want to spend more time with the people who matter.

And if there is a silver lining from the pandemic, it’s that flexibility in the workplace is now here to stay. Many organizations have shown during the pandemic that they’ve been able to sustain and thrive even with remote and hybrid workforces. Companies and countries are even experimenting with four-day workweeks

What does this mean for us?

  1. Spend more quality time with the people who matter. If you only had 15 months left with your parents, what would you do? I plan to call more frequently, come home more often, and travel with my parents.
  2. Think about what you value. Oftentimes, our goals and priorities are based on “shoulds” and “expectations.” A good exercise is to look at your values and see how they align with your goals.
  3. Time is priceless. Flexibility is key. Whether it’s in your job or life, look for flexibility to optimize quality time.

“It’s easy to get isolated, to get caught up in work and not remembering, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen these friends in a long time…So I try to pay more attention to my relationships than I used to.” — Dr. Robert Waldinger, Director of Harvard Grant Study

For me, those 5,448 miles between Amsterdam and San Francisco now seem just a tad bit closer.

And one last thing…

Close your eyes. Imagine that your parents or a loved one are now gone…what would you give up to spend one extra day with them?


Death Tracker (Total Time Left with Parents):

If you’re interested in estimating how much in-person time you’ve already spent and have left with your parents, click here (Google Sheet)




L&D professional. Californian in Amsterdam. I write about self-growth, professional development, and life in Euroe https://www.youtube.com/c/davidwenstudio

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David Wen

David Wen

L&D professional. Californian in Amsterdam. I write about self-growth, professional development, and life in Euroe https://www.youtube.com/c/davidwenstudio

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