The tarnished years

Back in the late ’50’s, some savvy, “Mad Men” type advertising execs came up with a catchy phrase to sell real estate in the Arizona desert to the older set. They coined the phrase, “the golden years” with its connotation of a neighborhood with a work-free, stress free lifestyle of golf, and Gin Rickeys by the community swimming pool. It sold like hotcakes, this concept, spawning a term that has since connoted the time in our lives when we can release our shoulder from the gritty and abrasive surface of the grindstone – and just live!

How unfortunate this term is so anathema from the realities of life’s final chapter. My own parents, products of the Depression and WWII, received a meagre handful of blissful retirement years before my mom was struck down with ovarian cancer. Dad lived a much longer life, but under the care of my sister, and his end came ignominiously like millions of others, in a stark and antiseptic-smelling nursing  home. ‘Nary a golf course to be found.

In 1950 the average life expectancy was 65. Today it’s around 78 years. Modern Medicine has truly achieved marvels. But in my set, thoughts of retirement bring on serious symptoms of anxiety and uncertainty. We’d like to retire in our 60’s, but what about health insurance, will I have a decent quality of life, where should I live?  So many anticipated years left to cover with the harsh realities of finite incomes and limited independence.

When I lost my husband, my  golden years dream blew up. He and I loved being near the ocean and so planned to do so at some point. I have not been able to walk on sand since. Do I move in a few years, do I continue to live near my friends, or closer to family?  Will this job I have now at 57 carry me through retirement or will I be laid off (again) and find myself competing against the rising tide of a much younger workforce?

I truly don’t want to live to 78, or 88 for that matter. I pine for the 1950’s and its much more reasonable life expectancy.  According to a 1998 Census study, 45 percent of women over the age of 65 are widows. You guessed it – for men that statistic is less than 15 percent.

Maybe the term “Golden Years” should just be “Golden Girls Years” since we women are most likely to end up clustered together, pining for our 50’s when we worked, had husbands and could not envision our lives any other way.


Join the resolution revolution

Just when it seems darkest, one of my tribe reaches out with a Coleman lantern and waves it in front of my face.

I am fortunate to have a family I get along with. But since they have always lived an airplane ride away, I have formed wonderful relationships over the last several decades with many friends who I will now refer to as my tribe members, since the line drawn between friends and family has become so blurred.

Today, sitting drinking my morning coffee, I get a text message from one of the tribe elders, Pam.

“Call me when you are up. I have ideas!”

Many people besides myself were impacted by the loss of my husband. Pam has found it to be especially tough, coming on the heels of a year when she helped her husband through a bout with cancer (he is now fine) and other events which have made her question her life’s purpose at this juncture. It was a tough year for all, indeedy-do, in Pam’s lingo (and as I may have mentioned ever so tactfully, in a previous blog).

This is not us but could have been (except for the gal holding the cell phone, as they were not invented yet when we were attending JFK Junior High School).

But Pam has already been trying to pull herself back up by her boot straps. We are part of a core group of friends who met in junior high school and camped together a lot. We gals thought nothing of packing a cooler and tent and heading for nearby Vermont for the weekend. We still see each other. Most of us went for a walk on New Year’s Day at a local park. We have more shared experiences than we could ever hope to remember. That’s why I know my friends were happy when I met James and married. At last I had found my mate as my friends had decades before me.

In either case, back to the text message. I immediately picked up the phone and without preamble, asked Pam for a run down.

“Here’s what we’re going to do. I’m calling it six in six!”

“Like a lottery scratch off game?” I responded.

“Well, yeah…OK,” she said, used to my offbeat quips.

Pam’s idea takes the New Year’s resolution to a different level.  We would each commit to plan something to do together. It could be read a book, take a day trip, sneak into the movies, steal a car (haha) –  something we have either never done or want to revisit with fresh eyes, she explained.  She takes six months of the year and I take six months and we plan one event per month.

We are all familiar with the typical type of singular resolution. The gyms are full of them come January. This idea appealed to me. A new twist that could inject some life back into our lives. Something we both needed desperately. It recalibrates the stale idea of making a resolution. Create a roadmap of experiences to look forward to throughout the year and share them with a friend.

I could already feel a small ember in my core, starting to be fanned ever brighter by a light breeze. It was not a giant plan, we would never conquer Everest, but maybe it could inspire us on to bigger and better?

“I love the idea!” I said to her, already starting to think of what we could do as the year unfolds.

The wheels are starting to turn, a bit resistant due to recent rust formations but moving all the same. So I dare you – go ahead – foment your own kind of revolution in 2017.