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 meager 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.