Last week a blogger friend died unexpectedly in her sleep. Rena McDaniel was 55. I didn’t know her well. But I’ve been following her online since I began blogging over 12 years ago. Her first blog posts focused on caregiving her mother with Alzheimer’s. Then when her mother passed on five or so years later, she switched to writing about blogging itself—how to do it, best programs, and even served to help others with repairs. In other words, Rena was someone who spent her life helping others. While I never had need of her services, her presence in my blogging world was always there. And now it’s not. I’m only guessing, but from my perspective I don’t think Rena ever reached her “golden years.” That got me wondering about how many of us ever really do? What does “golden years” even mean? And like so many thoughts I have these days—maybe it is time to stop waiting for some time or some “place” in the future—and instead live life right now.
I find it fascinating that the term “Golden Years” was first invented as an advertising slogan. Marketers for the first Sun City in Arizona come up with the phrase to attract older people to a new lifestyle community for “active adults.” It was so successful that on opening weekend in 1960 thousands of cars lined up outside the gate allowing 100,000 visitors to tour the five models. The developer, Del Webb, had single-handedly convinced retirees that they didn’t have to “retire” from life when they retired. They could instead live a fun and active retirement surrounded with people who were just like them. In the first year alone they sold 2,000 homes.
I don’t know about you, but as a baby boomer I’ve grown up with the term “golden years” as part of my world. To me the word meant that after a person worked hard and got older, they would finally “arrive” at their golden years. That meant they could retire and just enjoy a life of leisure. And frankly, the majority of the people I know in Southern California seem to live that way. But are they? Can everyone expect to arrive at their “golden years” once they hit age 65? Unfortunately, Rena didn’t. And I can’t help wondering whether the terms are either a fairy tale or an ongoing marketing tool from those who stand to profit from it by continually waving it front of a certain demographic?
A book written in 2019 by Professor Deborah Carr titled Golden Years? Social Inequality in Later Life asks that question and many others. She points out (and backs it up with lots of research) that while some people might experience their elder years as golden, there is a sharp difference among older people based on race and ethnicity, social class, and gender. And those inequalities are stark and expected to widen in the decades to come. Nowhere is this more evident than the 40 percent of U.S. citizens who rely exclusively on Social Security to live*. And while that actual percentage can be debated, over 10% of those age 65 live below the poverty rate. What no one debates is that more and more people are relying on scarce resources to make ends meet. I doubt many of those are over-joyed with reaching their “golden years.”
Another big issue that Carr highlights in her books is the rather dramatic inequalities regarding the health of elders. While I personally believe that I have a great deal of influence on how I age and how healthy I remain, some of us have a definite advantage over many older people. Carr demonstrates how having limited education when young, coupled with lack of access to decent healthcare, sets up a particular life course of a person for the remainder of their life. Sure, I grew up in a blue-collar family that wasn’t big on education—but being white and living in a somewhat middle-class community, I was largely unaware of the many advantages that I had over so many other ethic and racial communities with sub-standard education and no medical access. Plus like most women, I am aware of the many disadvantages that just being a woman provided me. For other women of other races and ethnicities, along with those of the LGBTQ communities, the disadvantages add up. From birth to midlife to death, Carr points out the large number of inequities linked to such major causes as heart disease and stroke and so many other serious health conditions—not to mention COVID itself.
With so many of us disadvantaged either by our sex (women over 65 earn an average of $21, 815 vs. men over 65 at $36,921 **) or by our race or sexual orientation plus our social position, it is no wonder that our quality of life can be vastly different when we hope to retire. Or let’s face it, it is possible that certain groups will never be able to retire unless forced to due to their health. That’s hardly a “golden” perspective to have to face.
And please don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about the advantages that I am now experiencing in my life. But I also don’t want to stick my head in the sand and pretend that others have the exact same experience as I do. I knew from her blog posts that Rena was having health issues but I also assumed (wrongly) that she was relatively young and it was just an experience she was facing. And that points out another issue that creates the illusion that we are all facing advancing age the same—and that issue is social media. Even though I think we all know in the back in our minds that what shows up in our Facebook feed is only a fraction of our true selves, it is easy to forget that and assume everyone is having a wonderful life.
I believe strongly that you and I can influence our lives by doing what we can to stay physically healthy. (Eating right, exercising and sleeping well). We also have a great deal of influence over our financial health by planning ahead and making intelligent and carefully considered choices (consider Rightsizing). In addition, our mental and emotional health can be strongly influenced by continual learning, intentions and positive mindset (reading blog posts like SMART Living 365!). But even with that said, I am also sensitive to the fact that things happen. Life happens. We are not in control of the Universe. On the other hand, rather than just throwing up my hands and saying, “que sera, sera,” I instead want to be as resilient as I am able, adaptable and open-hearted to experiencing the best I can manage in the years ahead.
My heart goes out to Rena and those close to her and trust they find peace in the days ahead. And while I will miss her presence online, I prefer to use her passing as a reminder that none of us are getting out alive. The SMART choice (as always) is to consider that perhaps the real golden years are the ability to constantly tell those you love that you love them and live each day as if it is your last.
I am sorry to hear about Rena’s passing. She sounds like a wonderful lady. Sadly, it seems the good ones are taken too soon.
I agree with you and all the comments. One of my favorite songs is Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Are Dying. Because, truthfully we are. You never know what your “best before date” is I feel it’s important to live life and enjoy it.
And, yes, without health all the money in the world won’t help. That’s why Shannon and I focus on the softer side of retirement – very little financial. Once you retire, that’s kind of a moot point. What can you do to make your retirement as good as you can? How do you do that? These are important questions.
My dad passed when I was 7 causing me to grow up fast. My mom past in 2010 at the age of 69, which I thought was too young. Luckily for me, she had a very healthy attitude about aging and life. I am thankful and grateful for every day. I am thankful for my health, my life, my relationships and all the blessings that have been given to me. Like you, I think about others who don’t have it as “lucky” (for lack of a better term) as I do. And, yes, it is unfortunate it’s too many people and then add on the lack of parity between the sexes, races, etc.
Very thought provoking post and a good reminder to take each day as a gift. Time is precious so it’s important not to waste it but treasure it, I think.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Debbie! Sorry your comment went to spam. Thanks for letting me know because I REALLY dislike having to type in a long comment only to have it disappear! And I like that Tim McGraw song too. Such a great reminder of how precious each day is. I also agree with your version of retirement where you focus on the softer (and more meaningful!) sides–once the basics of life are covered, that is so very important.
And it’s good that you are able to learn from the example of your parents about how there is no guarantee for any of us how long we will be around. Make the most of it and enjoy the time we are given! ~Kathy
Galen Pearl says
As I was reading this post, I kept thinking what a great job modeling what smart living is all about!
I never thought about the origin of the term “golden years.” That was interesting — thanks for adding that.
I do experience this time of my life as “golden.” (I’m 71.) I love my life so much. In fact, I woke up this morning feeling so happy and grateful. I joke that I was always meant to be an old person — ha! There is no age I would go back to. It just keeps getting better and better. Of course, as you observe, I’m in a privileged position of having good health and financial stability, and being white. I know that and I don’t take it for granted.
I can’t remember where I read this, but it made a big impact on me, in a good way. Every morning, I think “Today I am one day closer to my death. How do I want to live this day?” I don’t find that morbid at all. On the contrary, it wakes me up to the preciousness of every day, no matter what my age.
Thanks for another inspiring post!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Galen. I don’t think it is morbid at all to remember that each day we only have an unknowable amount of time left–so we should live as intentionally as possible. And I’m so happy to hear that your life feels “golden” and isn’t that the most important thing? May you continue to cherish each moment for the gift that it is! ~Kathy
Donna Connolly says
Hi, Kathy – Unfortunately, I did not know Rena. From your tribute, I was that I had. She sounds like a very caring and giving person. You also post great questions and reminders here giving much to think about as usual. I agree that the biggest takeaway is for us each to live each day as if it is our last and to hold family and friends close.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna. It is strange that you never crossed paths with Rena. I guess she might have been part of that early crowd of bloggers I met and then just stayed in touch with all these years. I think those of us who have been doing it a while are used to bloggers falling away from writing but this was a new thing for me. As time goes by it is such a reminder to never take any day OR person for granted. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. ~Kathy
Joni Padduck says
Kathy, I love your blogs and they always leave me with lots to think about. My dearest friend in life, Carol, passed in 2014 at the age of 66. Her husband passed 7 yrs earlier at the same age of 66. I just turned 67 a few months ago and it occurred to me that I’m now older than both of them were when they passed (both sadly from somewhat prolonged illnesses). In addition to the gratitude I feel for all I’m enjoying in my life now, I also feel a bit saddened that neither of them had time to enjoy what many perceive as the “Golden Years”. I just bought a cover for my new ipad that has a beautiful beach/palm tree scene that says “Life is short. Live it.” Every day, no matter how old we are. Just live it. Thanks Kathy. Hugs, Joni
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Joni! Thank you! So nice to know you’re enjoying my posts. :–) But yeah, isn’t it strange when people close to us (or even sort of not so close) pass away unexpectedly. (And I won’t even mention our dear fur babies!) It does give us a chance to pause and consider our lives and as you say, feel that gratitude. Let’s continue to do our best to remember “Life is short. Live it!” every single day. ~Kathy
Kathy, luck, choices, intellect, awareness, and attitude contribute to our well-being during our working years, but I’d have to say that good health is the #1 contributor to the quality of our retirement years. Without that, all the money in the world won’t matter.
I didn’t know the blogger you are referring to, but I appreciate the reminder that life doesn’t come with any guarantees and that we should make the most of every day.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Suzanne! so VERY true. At my age (67) I am realizing more and more how important good health is to my future. Of course I do believe good health includes good mental health as well as just physical. (I am pretty attached to my brain!!) As you say, “all the money in the world won’t matter” if we don’t have that. And yes to appreciating the good we have. Thanks for chiming in here! ~Kathy
Although I’ve heard “golden years” it’s never been part of my vocabulary. Here’s a bit of backstory on my life perspective. My parents were nearly 40 when I was ‘accidentally’ conceived. From the time I was 3yo and learning to count (4 older siblings so I knew quite bit entering kinde in ’66), I would ask Dad how old he was. “When you hit 29yo you start counting backwards so right now, I’m only a few years older than you”. When he died (age 71) he was a mere 13yo. And yes, we had this discussion along with a good laugh. As Mom aged another 13y to 84, she said, “don’t be mad about what you can’t do, be grateful for what you CAN do”.
I was thrown a surprise 40th birthday party where I was told repeatedly that I was officially “over the hill”. My attitude was nope, still hiking up Heck, I had a little sister who graduated HS when parents were 62/63.
As you might imagine, age has been a non-issue for me my entire 61y. We never had children so we didn’t age the way parents do. It’s interesting to be in the great grandparent generation now (teen pregnancy was high in our rural state in the 70s). Listening to our contemporaries speak of aging while in our heads we’re still in our 20s but not reaping the benefits of all that hard work, long hours, sweat/blood/tears to assemble our desires for this stage of life.
I’m presently 61 so I’m not all feeling “older” ? considering my parents were still raising a teenager at this age while that kid has a 27yo and a 29yo herself!
Having lost my parents so “young”, I don’t take a day for granted. I don’t take a single sunrise for granted. I wake, get a good stretch before rising for the day and I am grateful for the gift. Whatever the day brings, it will be better than yesterday. Yup, I’m continuing to climb that hill and I will until I can’t take another step. Mom’s last day of consciousness, she asked me get her up to her walker so she could walk across her home. Why? She said, “because I can”. I have been so Blessed by the lessons from my parents in life and in the months they each moved toward that final breath.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Elle! Thanks for sharing your perspective on getting older. As you said, it sounds like you have a healthy outlook on the experience and your parents and family helped to make it so. But that raises another question in my mind–I wonder how influenced we are by how our parents viewed aging. Probably more than we usually realize. My parents never influenced us to eat well or even exercise much–and like I wrote, didn’t focus on higher education. Fortunately things have changed for me, but according to Carr in her book, what we eat even as children can have more influence on our bodies that we know. And with the state and quality of food these days–some children are at an extreme detriment already!
With that said, I hope you continue to celebrate your aging and like your mom, stay active (and thankful) for as long as you live.
I most definitely think that we are heavily influenced by our parents/upbringing. It may be ‘love by example’ in either the follow direction or the opposite ‘not me’ direction. I was indeed raised on a heavy diet of sweets but only after fruit/veg/meat/tater/bread. Work on the dairy farm was the active part of life. Once in the house, sit/eat/read/watch TV/bedtime. I’ve had periods of being slender via calorie restriction and periods of high activity/workout/fitness. At 58 I again focused on turning that leaf over toward health, less weight, more fitness activity and 80% healthy food choices. Restriction and MUST do not work for me.
Dad had a 4th gr education and Mom 8th grade. We immigrated when I was an infant. My entire life I heard “where are you going to college” never “are you going to college”. 5 of 6 are college graduates and all 6 of us are successful adults with very little $ help/support. If we weren’t working on the farm for free, we earned income elsewhere. But we always had a roof, food and clothing. Poor but well cared for (why can I not form that sentence with proper grammar this morning???)
Yes, I hope never to lose Mom and Dad’s perspectives on life and aging. No kids to remind me so my mind will need to be the last to go???
I’m enjoying this conversation ya’ll!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Elle! Thanks for sharing some of your own Her-story! I think being so active when you were young set you up for a healthy lifestyle overall. I appreciate the “restriction and MUST do not work for you!”
And how great that your parents put such an emphasis on education. What a difference that makes from family to family. And because of that all your siblings succeeded. While my mother graduated from High School my father dropped out at 8th grade to support his mother. He was very bright, but I think the fact that he didn’t have an education intimidated him so much so that he insisted that others didn’t need one for a good life. They did insist that we work so I think I too started working when I was 15 and supported myself entirely when I moved out at 18. So while I did attend about 3 years of college and paid as I went, I had little or no direction so eventually just stopped. I sometimes wonder why my life would have been like if I had gotten the type of encouragement to educate as you, but then I probably would never have met Thom and my life would be completely different. So yeah, I think it worked out just the way it was supposed to.
And I don’t doubt yours did too…with some help from your mom, dad and family! ~Kathy
Being on a healthcare path is a defined outcome without options other than to quit. Knowing where you’ll end up and in a defined time that is inflexible, makes a difference.
I am grateful. By no means did I have perfect parents and I was mad at them plenty but what they gave me got me where I wanted to be. I know how Blessed I am.
Tom at Sightings says
I didn’t know Rena, but I’m sorry to hear. Age 55 is way too young. (I lost a good friend at age 65, and even that was a real shocker.). I agree about the inequities of race and income. But the real inequity regarding gender is that men die on average 3 – 5 years sooner than women. The NIH should do more research, and develop more programs, to help men live as long as their sisters and wives.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Tom! Yes, always a shock when it is unexpected. But as far as men not living as long, there have been studies that I’ve read. I’m sure you’ve also heard that men that are not in a committed relationship don’t live as long. And one of the reasons for that is because they typically don’t go to the doctor unless they have a partner who insists and arranges it. They also don’t tend to reach out for help or community as much as women. So again, if they are single they tend to be more isolated and the more isolated you are the more you likely to make health choices that cause problems (drinking, smoking, poor food choices etc.) The good news is from reading your blog is that you are in a relationship that will keep you living much longer otherwise so you will be around for years to come! ~Kathy
Janis @ RetirementallyChallenged.com says
I was so sorry to hear of Rena’s passing… and at such a young age. You have written such an important post, Kathy. We do tend to assume others are like us and it’s easy to forget that we all have challenges. Some of the more impactful challenges are completely out of our control (race, gender, the family we are born into, etc.). If I wasn’t on a blogging break, I would definitely share a link to this … hopefully others will.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hey Janis! Thank you. If this post does nothing more than help me (and hopefully others) remember our differences and celebrate our blessings I’ll be happy. Meanwhile enjoy your blogging break and return refreshed and inspired. ~Kathy
Nancy Coiner says
Yes, we just had a good friend die unexpectedly of a stroke. She was 74, not 55, but her overall health was fine. Then, suddenly, she was gone. I still can’t believe she’s not going to be sitting at our dining table every again, or discussing great short stories on Zoom with us, or making us a great weekend breakfast….
And I also have a friend who’s single, worked as a teacher her whole life, and takes care of her mother (who has Alzheimer’s and only has Social Security for income). Her retirement does not look as rosy as mine….
Kathy Gottberg says
Yes it is one thing when we anticipate a passing but when it happens unexpectedly it causes us (or at least me!) to pause and consider. I am sorry to hear about your friend’s passing.
And considering that not everyone’s experience of retirement is as good, it helps me to remember to count my blessings each and every day. I’m guessing you think the same! ~Kathy
Mary Evans Young says
Thanks this post Kathy.
I agree, a healthy lifestyle is wise. But, it’s no guarantee. So, I take the approach the golden years are right now.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hey Mary! What a great approach! Let’s make the Golden Years right where we are to the best of our abilities! ~Kathy
Mary, what a great reference. I’m just 61yo and retired at 58. I’m going to adopt your ‘tude 🙂
Retirement Coffee Shop says
I feel like I am in those Golden Years and have been since I retired four years ago. I’m enjoying retirement and life in general. The disparity in retirement experiences is something that I think about often. I feel lucky that I have a good pension and savings and get to enjoy retirement as I see fit. I am aware of those that are struggling in retirement and probably will until they die. Even with less resources, I feel the Golden Years would be what you make of it. Everyone can enjoy experiences with little cost and can enjoy friends and family. This is a great, thought provoking post that reminds us to enjoy each moment because our Golden Years my last years or decades but may also be cut short.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Mitchell. Thanks for pointing out something important. A golden years retirement isn’t all about money. I just never spent a lot of time considering how different segments of the population have differences that have effected them their entire lives. While I too feel that I am experiencing (or at least approaching) my golden years, I am aware that the lack of financial resources with no focus on education effected my life. While the majority of my friends went to college and obtained degrees and corresponding professions, I didn’t. I did take a lot of college courses but never finished a degree and instead both Thom and I took the entrepreneurial road early on. Fortunately it’s been very, very good to us–but we’ve all know people who didn’t have the same experience. So I have seen how lack of education has effected most everyone in my extended family and it definitely created a degree of financial security or lack thereof. And thankfully, Thom and I started with the advantage of being white and healthy while those two qualities were not in our control!
Anyway I am very glad to hear that you are happy in your Golden Years and that you are experiencing a good life at the point. May it continue for as long as you live! ~Kathy
Diane Dahli says
I don’t feel disadvantaged in any way as I age. I was fortunate in having chosen a profession that provided me with a pension after a certain number of years. It was a tough job (teaching learning and behaviorally challenged teenagers), but I enjoyed it, and look back with a sense of achievement. Most importantly, though is my health, which I am happy to say is very good. I am aware that it isn’t guaranteed that I will remain healthy as I grow older, but I do everything I can to maintain it. I believe in taking responsibility for everything in my life, and yes, I’m aware that things happen to people that they cannot control. As you say, it is important to stay as resilient, adaptable and open-hearted as we can!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Diane! It sounds like you have reached a nice state of “golden years” and I’m glad for you! As you say, you had a profession that helped make that happen as well as having good health on top of it. And while I too agree that taking responsibility for our lives is very important–it’s a bit of a paradox to me. The more I learn about the challenges that others have faced their entire lives and how that effects their choices, decisions and actions, the more understanding I have around certain issues. According to the outline I read of the Carr book, she continually states how because women typically live long than men and we have made less money throughout our lives than men, that puts us at a disadvantage over and over. (I’m sure as a teacher you were well aware that you were making less than men in the same position). And if women stayed home and raised the children, their Social Security was never as much as a mans and they had no pension to fall back on to help. So even if you are healthy enough to keep working past retirement age, your personal finances will never match what a man’s would be in the same position. Women who are in committed relationships tend to have it better off–as long as you both stay alive. BUT… anyway, I doubt I am saying anything you don’t already know but it is something to consider. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. ~Kathy
Tracey Ormerod says
I cancelled my Facebook a while ago, so I’m no longer connected to the community that way, but I saw Carol Cassara’s Instagram post and was shocked to hear the news.
Like you, I didn’t know Rena too well — it’s more like I knew of her and the work she was doing. We were connected on LinkedIn and I took a look at her recent posts there and everywhere; she and her husband were struggling. It’s all so very sad.
The marketing around retirement and golden years disturbs the heck out of me on so many levels. It seems less about finding joy and fulfillment in your life as you live it and more about sacrificing yourself and “feeding the machine”, in the hope you get to enjoy something of it on some future date … maybe … if you’re one of the lucky ones.
I hope you and Thom are both doing well. Please say ‘hi’ for me. 🙂
Kathy Gottberg says
Hey Tracey! Nice to hear from you. And yes, I think you were blogging back when Rena started out too. She didn’t go to the conference where you and I met but she was part of that “crowd” that stayed loosely in touch. Just strange to think that she isn’t around any more. It’s easier to feel that not much has changed even though time has passed when we are all still living. But then again, according to my Dad, that’s what happens more and more as we get older. And I agree that it is important to keep in mind that there are people (and organizations) who are attempting to influence us to buy or do or become a certain way in their own best interests no matter what our age. If it looks like a commercial for something–it probably is! That’s why they pay “influencers” on social media so much money! Anyway, my hope for you, me and all of us that we find a way to live life as peacefully and as content no matter our circumstances–but to never forget that the reality of that is different for us all.
And yes, Thom and I are doing good! I hope you and Kip are as well. One of these days we hope to go to the east coast of Canada and if we will be anywhere near you we will let you know! ~Kathy
It would be really great to see you guys again!
We’ve had to make some pretty major changes in the last couple of years — sad but necessary — but yes, we’re both well and grateful every day.
We’re hoping to get out to the east coast ourselves in the next couple of years. But first, in 3 weeks, Australia!! (We’re so excited.)
Kathy Gottberg says
Hey Tracey! WOW! Australia will be GREAT. I KNOW you’ll have an amazing time and maybe when you get back we should touch base again. Until then keep remembering how precious life is. ~Kathy