The Time We Have Left

This blog is written by Lee Gale Gruen to help Baby Boomers, seniors, and those soon to retire find joy, excitement, and satisfaction in life after retirement. Her public lecture on this subject is titled, “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement.” Her memoir, available by clicking here, is: Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class. Click here for her website:

Now, on to my blog:

SunriseI was having an email discussion with my friend, a cancer survivor, about an article we both read listing predictions for our future world.  One involved longevity.

According to the article, our current average life span increases three months per year.  Within the past four years, life expectancy has increased from 79 to 80 years. By 2036, it will increase by over one year per year.  Therefore, many more people will live to be over 100.

We had this email back-and-forth:

Her:  “I went to see my new primary care dr., a geriatrician, and got quite a shock.  I asked her at what age I can stop getting colonoscopies.  She said that the average for female death is 84, so there is no point in trying to prevent diseases such as colon cancer that take time to develop, unless I plan to live a lot longer than that.  It’s not as though there is any of that that I didn’t already know, but it hit me like a punch in the stomach.  I feel the same way I would feel if I were 30 and got the news that I had a life expectancy of 9 years. I now evaluate everything I do to make sure I’m not wasting any time.”

Me:  “As for your punch in the stomach, don’t assume that you only have a life expectancy of 9 more years.  That email said that longevity is predicted to increase. Therefore, assume you’re going to live to 100, which means you have 25 more years.  So, get that colonoscopy and go ahead and waste some time:-)”

Her:  “The average for women now is 84, 82 for men.  I’m pretty healthy so far as I know, and my parents both lived longer than 84.  Still, I am confronting a short life.”

Me:  “We are all confronting a short life.  Stop focusing on that and focus on enjoying it.  Try the AA mantra: one day at a time.”

Her:  “…my short life isn’t because of cancer, it’s because of my age.  I do focus on enjoying life–I certainly don’t want to piss away whatever time I have left.”

If you are in satisfactory health, I’m not sure which is more destructive to your enjoyment of life, excessive worry that you might get or have a recurrence of a serious disease such as cancer or apprehension over statistics predicting at  what age you might die. Dwelling on such considerations spoils embracing the time you do have left.

Among the more inspiring people I have known was Rose Freedman, a classmate in a community Spanish class I attended many years ago. She was the last living survivor of the terrible fire in 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City where 146 young, immigrant garment workers died.  That tragedy led to significant changes in labor laws.

Rose was full of life, dynamic and always well-dressed with her hair nicely coifed. She consistently arrived at class with her homework completed, spending the opening moments before the teacher arrived socializing with everyone. She was also an artist and an avid, Lakers basketball fan.

One day, the teacher announced, “Rosa (we used the Spanish version of our names during class) has invited everyone to go to the bakery down the street after class for cake and coffee to celebrate her 100th birthday.”  I was blown away!  Given her exuberance and youthfulness, I always thought Rose was in her eighties.

I continued going to that class for many years with Rose until she was hospitalized and died a few months later in 2001 at the age of 107.  Yes, good genes and healthy living had a lot to do with Rose’s longevity.  However, a positive attitude and a love of life contributed significantly.

Let’s let Rose serve as our role model. It’s our choice how to embrace our final years.  If we live our lives in agitated worry about our waning days, can we really enjoy that precious time to its fullest?  Yes, we want to be productive–leave a legacy.  However, the pressure to do so caused by fear we might die sooner rather than later spoils our journey.

In your final years, be productive for the joy of it, not in a race against some elusive calculation about the amount of time you have left.


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Photo on Visual hunt (modified by user)


Filed under active seniors, Baby boomers, gerontology, health and wellness, healthy aging, longevity, reinvention, retirement, seniors, successful aging, wellness

4 responses to “The Time We Have Left

  1. patricia Spiegel

    So interesting–got me thinking about these last years. How many? Who really ever knows.

  2. I’m glad that it was my blog that made you think about it which means that you haven’t been obsessing about it on your own.

  3. Roger Trammell

    My exuberance for life has been tempered by my limited mobility because of spinal surgery and a hip replacement that left me off kilter in spite of my shoe inserts. But, I greatly enjoy and appreciate the company of a good woman that I’ve been with for 30 years.

  4. Rog, I’m so glad you ended the discussion of the heavy stuff with an appreciation of a very positive and precious thing in your life.

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