What If Our Golden Years Aren’t So Golden?

Of all the terrible words in the dictionary, the “C” word ranks up there as one of the worst. When Mercy was diagnosed in July 2011 with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma I was shocked. After all, she took care of herself. How could SHE be sick? But cancer and disease in general and as we would learn life’s trials don’t discriminate and this was our new reality. As I went about removing my golf clubs from my car to stow them in the garage in preparation for my new job as caregiver I quickly learned that although our lives would be changing forever it wasn’t going to be in a bad way if Mercy had anything to say about it. My golf clubs were ordered back to my car and we began five rounds of chemo, each with its own ebbs and flows. She was not in the mood for any pity and had no plans to let this happen to her. As if NHL wasn’t enough toward the end of the treatment plan Mercy was diagnosed with a separate and completely independent Thyroid Cancer. It would have been so easy to hang our heads, but instead we became advocates for local cancer patients even as we dealt with our own issues.

After radiation therapy for the Thyroid Cancer was completed we had no idea what to expect from the cancers or the side effects from the treatment plans. By October however, with permission form her doctors Mercy and I travelled to Zion National Park to get away from everything for a few days and just enjoy a days together away from what had become our new routine. Make no mistake, when it was all said and done Mercy got me through her cancer. She was a great patient and a fighter. Now, none of us know what’s around the next corner, but as for us we kept our faith in God as the beacon that would guide our way, whatever the path, however long the journey. Zion turned out to be just what we needed. I recommend if possible that if you ever go through a major (or minor) health issue getting away for a weekend can be some good medicine. In the photo below Mercy is wearing a stylish wig that was pretty hot for her to wear in Southern Utah in October.

Zion

Fast forward less than a year and were booked on an Avalon River Cruise on the Danube River from the Black Sea in Romania to Vienna, Austria. This was our second trip to Europe and we excited and apprehensive given what we had just gone through and what in some ways we were still going through. Each test and each doctors visit gave us pause, but we know that fear and hope or doubt and faith cannot occupy the same space in the same human mind at the same time. So we chose the latter and carried on. Eventually the good days outnumbered the bad.

River cruises, unlike ocean cruises, are small and intimate. Our ship, the Avalon Imagery, had about 150 passengers, no big variety shows, no casino, and no 24 hour dining options. Instead we had local folk entertainment, on board lectures in small groups, and open dining. Unlike many ocean cruise liners everything is included, including drinks and excursions. The service is first class and it’s really quite nice. I highly recommend them for empty nesters, and couples and singles 40+.

We took a couple pre-days and explored the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania on our own. After arriving in Bucharest we did a self-guided walking tour of the city followed by a more comprehensive and more restful overview of the city on the hop-on, hop-off bus. Ten we hired a guide and a driver through our concierge and off we went to explore, Bran Castle (of Vlad the Impaler, aka Count Dracula infamy), the Citadel in Rasnow, Pele Castle, and the Germanesque Village of Brasov. If you woke up in the Carpathian Mountains you might guess you were in the Sequoia’s. Just beautiful.

On day three we’d begin our journey on the Danube beginning in Constanta at the Black Sea and would make our way through the locks as we gained elevation moving from east to west across Eastern Europe. Our ship would take us through the Iron Gates (Gate of Trajan that forms the 83 mile boundary between Romania and Serbia), stopping in Veliko Tarnov, Bulgaria; Belgrade, Serbia; Vukovar and Osijek, Croatia; Pecs, Budapest and Szentendre, Hungary and finally Vienna, Austria. Some photos from this trip:

Now, why did I write about this? During our cruise, like I said earlier, we had open seating in dining. At breakfast one morning we spotted an elderly couple seated in the corner of the dining room and decided we’d ask them if we could join them for breakfast. They kindly asked us to sit down and we began to introduce ourselves. The wife, the more talkative of the two, made an observation that we looked too young to be retired. We assured her that we were both in fact still working and just enjoying a vacation. Then across the table came here boney pointed finger dancing first in my direction and then Mercy’s, “you two are smart”, she said….. “you’re golden years might not be so golden, do what you love now!” We thanked her for her sage advice as she had no way of knowing what we’d just recently gone through or that the beautiful hairdo on my wife’s head was a wig. This would be our mantra moving forward.

Do what you love NOW!
Your golden years might not be so golden!
Retirement is wasted on the elderly!

For us it’s travel and a combination of other things that excite us about life and what we enjoy doing together. I suppose there was a time when we said “one day” or “maybe next year” or “we can’t afford that” about travel and other aspects of our lives. If travel is what you love then you can probably find a way (there is a way) and make it a reality. Like with all other things there must be balance and I believe that there’s a way for just about anyone who truly wants to live now and not dream of retirement “one day”. For us it’s travel, for others it may be another hobby or moving to a different part of the country, or spending more time with family, or volunteering more, or a combination of all those things. If our lives are in order and we plan and we set out to become what we dream of everything is possible. And sometimes life throws an event your way to remind you. My Mother taught me, just as millions of mothers taught their children across the globe, “tomorrow never comes”.

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