An Old Form of Ageism…Gone, But Not Forgotten!

By Rev. Dr. Bobbie McKay  •  August 10, 2023

My mother loved to work. She was a “Housewares Buyer” at Marshall Fields and Company, a large department store in Chicago and the suburbs around Chicago. She never went to college. But that didn’t matter because she loved her job and her hard work ensured she would keep that job until she retired.

She started her “career” as a salesperson; working hard and always staying after work hours to prepare for the next day’s work. She was friendly and helpful to everyone who came into the store looking for household items. But more than that she had a loyalty to her employer which would exceed anything else she did in her life. Nothing was more important to her life than her job and the company that provided that job.

Ultimately, she became the “senior buyer” of the housewares department which meant she was in charge of the entire department. When that promotion arrived, she increased her work hours and energy spent at her job with pride and constancy. Her company loyalty exceeded all other interests in her life and provided the fulfillment of her career. She was at the peak of her performance as a manager of her department. She worked hard; she loved her job and her employer and felt she was a person of worth and value that was visible in everything she did for the company.

And Then She Turned 65…

And then she turned sixty-five years of age which, in those years, was an automatic signal to begin retirement. It didn’t matter if you wanted to continue to work past age 65. It was a company policy that was never changed. Sixty-Five was an automatic closure no matter what your circumstances or skills happened to be.

As we think about age sixty-five in today’s world, we see people with at least ten more years to continue working. With few heavy labor-intensive jobs around, work became possible for people of almost any age. In fact, people could work until age 65 and then learn a new job to continue for ten or more years of employment.

Her World Became Small

But my mother was not prepared to retire. Her job had become her life. With its absence, her life became empty and meaningless. She tried walking to occupy her days…but walking only served to remind her of what she had lost. With only a GED, she didn’t fulfill new employee requirements for workers. She began to experience health problems which prevented her from seeking new employment. Her world became very small.

Then she developed what we would recognize as stress-related symptoms and was put on medications to quiet her anxiety which interfered with her GI system which led to more medications to “fix” her new symptoms. Finally, she developed pneumonia and was hospitalized over the Christmas holidays.

I was desperate to find something to help her and finally had an idea which pleased me to think about. I would buy her a new watch for Christmas and that would be a signal for finding a new life and a new way to spend her time. I could “buy” her some time. Delighted with my plan, I left her on Christmas Eve with the promise of a special Christmas gift the next day when I returned to the hospital.

Short Relief

On my way home, I found just the “right” watch; wrapped it and went to sleep with the pleasure of my surprise bringing me some measure of relief. But the relief only lasted a few short hours. During the night, my mother had removed her oxygen mask and had died. The hospital called in the morning to inform me of my loss.

I was heartbroken. The system that insisted that age 65 was the end of a working life had finally broken her spirit.

We are wiser now about retirement schedules. We help prepare people for new employment opportunities throughout the life cycle. We provide information and helpers to work with our retirees. But the human spirit needs to know its value; the heart needs to feel needed and wanted; and our lives need to gain wisdom and strength to recognize the gifts we each carry throughout our lifetime.

The “ageism” of those earlier years didn’t recognize the need we all have to be productive and valued throughout our life cycle. Our lives need to be needed somewhere and our minds and bodies need to live harmoniously in the changing environments of the process of aging.

And our spirit needs to know that our lives have meaning regardless of our ages.


For Reflection (either individually or with a group)

Read the blog. Read it a second time, maybe reading it aloud or asking someone else to read it aloud so you can hear it with different intonation and emphases. Then spend some time with the following questions with anything that helps you reflect more deeply.

  • What gifts or passions do you have outside of any paid employment you might have?
  • Do you have a plan for your life when you no longer need to work in order to have health insurance?
  • How strongly do you “need” to be needed? Where do you find meaning?


To learn more about ageism, join us at the 2023 Abundant Aging Symposium either In Person or Online. For full details and to register, go to

Download a pdf including the Reflection Questions to share and discuss with friends, family, or members of your faith community small group.

About the Author

Rev. Dr. Bobbie McKay

Rev. Bobbie McKay, Ph.D., is a UCC minister, author and licensed psychologist. Rev. McKay cocreated the Spiritual Health Center, NFP, and conducted a research study on spiritual life in the United Church of Christ. Based on the findings of this study, Spiritual Life Teams were born, and the study has been extended to the Episcopal church, the Catholic church and the Reform Jewish Community in the greater Chicago area as well as to Islamic populations in New York, Illinois and Florida. Rev. McKay currently works as pastoral associate in Spiritual Life at Glenview Community Church in Glenview, Illinois.

View all articles by Rev. Dr. Bobbie McKay