golden girls cast smiling togethering

What Betty White and the Golden Girls Taught Me about Caregiving

Betty White died only a few weeks from her 100th birthday. The news devastated my now 50-something, former, college roommates and me. We lived together in Pennsylvania when the Golden Girls was a hit TV show in the late 80s. Back then, we were studious enough and social-enough to be too busy to watch television. But during the cold, winter months, we’d spend hours lounging around on our rented, ugly furniture watching The Golden Girls.

If you don’t know the 80’s series Golden Girls, it’s a show about four independent, retired women, living together. There was Dorothy, the practical centerpiece of the house; Blanche, the gentleman-crazy southern belle; Rose, the befuddled rube, played by Betty White, and Sofia who is the eldest and sassiest of them all. Four old women sharing a home. Just like we were four young women sharing a house.
Ours were four similar but different archetypes. One was a troublemaker, one maternal, one a free-spirit and one an engineer. Just like the Golden Girls, what we all had in common was, despite our differences, each one of us was the other’s loyal friend, defender, supporter and, if necessary, caregiver.

Wendy Bronfin with her college roommates.

Decades have passed since college, now I work everyday to provide solutions for families facing Alzheimer’s disease. That’s my job, and Alzheimer’s runs in my family.  I spent a lot of time thinking about my parents and all of our families growing older and taking on different caregiving roles. 

The Golden Girls were smart to live together because they had each other to lean on, and back in Pennsylvania, my roommates and I envied them. Approaching graduation, the idea of moving out of our house and living independently seemed lonely and boring. We were too young and too independent to embrace a vision of marriage or any other accepted form of cohabitation. We aspired to be The Golden Girls when we grew old and dreamed of the day of living together again as elderly, elegant, independent housemates. 

Now in our early fifties, some of us have married, some haven’t. We are all growing older and caring for our aging parents. Typically, immediate family serves as the core of the care team, but the option of having life-long friends who you can count on to play a leading role in the team is deeply comforting to me. Also, in my case, it guarantees at least a few laughs along the way.