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Finding a sense of purpose in the twilight years is imperative to a happy, healthy life

Grieving loss is the only road to making way for the joy in life
Cynthia Breadner for BradfordToday

6 a.m.  – The birds are chirping and singing and calling out to me.  The sun is popping up over the horizon and shining in the east facing window.  I look out at it and note it is a little later rising today than yesterday.  The sun is also a little further south today than it was yesterday.  The mid-August dew is on the grass and there is slightly cooler air to be felt.  It feels a little like slumber time as autumn slowly begins to show itself. I stretch and wiggle my toes and reach my arms overhead.  There is a dampness to the morning air that is left behind by the hot humid day of yesterday.  The morning is quiet besides the birds chirping through the screen, the scampering of a squirrel across the steel roof gathering nuts.  Purpose to its day instinctively knowing fall and winter will be upon us sooner than we realize and planning for that is critical as they collect food for that future day ahead.

As I lay there and contemplate my day, I reflect on how days are gone when I hear the pitter patter of little feet coming down the hall. Gone is the moaning of my soul to say, “no not yet, just a few more minutes of sleep before you jump on my bed.” Gone are the cries of “Mommy, I’m scared!” coming from a wee voice in the doorway.  Gone are the 2 a.m. feedings and the 5:30 a.m. wake up call.  Gone are the “Mom, what’s for dinner?” or “Where is my uniform?” or “Mom I can’t find my shoes.” Gone are the “Get up or you will miss the bus” and gone is the “Where have you been? Why are you so late?” Gone are the “Turn off the TV and come to dinner.”  Gone are the “Argh, why can’t you hang up your coat?”  Everything is hung up, in its place, tasks are completed, things are left where I put them, and the TV sits idle waiting for only me to watch. Power Rangers, Duck Hunt/Mario, and Harry Potter have been replaced by Paw Patrol, Bubble Guppies and YouTube.  My time is my own dictated by no one and filling it up is my own responsibility and lays ahead of me each day.  As the years have rolled on, these days, that seemed like forever while in witness, now seem like forever ago looking back.  They have migrated from my household to the very households of those who posed the fears, the challenges, and the questions.  Now the hall is empty, the morning is quiet, and the nights uninterrupted.

In that, sometimes, it feels like no one cares.  When the children are small with one hanging on the breast, as the other toils over a bowl of soggy Cheerios and partners are looking for their socks in the unfolded basket of clean laundry (or maybe not so clean), we feel pressured and pulled in all directions desiring some space, alone time and freedom.  Only to get it later in life and then wonder: In this big ol’ world, does anyone even care?

Laying in bed looking out the window at the sun coming up and hearing the birds chirp and the squirrels scampering, the thought crosses my mind that if I do not get up, no one will know nor do they particularly care.  If I do not go for a run, a walk, a bike ride, no one will know.  If I have chocolate for breakfast, or no breakfast at all will it make a difference?  If I lay here in bed all day, who will it affect?  If my rent is paid and bills do not mount up, how many days would pass before anyone would say “Hey, have you heard from Cynthia?”  If I stopped eating and faded away to bones covered in flesh would anyone notice?  

These are the questions that poke at the meaning of life during the twilight years.  In working with aging adults and the older-olds this is often the atmosphere.  Many would lay in bed for days, mainly because they are unable to get themselves up.  Many do not cognitively understand it is morning and, much like my six-week-old grandson, are vulnerable to the adults around them to tend to their needs.  At each end of life’s spectrum, we are dependent and while we take joy and smiles going in and picking up a six-week-old baby, why is it so different going in and picking up a 90-year-old aging adult?  For me there is no difference. 

In between these stages though, there are the years when we move from independence and spreading of our wings in our teens, to our 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s only to get to our 60s and see the generations coming into their own behind us.  We have a time where we are truly alone in the world wondering if anyone cares and then move into, what is seen as, the declining years where our soul or spirit is masked in the biological aging of our bodies and we are dependent once again on those who care for us.  A cycle, a pattern and a reality that is denied in our culture of aging avoidance and a culture of hiding the truth.  Who cares when we get old?

Some days I feel very sorry for myself and those “Who cares?” questions creep in.  At this stage I must remind myself that I care.  I care if I get up and get going in the morning.  I care if I have a good breakfast. I care if I get out for that run.  I know my family cares if I fade away to skin and bones or let myself go and it is not their job to be fawning over me or fussing about me to prove it.  I raised them to be independent and functioning human beings and I cannot be upset now when they have their own lives to live.  I must care about me and love myself enough to make something of each day.  I must care about my own darn self enough to be happy, find purpose and be in love with the twilight years.  They are not going away, so welcome them I must! If it is to be it is up to me!

The sixth stage of the grieving process is finding meaning in the losses, and life doles out many losses.  Generativity, or the caring and giving to others, comes at a stage in life when we choose to either give or not to give, it brings integrity with it.  To be selfish and inner focused? Or to look at the world in wisdom and give to the cause.  Life is full of endings and they start very early in our lives and they never go away.  Dealing with endings mean beginnings are that much sweeter.  It is up to you whether you live in the losses or find purpose and hope in grieving them into the beginnings and welcome the change.   Grieving loss is the only road to making way for the joy in life.  

So, as I lay in my bed and wonder “Who cares what I do with my day?”  I smile, jump up and shout to the universe ….. “I DO!  I CARE!” and I begin the day with hope.  

Cynthia Breadner is a grief specialist, a soul care worker who offers one-on-one homecare for aging adults who choose to age in place. This care includes emotional support, physical care, mental well-being, and spiritual practices to sooth the soul.  She is a volunteer at hospice, LTC chaplain and a death doula, assisting with end-of-life for client and family.  She is the founder of GriefCafeBradford and practices soul care in the South Simcoe and North York region. She raises awareness how birth and death, each end of life can both be joy-filled and hopeful passages. [email protected]


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Cynthia Breadner

About the Author: Cynthia Breadner

Writer Cynthia Breadner is a grief specialist and bereavement counsellor, a soul care worker providing one-on-one support at
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