Are you a drug addict?

At what point does the story you tell about your past become the crutch you use to keep from moving? At what point do you begin to use your story, and the telling of it, to remind yourself why you are unhappy, stuck and challenged? At what point does this story, which is most often never true, need to be set down, let go and abandoned by the side of the road?

Did you know as we TELL stories we receive the chemical hit in our brains that occurred when it actually happened? You have 14 seconds after an event to react and respond and from then on you are acting upon the memory. Then as the need for the chemical gets more demanding, we then begin to add detail, colour and action to the event in order to continue to get the needed chemical thrill.

I practice holy witness …. I allow people to tell me their story and then I ask them to let it go. Feel the pain and the sense of injustice and then know you have come through. It is then time to begin living life again. Over the past, in working with the aging, I have learned how it is in our best interest if we want sympathy, compassion and attention we must continue to tell our story. We get the “oh no!”s and the “Wow”s and the “I can’t imagine”s and it feeds our chemical brain’s addiction. When we stop telling the old story and tell a new one of present day, exciting times and how we are coming through the pain our lives are enriched.

So I ask, at what point do you begin to let go of the old story? The point is now. The time has come.

Can I be your holy witness? Can you tell it one more time and then decide to let it go? It is up to you! When will you truly bloom?




My Mother’s Drawer

Today I decided to disassemble a puzzle I have completed. There are a few pieces yet to put in place but the fun parts that were exciting and challenging are finished. All that is left is the ambiguous pieces that just take hours of trial and error with each piece to see if they fit because they are all the same colour and there is little sense of distinction. I feel it is completed. 

I pulled out the box and thought to myself how nice it is when people put puzzles into bags with a zip at the top. It seems to contain them better and protects the pieces as the box gets worn. There is less likelihood of loss. I went to my middle slider of the only bank of drawers in my wee kitchen. As I pulled it open and viewed the contents I was catapulted back to my mother’s kitchen. The greatest chunk of my childhood was lived in an old house on the main road. It was built in 1862. I know this specifically because my father had purchased those numbers and put them on the house. Many people thought it was our address. 

This old house, built in 1862, was many things. A post office, a funeral home and then a private home which dad bought in 1971. My mother was so excited to move to “town”. Town being a loose term for the tiny village where the house could loosely be seen as on the outskirts. She had pined to get off the farm, move from the dead end of a lane, and be in the thick of things. She wanted to move from a place that I now dream of living. Funny how things come ‘round. 

Anyway, back to the drawer. My mother’s kitchen, in this old house, I believe was constructed in 1862, when the house was built! The layers of paint, I am sure, had they been tested, could have been filled with lead and the insides were a playground for the tiny critters that lived alongside us in this old place. The cupboards were built in place with no boxes, like today, that would contain the contents. 

The old drawer she had housed everything from bread ties to recycled plastic bags. There were “pig nose” sockets and screwdrivers. Boxes of foil wrap, wax paper and extension cords. In the corners you could find crumbs and lots of little particles of unknown origins. There was tape, a loose screw, and the odd dowel. Like the wardrobe in a C.S. Lewis novel, if you opened this drawer you could enter an alternate universe. To my child’s thinking it was a mess, today it would be a treasure trove. 

As I pulled open the drawer in my kitchen this day, I found it to be much the same as my mother’s drawer. Minus the obvious mouse turds surely found in a home built in 1862, there were crumbs, wire ties, boxes of foil wrap, parchment paper and recycled bread bags. No extension cords mind you. There was a plastic jar with measuring spoons, and many recycled brown lunch bags. I looked for a plastic zip bag for my puzzle. 

The box that held any new bags had been disposed of long ago. All I found were used bags. Some with crumbs and some without. Some a little cloudy and some with used parchment paper. With pride I held these bags to my chest and cried a little. This treasure trove of a drawer connected me with my mother once again. Gave me the moment to be thankful for her quirks, her annoying habits and her frugal nature. The story of having $2 from cream to buy a week’s groceries flashed into my mind and her frustration with her 1862 set of kitchen cupboards rang in my head like the chimes of an English church steeple. 

As I work with the aging, I am reminded again and again that all we have are memories and teachings from our past to keep us going. The older I get the more memories I accumulate and the more precious each day, I live, becomes. As I work with the aging and watch as families fuss and fret over guilt and annoyances, I want to call from the mountain top, “just be present”. 

My mother’s drawer, like in a C.S. Lewis novel, takes me back and as I realized I could not put the puzzle pieces into a used bag along with crumbs of my past. I gathered up the puzzled and put it in the box. As I pulled apart the pieces of the picture, I realized my mother’s drawer is just that, a piece of puzzle in a life that will one day be put together by my children and grandchildren as they remember their own mother’s drawer. 


How often do you look outside of yourself and then imagine yourself in that place where you look? It takes some presence of mind to be in a place other than where you are. Is that too cryptic? 

I was travelling down the 400 highway this past week and noted, as we sat in traffic, there were cars speeding along on the far left side. I watched and then realized that it was the HOV lane. Mostly empty, the odd car sped along, while we sat or moved along slowly. I envisioned myself speeding along that lane. Then I realized in order to do so I would need another person in the car. It caused me to ponder then, how often do I drive with someone else in the car?

There was another time I had someone in the car with me and as we sat in the same traffic flow, I needed to be prompted to take the HOV lane, because it was so foreign to me, I did not know to use it. 

What does HOV stand for? Do you know? High Occupancy Vehicle. Saying that, when you travel with more than one person you have privilege. What does it say about us that this lane is so rarely used? What does it mean that it is abandoned, or vacant, while hundreds of single drivers pollute the air sitting alongside this empty lane? Would it not make sense to just let everyone use it and that would mean we would move quicker? I truly do not know. 

As I looked outside of myself and imagined myself speeding along this HOV lane I wondered, who would I have with me? Who are the companions in my life that walk with me? This created more pondering and wondering. I truly have a very small circle of people in my life. I realize that. I have chosen to walk alone, and it started years ago when my ego was so fragile, and I was hiding parts of myself from others. My companions were poor life’s choices, anger and self-pity. As I looked at the HOV lane I wondered is my life a “high occupancy vehicle” or am I just one more on a journey of loneliness too afraid to trust or to be vulnerable enough to take someone else along on the journey. Am I too afraid of being judged and laughed at? Am I doing things people should judge and ridicule? 

Today, I feel free of judgement because I live with integrity and the companion that travels well in my HOV lane is my own soul. I live as though I am in a fishbowl, and all are looking at me. Mostly I live remembering I am being watched by my own spirit. Like a child learning and mimicking, I live as a good example for my own heart. This brings me such peace that even when I sit in the lanes that are slow to move, while no one else can see, I never am alone. 

In the United Church creed, it starts out, “We are not alone, we live in God’s world.” What exactly does that mean? It means we live in companionship with that which created the stars in the sky, the sun and the moon. The trees that now are bare of leaves and the ones that remain covered all winter. We have been created and live in partnership with the snail that slowly crosses the path, the seagulls that hang on the wind, the fish that with the slightest swish of the tail move silently through the water. We live in companionship with evolution and are constantly changing. While sitting in traffic on the 400 alone in a car, we are never alone if we do not want to be. We reflect that which is pure, good and holy. When we remember that, we can hop into the HOV lane of our lives and fly with great speed.

May you never feel alone.

May you know you can fly when you choose.

May you look outside of yourself and then imagine yourself in that place where you look.

Speak from the heart!

Language and the power of choice are two ways we speak to the world. Language can come out of our mouth or out of actions or speak from the heart, with energetic force. Choice is how we live every day, and with each choice the consequence falls forward like the clocks in the spring taking us into a new light and a new place to exist. 

The weather this week has been amazing, and I attempted to take full advantage. I was so thankful that I could drive with ease and not need the freshly minted snow tires! I hiked and I walked when I could. I parked in the furthest spot so I could take in the day as I crossed the tarmac, feeling the sun on my face. My pleasure was beyond words. I could not articulate how deeply happy I feel. My choice is to live each day finding the good, the bad and seeing what could be ugly and attempting to see it through my rose coloured glasses.

I went into work and began my shift. Another day with familiar people. I come to my workplace however I must remember the duality. While this may be my workplace, it is also their home. This is a contrast that many others will not witness in any other job. Caregiving is intimate and is personal and a very private matter, taking place in the “home” of the client. Feeling safe and cared for is my job, the mechanics of it are secondary. 

The language I use, and my choices will make or break a person’s confidence and trust in me. Sometimes I chuckle to myself when an older person corrects me when I call their personal hygiene a “brief”. They will call to me, “it is a diaper, let’s be honest!” Their label is a statement, reminding anyone in earshot they choose to see it as a negative instead of a helping hand in their lives. 

As we age the body begins to breakdown. Biologically the body is built to breakdown. I would argue it is our need and desire to stay alive at all cost that is the enemy here, not the breakdown of the body. Each day I work with 20+ different people all in different places in their lives, different stages and much different cognitive ability. I watch and I learn, and I listen.

The language I use with them, like calling their underwear a “brief” instead of a “diaper” is important. They can choose to call it whatever they like, however I hope with my language I will encourage them to see it as an aid, not a defining factor. I am patient as I can be and let them be who they are in any given moment, because like a child exploring their territory, aging adults are exploring this new world of theirs as well. I worked with one client who while he was thanking, and thanking, me for my service to him, asked me, “do you know how old I am?” and I honestly did not know. He said, “I am 98!” and I looked at him in wonder. We talked and we chatted, and I asked him about all the things he had seen in his 98 years. I finished up with his brief, took off his support stockings, covered him up with is favorite fuzzy blanket and waved goodnight from the door. His last words were, “thank you so much my dear, I appreciate your help so much!” In his room is a bed, a tv and two chairs, yet he is so content with his life. He said to me, “did you see the moon tonight?” and, also he said, when I asked if he wanted his headphones, “they aren’t working, I don’t know why.” I figured it out and he happily put them on to watch a little television.

Another person was so excited to see me at 7 PM as she can let down her day by putting on her nightie and relax after taking off the support hose. The phone rang while we were working together and she said, “let it go, I know who it is! I can call them back.” I reached for the phone and said, “just answer and let them know!” It was her son who calls her every night. I did not want him to worry, nor did I want her to miss his call. We talked about the fears of children in a world that is so scary. I rubbed cream on her legs and snuggled her into her freshly washed nightie, housecoat and slippers and we folded her clothes and put them away. 

These are stories of choice. People who in their aging choose contentment right where they are. The language we use together is light and conversational, a blessing to my ragged day at times. The other side of the coin is the gentle struggle we have with those whose dementia has caused paranoia and distrust of all that is around them. Those whose body is so painful and riddled with illness they can only burst with complaints and frustration with why they must live that way. Choice is not always easy. 

In your youth and health are you choosing how you feel each day or are you living in a place where your wounds and your past experiences are the fodder for your future? Each day do you strive to choose to be happier, accept the past and work it through picking up the lessons learned? Take a day and work with an elderly person and listen to their past and realize no life is carefree and no life is without challenge. It is how we choose to live and in what language we speak that brings hope and faith. To all my colleagues in care … remember the important job you do … and to those care giving at home, love it and get the support you need. 

Cynthia Breadner is a teacher, author, grief specialist and bereavement counsellor; a soul care worker and offers specialized care in spiritually integrated therapies. She works as a LTC chaplain assisting with end-of-life care for client and family.  She is the mother part of the #DanCynAdventures duo and practices fitness, health and wellness.  She is available remotely by safe and secure video connections, if you have any questions contact her today!

Living Many Questions

With the publication of my book, I continue to write each week for the local blast paper. I love sitting down and putting my fingers on the keys and letting the spirit speak through me. This said, there are times when I feel I must mitigate what my higher self thinks and says to my heart. Not that it is anything sinister or unbalanced, it may be seen as unbecoming for my employers or those I work with. I struggle with a system that is so broken and unless the ship starts to turn sometime soon I will never see change in my lifetime.

I love working with the elderly. Some might consider me in that cohort being I am now in my 60’s. When I work with people in their 90’s I think where was I 30 years ago? And then I look 30 years ahead. I have much living to do yet. I work with people who have lived lives in so many different directions. They all come together in the end looking for care and there you have it, how do you care for so many different people in so many different ways?

What do the elderly look like in my work? Let me see if I can put it into words without sounding judgemental or demeaning. I am compassionate and caring for all people, yet every person under my care requires a different me to serve them. Some have cognitive abilities, keen and opinionated. Some are unable to string a sentence together because the mind no longer allows this skill. Just this week my daughter said her two year old was putting four words together. “Where did mommy go?” On the same day my grandson strings together four words, I stood with a woman who did not know how to pull down her pants to sit on the toilet. She is continent (can hold her urine and feces) and can void over the toilet. She just does not understand the process anymore.

My other grandson knows to talk into the remote to watch is favourite program. “Paw Patrol on Netflix” and voila, there is his show. On the same day I helped a competent, cognitive woman who had just returned from hospital find Wheel of Fortune because there were over 800 channels at her disposal and she was lost as to how to find it.

At each end of the spectrum we teach and assist those we love. I love the people I work with. What I don’t love is the system I work in. Just this week I was denied my paycheck and when I went investigating I was told “no one told us you worked here”. This was after I had worked five shifts. The HR person spoke to the accounting person and they both blamed the director of care. Regardless, I was made to feel it was my fault somehow because I had not filled in the appropriate paperwork. At no point did anyone say “I am sorry” for their incompetence, or their poor processes. Nor did they make it right other than to tell me I would be paid in full the end of the month. What if I had children to feed? What if my rent was due? I worked in good faith, is it not expected they should offer the same good faith?

Our system for caring and employing people is broken. Fully and completely broken. Angry people are now just showing up because eventually they do get paid, however, everyone is watching their own behind, like in the case of my lack of pay. No one wants to be accountable in a broken system.

What’s the answer? I truly do not KNOW the answer however what I see as a path we could take is cooperative housing for small groups. Pod style living where there is a common ground and a central hub and yet a small enough group to be personal and hands on. There seems to be a shortage of care providers and yet so many people love working with the older adults. When a worker is respected and loved they will love in turn and be lining up to work for a system that values and cares for them. A system that ensures one gets paid on pay day and appreciates each person for who they are.

Simon Senek says “people do not buy what you do, they buy why you do it!” When the “why” is answered everyone is on the same page. Large corporate structures have the “why” or the mission plastered all over the walls alongside the resident’s rights however there is a disconnect when it comes down the teaching and performing chain.

This blog may be disputed, I hope it is! Prove me wrong. Tell me I am full of it and that I don’t know what I am talking about and I will listen. Better yet, contact me if you are an investor and let’s see how we can build a new way to care for the elderly … let us live many questions and find the “why” and live it out in day to day living.

Next to come a discussion about food ….. the elderly and the slop they are fed!

Technological Darkness

The headlines, if you could see them, were about how there was a major outage across the land that rendered useless cell phones and television! How does this happen and where does it leave us when it does happen? Did you have a moment of panic? Did you go through the grief in a way that you can now better understand it? This past week’s outage gives us a tangible way to better understand ourselves. Let’s look at that!

I woke up on this day, the day the world seemed dark, and looked at my phone. There it was in the top right corner the WIFI icon and yet beside it was some dots and the phone message read, “cannot connect to the internet”. Before I had even lifted my butt from the bed, I knew there was something amiss. Something was off. 

Feeling: denial. When we cannot believe something has happened. The shock and surprise create in us the inability to believe, so we question. How can this be? This cannot have happened. I got up and went into the living room and looked at the modem and it was flashing orange. Hmmm confirmation something was not right. Feeling: anger. No way! I cannot watch my morning show! This is an outrage! What to do next. Where to turn and who do I yell at? Should I call someone and complain? Feeling: bargaining. Wait! I will turn off the WIFI on my phone and just use my data. There, WIFI off. Wait! It’s not working either … return to denial and anger. Emotions rotating through my body.

I put the phone down and take a breath and decide I will make some coffee and ponder this challenge. Something I take for granted and a piece of my life that is always there is just gone. Without notice and without any chance to prepare. I plug in the kettle and wait for the water to come to a boil and ponder. What do I do next? I pace the kitchen floor and listening to the kettle heat up the water. Feelings: shock, denial, wonder and the anger works its way into sadness and depression. I feel a sense of sadness that I cannot watch my morning show. The routine of my life has been altered and, while not just altered, I feel shocked into change. A wave of apathy takes me over and like someone has poured warm oil over me and as it slowly runs its way over my body, I think of all the things affected by this loss. I cannot check my bank balances, do I need cash at the store, and how will I connect with the outside world? Feeling: Confusion and lack of direction overtakes me. I feel challenged even making coffee. 

As the morning wears on and I get myself moving. I eat, shower and get dressed and many of the routine things from my day begin to unfold. I can do this. I am moving like a sloth through molasses. Slowly and carefully stepping my way into this world I no longer know. I habitually reach for my phone, the remote, the computer, only to remember in a tidal wave of reality, there is no internet/cable/WIFI. What is life without internet and cable? Sounds silly however they have infiltrated every part of daily life. The denial, shock, and apathy begin to morph into reality, and I think to myself, “what CAN I do?” I pick up my knitting and I make a cup of tea. Feeling: Acceptance I must go on and figure this out. It will be okay!

And 24 hours later slowly the world comes back online. My life takes back a semblance of normal and I realize there were people unaffected by this outage, this death, and they are oblivious to me and my emotional roller coaster. 

This may sound like an unusual way to look at the technological disruption we had last week, however it is an excellent way to look at how we manage any loss in our life using an event that is detached from our heart. We can see how we process every loss using our feelings and our moments of change. Dissecting this event will give you courage and strength to meet the other losses in your life. The losses that are harder on the heart and the spirit. The loss of a mother, grandmother, uncle, pet or sibling. The loss of a father to dementia and the world of cognitive chaos. The breakdown of a marriage, an argument with a bestie or moving out of a job either by choice or by termination. Each day we have losses we must deal with and when we understand the emotional process, we can navigate easier. 

What did I do? I had an Anne of Green Gables marathon, watching the DVD’s that are collecting dust on my shelf. I was reminded of a time when phones were unborn, doctors showed up via horse and buggy, and Canada had not yet been signed, sealed and delivered. I watched as Anne looked for kindred spirits and dreamed of sleeping in a cherry tree at the train station waiting to be picked up. I was taken back into the imagination of window friends and church picnics. 

While this technological disruption pushed us through the grieving process it is a reminder of simpler things in life that are so important and how with nary a moment’s notice life can change direction. Are you equipped by knowing the feelings and the process? It helps to be prepared emotionally, actually more important than physically, what is in your emotional emergency kit?



Bell Let’s Talk Day #bellletstalk

Never thought my story was important enough. However, as I heal and grow and learn about self forgiveness, making amends to others and truly seeing how life is altered by our perceived and limiting beliefs, I realize my story is important. It makes sense to others who are struggling. You can read my story here:

Spirituality is not religion

Spirituality is not religion. Religion is a means by which many live out their spirituality. So that said, how do those who do not consider themselves religious tap into this part of ourselves? Hildegard of Bingen said, “The soul is kissed by God in its innermost region.” So I ask, are you in touch with your soul, or your spirit by another name? Do you ever integrate your discontent, dissatisfaction or sadness with a longing of the soul?