Life, Death and Meaning

Dorothy Maplesden died on August 1, 2007. The eulogy given by two of her daughters highlighted the many ways that Dorothy touched peoples' lives throughout the community.

  Read more from Agewell.  

By Mike Milstein and Annie Henry

Dorothy Maplesden died on August 1, 2007. The funeral service was held before a full house of family and friends at St. Mary’s Church in Nelson. The eulogy given by two of her daughters highlighted the many ways that Dorothy touched peoples’ lives throughout the community. Indeed, it left those of us in attendance with the clear sense that she left a huge and positive legacy that will live on through the lives of others, including her husband, Peter; her children, Josephine, Marie Louse, and Francis; her grandchildren, and those of us who have been privileged to know her.

Because of the zest for life Dorothy exhibited, she was the first community member interviewed on the Conscious Ageing Network’s Fresh FM show. The interview was then synthesized as an article in The Leader (4 May 2006). She epitomized the positive message we wished to convey to the community: i.e., ageing, with all its challenges, can be a time of growth, development, and giving back, if only we know it and take appropriate actions.

The image we hold of Dorothy is one of strength, patience, and giving. Her life was more like reading good poetry than watching an action packed movie. It was a good life, a life of meaning, not one filled with superficial drama, worrying and rushing about.

Dorothy’s health and vigor were strong until her last years when she had to cope with increasing physical challenges. However, she refused to let that interfere with her passion to give all she could to her family and community. In fact, having physical limitations only made her more determined to carry on and push against restraining boundaries until her reserves of energy were drained.

Her legacy is firmly established. She gave without reservation to her family and community. She served on the area health board, chaired the board at Sunnybank Home for Boys, volunteered in drug and alcohol addiction programs, chaired a board that sought finances for young people and sat on her Church’s committee for 40 years. On a more personal level, she was Peter’s life-partner for 55 years, provided a positive role model for her daughters and grandchildren, and was a caring friend to many of us. In short, she lived a meaningful life!

Dorothy’s life was guided by beliefs and values that most of us aspire to in our own lives—compassion, care and strength. Ageing consciously and leaving a positive legacy for younger people are important, especially in this time of rapid social change. Most of us believe that we are here for reasons beyond satisfying our own wants. It should give us a sense of well being and peace if we, like Dorothy, can touch the lives and hearts of others through our very being and that we, like her, strive to fulfill our destinies.

Jonathan Hull reminds us that “nothing’s quite so important to the elderly as convincing themselves that they didn’t squander vast chunks of their lives, which of course most of us [do], frittering away the days like pocket change…” (Losing Julia, p. 185). We all live with the realisation that death will come to us and when it does we will want to know, like Dorothy, that it has been a meaningful life. It might be a good idea to reflect about whether we have contributed to the lives of others. Do our lives have meaning? If not, why not?

Note: This article was published in The Leader, Nelson, NZ. It was written on behalf of the Conscious Ageing Network (CAN), which is sponsored by Age Concern, Nelson. If you want to share your thoughts with CAN or wish to know when interviews will be aired, send an email to