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Monday, December 26, 2011

Does how we live determine how we die?

I’ve been pondering the question for sometime. It was part of the impetus to live last year as if it was my last. To die without regret. But a “good death” is so much more than just dying without regret.

As in the rest of life, our experience is not determined solely by our circumstances. Most of us will not be able to control the circumstance around our own death, but I believe that we can control our experience of it.

As a teenager I was at the death-bed of a family friend in the hospital. His withered body clung to what was left of his life, his face twisted and distorted in fear. The horror of that death thwarted my plans to become a nurse.

More recently I’ve had the opportunity to be with a few others at the end of their life and their passing was much different. It was peaceful, numinous, and full of love.

I’ve long been a believer that how we do something is how we do everything, and I can’t help but wonder if that includes death. In my own near-death boat trip I experienced acceptance, deep gratitude and that peace that surpasses all understanding. I wondered if there might be a way to support others in having a “good death”. That lead to the creation of Bcelebrated.

I was deeply touched by the eulogy Mona Simpson wrote for her brother Steve Jobs. It was not surprising that a man who lived as he did died the way he did.

It makes sense that the man who dropped out of college and trusted it would all work out, audited courses that interested him without knowing where it would lead, continued doing what he loved in the face of very public rejection, started over when devastated by the loss of the entire focus of his life, let go of success and discovered "the lightness of being a beginner" in his middle age, considered death to be the greatest change agent in life – clearing out the old and making way for the new, looked in the mirror every morning and asked himself “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” and when the answer for too many days in a row was “no” he made a change… it makes sense that the man who trusted his intuition and followed his curiosity with an open heart would end his life surrounded by people who loved him, looking into the distance saying, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”

Bring more “Oh Wows” into your life right now, where you are, with the people you love, in the work you do, with the condition of your body…. or make the necessary changes immediately.

To help life’s greatest change agent clear out the old and bring in the new in your life consider joining the 12 month mystery school, A Year to Live, beginning this January 6th. You'll be guided through questions and practices that help you to live more fully, more deeply, and more authentically than ever before.

I wish you all the best for the incredible year ahead, and for your whole life.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Express Your Gratitude Now

One of the reasons we created Bcelebrated was to give you an opportunity to leave words of gratitude, appreciation, advice, consolation and LOVE to those who matter to you. But that doesn't mean you should wait til you bite it to let people know you care.

Since November is a time of remembering and giving thanks, why not use this month to show your gratitude in ways big and small. So often our hearts are full of gratitude but we are so busy making noise we forget to listen to that still small voice saying "thank you. thank you."

So how about checking in each day this month, just for a moment, and listening to your heart beating it's tune of thanks. THEN ACT ON IT.

Do something, ANYTHING, to express your gratitude. It may be a simple smile in a check out line, a quick email, phone call, or hand-written note to someone who keeps coming to mind. It doesn't matter what you do - your heart will direct you. If it feels good when you think about doing it, just do it.

You may think you're doing it for the person who came to mind, but you'll soon come to realize you're doing it for yourself. The more gratitude you express, the more gratitude you feel. The more gratitude you feel, the more joy, peace and love fill your life. It's a win-win!

I recently wrote a thank you note to a man who's name I do not know, and who I will probably never meet.

I met his son at the Friday Venice Farmer's Market. I had been buying lamb there for some time because they'd told me how well they care for their land and the animals. Last week I asked Ibrahim how they slaughter the lambs and goats. I was so touched by the love and care they show their animals right up to the moment of their death that I was moved to tears. All week long I thought about that sweet moment of sharing tears of tenderness with this farmer's son.

Yesterday I wrote a note to the farmer thanking him for caring for his animals in this way, for making his meat available to us city folk, and making it possible for me to eat meat in a way that is congruent with my values. The letter begins "Dear Sir..." because I don't know this man, and probably never will. I will give the note to his son when I see him next.

Writing the note I thought of all the small family farms around the world being run by people who care enough about the land, their animals, and the rest of us, to make the harsh sacrifices it requires to farm honourably. I was delighted to be able to express my deep gratitude to one of them.

I am grateful that you took the time to read this, Thank you.
Debra Joy

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Die Without Regrets

Recently a good friend sent me this blog post written by Bonnie Ware, a nurse who works with people who are dying. She listed the five top regrets that people say out loud on their death beds. I recommend you read it and find inspiration to live the way you want to now, so you can die without regrets.

As I read the list I realized what a great experience it had been to live 2010 as if I only had A Year to Live. By doing that experiment I overcame what could have amounted to regrets later on.

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

While I've lived true to myself most of my life, living as if I was dying gave me the courage to listen to that quiet voice inside me and follow my heart even more. Often in the past I would have overridden my own soul's longing if I thought it would make other people unhappy. Near the end of the my Year to Live my heart lead me to a cabin in the middle of Arizona where I spent a month alone. It was hard to explain to the people who loved me why I wanted to spend a month alone when I only had 3 months "left to live". I couldn't explain it because I didn't know why. I just knew my heart was calling me to it. I trusted it, even though I couldn't understand it or defend it. I discovered that by following my heart actually made others happy too. Even those who'd struggled with my decision were inspired by it.

What would it take for you to live true to yourself? Where are you holding back?

2. I wish I didn't work so hard.

I gave that up a long time ago, but the voices in my head kept telling me to do more and work harder. It's a tough voice to ignore but in doing so I've found a great joy in doing less. There's a beauty in living at a pace that supports my natural rhythms and allows me to be really present with others, rather than rushing from one thing to the next as I use to.

Are you working harder than you really want to be? What beliefs keep you doing that?
What changes could you make that would enable you to work less?

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

This has been an ongoing process for me, and one I continue to work on. I found that living as if I was dying opened me up to be more expressive about my feelings, and not just the good ones. I expressed my love more openly, but I also felt my sorrow and rage. I cried in movies and pounded pillows when I was angry. It was, and continues to be, incredibly enlivening. Feelings are just energy moving through us and it can take a lot of energy to hold them in. By giving them expression we open ourselves up to more energy flowing through our bodies, our relationships and our lives.

Notice the next time you're holding something in. What would it take to express it?

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I'm actually pretty good about staying in touch with people, but in my Year to Live experiment a group of friends from my teen years kept coming to mind. They were part of a church I had attended for several years. I left the church and them decades ago and though they came to mind often I felt that our differing beliefs created a river between us that couldn't be crossed. I have never tested this theory. As my year was drawing to a close I realized I would regret not reaching out to them. I found them all thanks to Facebook and discovered that they still loved me, had been thinking about me, and a bridge had been built over that river years ago. All I had to do was cross it.

Who comes to mind that you don't call because it's been too long? If you knew you were going to die would you call them? Well, you are going to die one day - so call them!

If you find it difficult to express yourself in person, write down all you want to say in a private page on your Bcelebrated account. It will continue to touch someone even after you are gone.

5. I wish I had let myself be happier.

I have struggled with that in the past, and still do at times. I find that my life is so good that I feel guilty for having this much joy, especially when others are suffering. I hold myself back from feeling as happy as I really am. I am expanding my own capacity for joy and happiness and I invite you to do the same.

What would really make you happy? Choose it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Celebrating Caroline Flanders

What does it mean to be a life-cycle celebrant?

A "Life-Cycle Celebrant (R)" ("Celebrant") is a professional officiant who has undergone training and certification through the Celebrant Foundation and Institute (CFI). CFI is a *world-wide* organization with thousands of Celebrants from all walks of life and all ages. A Celebrant has mastered the craft of active listening and creative writing to bring forth a unique ceremony that is a true reflection of the values and beliefs of their client. Celebrants officiate ceremonies for all of life's experiences incorporating appropriate readings, music, and ritual. A Celebrant has a holistic and inclusive world view which brings forth an opportunity to mark the milestones of life in religious or non-religious context, spiritual or secular. Embracing the call of serving as a Life-Cycle Celebrant (R) is to serve in a vocation in which one provides companionship and clarity to the people served, bringing forth a poignant and visceral experience of crossing a threshold through ceremony.

Was there a moment you decided to work with people at the end of their life,
or was it a natural progression?

My vocation has been a life-long unfolding. I can remember a time at a very early age when the seeds were planted that ultimately brought me to this work. I also realize that my call has likely not reached its full expression. I continue to evolve and grow in my practice to depths previously unimagined. My professional experience was marked by service in the health care arena for nearly 25 years, including employment at the City of Hope Cancer Center and later Long Island East End Hospice. At some point, I discovered that I had the heart and the capacity for companioning individuals who were faced with end-of-life. This work is certainly not for everyone. It takes a willingness to surrender, be unequivocally present, and to simply be a channel of grace bringing forth the experience that is needed in each unique situation. Now, in my mid-forties, I am an owner of a funeral establishment and have a thriving practice as a Life-Cycle Celebrant officiating end-of-life ceremonies. I am also a graduate holding a Bachelor of Theology and a licensed prayer practitioner with the Centers for Spiritual Living. My past experience of working with the ill and the bereaved, coupled with my grounded spiritual awareness and practice, allows me to bring a depth of care and true compassion to my work. It is absolutely a "calling" and one which I embrace with both humility and passion. I love my work and I am enthusiastic about where my continued journey will lead me.

You're a very attractive young woman -
Are people surprised by you when you show up to officiate a funeral?

Ah shucks, Debra ~ This is a *good* one! It actually does come up quite a bit. Not so much being considered attractive as being a female in a male-dominant career. I think that people are more surprised by my role as a leader and companion in funeral directing than they are when I am present as a chaplain or celebrant. I believe that the mainstream has grown accustomed to seeing women in helping roles, particularly those roles which are spiritual in nature. When I show up at a bedside to bring someone's body into my care, it is very common for me to hear a reaction from family members who are surprised that a petite, "young" woman is doing this work. Once I go deeper into the continuum of care, working closely with the family in making and carrying out arrangements, they soon discover that the softness and nurturing presence I exude is real and is part of who I am. When I show up to officiate a service, especially for Veterans, there is a softening among the people when I am introduced as a Veteran myself and the people realize that I am their spiritual guide and chaplain for their ceremony. When I share with people my background experiences, that I was in the military and now that I own a funeral establishment, they are usually surprised!

What is it that keeps you inspired in the work that you do?

Pure grace. Grace is the unfolding of awe and wonder when I am given even the smallest glimpse of the impact of being a companion at end of life has on a family who is enduring a deeply sad experience. It is *always* a privilege to serve.

Is there a ceremony that stands out as being particularly meaningful or unique?

Truly, *every* ceremony brings forth a unique and poignant "healing." With that said, I had a remarkable opportunity to work with a couple who had lost their newborn daughter when they were stationed on Guam as a young Navy family....44 years prior to my becoming involved with their "arrangement." The young parents had no other options at the time of their daughter's death but to inter her at the Navy burial ground overseas. Over the ensuing decades, they felt a deep sense of grief and a longing to "bring their daughter home" so that they could feel near to her and so that they could feel as if they "had her in their care." I had the opportunity to serve as their Funeral Director in bringing their daughter's remains back to the United States and arranging for her placement at the National Cemetery in San Diego at Point Loma. Along the way, we became very close and I realized that I probably was the perfect companion for them, me being the very same age as their beloved daughter. Together, we co-created a marvelous and beautiful ceremony for the baby's final committal. Lullabies were sung, bubbles were blown, and Mom and Dad had the opportunity to cradle the tiny urn in their arms before laying their daughter to final rest. It was an experience which I will never, ever forget.

Can you tell us a bit about what it's like for people to plan their end of life ceremony
while they are alive?

Start the conversation! Embrace the opportunities, the moments of grace, when you are in a space to communicate your intimate wishes with your beloved family. Make it fun. Celebrate your uniqueness and have a laugh or two. Thinking ahead does not have to be filled with dread or sadness; for therein lies a most excellent opportunity to reflect on the important milestones of your life journey, to bring an expression of love and gratitude to the people who touched your life, and to bring clarity and peace of mind to those who will ultimately carry out your care. Thinking ahead to end of life goes far beyond establishing financial trusts or making funeral arrangements. While those endeavors are crucially important, engaging in life review and actually recording your thoughts and wishes remains a healing event for you personally and a comforting, guiding tool for your loved ones at your time of need. Looking at all aspects of final care, including a personal life review and individual communications to those who have touched your life, brings forth a sense of peace, clarity, and freedom unlike any other possible experience. Your final commemoration, in whatever form it takes, is a final gift to those you leave behind. A ceremony marks this essential threshold of life and gives the bereaved an opportunity to meet this end and step into a new experience of life without your physical presence. That life becomes infinite and all ways available to them by their fondest memories. Embrace the opportunity to be in this conversation.

How important do you think this is?

Like any practice, engaging in this thought process and being in conversation about end of life is easier and easier with time. The veil of mystery and the dread of loss softens as focus is turned to illuminate the many gifts and treasures of *life*. Bypassing the conversations surrounding death only serves to bring the pain full-force when the event ultimately occurs. Life review and preparation brings a significant peace of mind and an opportunity to embrace final moments with clarity and absolute presence.

Since you are always aware of death. what inspired you to join A Year to Live?

I saw my experiment as an opportunity to *finally* get my own affairs in order in a *significant* and holistic way. Not so much as an opportunity to see "what it feels like" to consider end of life, I am familiar with that; but rather, an opportunity to put into personal practice what I seem to teach to people all around me. It is my sincere desire to leave a legacy of clarity and organized affairs so that my family will not be placed into the throes of chaos not knowing what my wishes are and not knowing where to begin in settling my affairs.

Perhaps more than anything, Bcelebrated is giving me the container to outline my specific desires of how I wish to THANK and COMMEMORATE *OTHERS* who have touched *my* life! When my friends and family show up for my final ceremony, they will know exactly how much I loved them and exactly how they touched my life. My immediate next of kin will know exactly how to settle my business affairs and what steps to take to close out those many earthly things. A Year to Live has be a beacon in my process of taking steps to provide this gift to my family at my end.

Can you share any insights or experiences that have come from doing this experiment?

Oh boy! I came to full realization that I really have not been organized and "ready." I have had thoughts and ideas about end of life and what I might leave behind. However, I never realized the full extent of how important it is to arrange my affairs so that it is truly an experience of ease and grace for my family. I still have a great deal to do! With that said, BCelebrated gives me a touchstone and a perfect container to build and store those "affairs."

You can reach Caroline Flanders at:

Office: (760) 723-9241

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Fail at Something

Is fear of failure keeping you from doing something? anything?

If so, my advice to you is to go fail at something. Get it out of the way. Learn that you will actually live through failure. You may even learn from it. You'll grow from it. Failure leads to discovery, invention and progress. If you aren't failing you aren't progressing in your life.

I'll take it a step further and say that if you aren't failing you aren't really living. To really live takes risk. It's the people who fall over in a yoga pose that are stretching themselves, pushing themselves and learning new ways to be in their bodies. If you have never fallen flat on your mat then you've never really done yoga.

This very advice is what I gave to a friend of mine earlier this year. I was saddened seeing her live on the sidelines of her own life. Her fear of failure kept her paralyzed in the pursuit of her own dreams, while she analyzed, evaluated and critiqued others who were attempting to achieve theirs. With love I mustered the courage to say to her "Just go fail at something". And she took it to heart.

A few weekends ago she emailed me to tell me she was following my advice. She was going to audition for a dance company. Twenty years prior she had been a dancer. A beautiful, gifted, graceful dancer. Now she sat on the couch watching Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. The greatest thing about this note from her was that she was completely unattached to the outcome. She was putting herself out by auditioning and she was doing it for the love of the dance, and the love she was able to muster for herself.

A few days later she called me as she was driving home from the audition. She laughed as she said "They didn't expect me. Fifty years old and fifty pounds overweight. But I did it. They were gracious. I was stiff. I did my best. I'm glad I did it". Our conversation was so lighthearted and joyful. Rarely had I heard her sound so free. It made my heart sing. Then yesterday she let me know that she made it. She got in the dance company. This November I'll be going to her first performance. And all this because she was willing to fail.

Fear is natural. It can save your life at times, but if you let it run you it will zap your life. The way to overcome fear is always love. If you can harness the love you have for some thing, some experience, someone else or yourself you can overcome the fear of failure.

And let's be honest, you've already failed a million times in your life. You've just forgotten.

If you weren't willing to fail you would still be sitting in a wet diaper waiting for someone to pick you up. It was that desire to get somewhere that got you crawling, and then walking. You didn't just decide one day to walk and then glide across the floor gracefully. No, you stumbled onto your wobbly legs and threw on foot in front of the other, falling on your bum more often than reaching your destination. People probably gathered round and cheered you on. They called your name. They believed you could do it. They were invested in your success. And what did you do?

You failed and you failed and then you failed again. Nobody stopped loving you. Nobody abandoned you. They loved you every time you tumbled, hit your face on the coffee table and cried.

So if you really want to live, go fail at something.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010


After writing about our fear of mortality I received a few emails from people who wondered why I was opposed to longevity. Let me be clear ~ I am not anti-longevity. If you can have a good long life I am all for it. 100%.

That is if you can have a good long life. Just a long life, well that doesn't really turn my crank.

I'm more interested in quality than quantity:
  • I'd rather have one intimate face to face conversation than 1000 facebook friends.
  • I'd prefer a bite of rich organic chocolate than a handful of smarties.
  • I'd take one night of conscious love-making than a lifetime of empty sex.
I understand our obsession with wanting more. I've lived most of my life not knowing the when enough is enough. But as I sink deep into this Year To Live I'm not really concerned about the length of my life, I'm interested in the quality of my life.

What is the quality of your life?

Are you obsessed with longevity, hoping that life will become more meaningful later on when you have time, or are you embracing your life right now, knowing that this moment is all you have?

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Sweet Life

There's nothing quite like summer vacation to remind me how sweet life can be.

Sun shining, lakes sparkling, kids laughing, cherry juice staining my fingers, bbq aromas filling the air. There's nowhere to get, and nothing to accomplish.

I love summer vacation. It reminds me of how little I need to be happy.

Sometimes a reminder is all we need.

What are your sweetest memories in life?

Record them in your Bcelebrated site, so they'll be shared with your loved ones even after you are gone.

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