Let’s talk about death, darling

Talking about our inevitable death and our wishes after the event, is not usually included in recommended light conversation for date night.  Even amongst those who work in roles where you’d expect talking about dying to be something they’re trained in, and despite us all knowing that we will, at some point, die, many of us never let our family or close friends know if we have any special requests for our own life celebration service.

As a Celebrant, I often have detailed conversations with family members to ensure every detail of the service we put together is exactly in line with the wishes of the departed loved-one.  An integral part of writing the ceremony, is often including particular words or music that meant a great deal to everyone present.

Despite this being such an important part of creating ceremonies that help the family move forward, I realised last weekend, that I had never spoken in any real detail with my husband, John, about what I would like for my life celebration.  Even with my experience and training, I found it slightly difficult to pick the right moment to suggest we ought to make it clear for those left with the task of arranging our funerals, if there was anything particularly important to us that we’d like them to include or consider.

I am pleased to say, that once I got over the initial “this isn’t the most positive thing to talk about over pudding, but I’d like to talk about death, darling” John and I had a constructive, positive and at times even funny conversation.

We talked about where and how we wanted to have our bodily remains left, and both agreed we liked the idea of being cremated.  John has always said he’d like a Viking send-off, but after giggling about sending him down the garden stream in a log boat, set alight with his charcoal, we got a bit more practical and agreed a Life Celebration where we were by water would be more manageable.

We talked about who we’d love to have there, and why.  We shared ideas on who we’d want to speak and what stories they might share.  I was reminded of my first experience speaking at a funeral, when John’s dad died and I was asked by his mum to write and deliver the service, with just two days to prepare.  Before long we were remembering holidays we’d shared before his dad became ill, and it was one of the most positive conversations we’ve had about him since his death seven years ago.

One of the big things we acknowledged, was that the service is really for the people we leave behind, not for ourself.  We wanted to be sure the ceremony would be positive and uplifting for our daughter and friends, we hoped the people we’d ask to read would share joyful and happy memories and be there to offer a hug and support to our family.  By preparing as much as we could in advance, we were removing some of the burden for those that had to plan and make arrangements during a challenging time.

I made him promise that, if he is around to help plan my service, nobody would read “Stop all the clocks” by W.H. Auden; it would have our daughter in pieces.  By the same token, “The life that I have” is far too much like him for her to cope with it at his service, so we’re planning on short, simple and possibly even comedic poetry, with a leaning towards Pam Ayres.

And all the time that we talked about these plans, we held each other’s gaze; we smiled and listened intently.  We cried a little too; the thought of being here without each other brings no joy and after over 30 years together, I don’t spend time imagining a life after John. Yet this evening’s conversation, heart-wrenching, laughter-creating and above all, surprising, had proved to be soothing and calming, leaving me with a sense that, despite the fear, we can talk about death; even with those we fear leaving the most.

Dinah

 

 

Planning a wedding to please everyone (and other ideas that will drive you to the edge)

You know your mother has always dreamed of giving you the Big White Wedding, the one her parents couldn’t afford for her.  You know your dad will be nervous but proud in equal measure and has been keeping his top-hat specifically for your big-day.  You’ve got to accommodate every diet from gluten-free to vegan, via all the allergies and intolerances and that’s before you’ve even started on the table plan.  Just who is this wedding about anyway?Continue reading “Planning a wedding to please everyone (and other ideas that will drive you to the edge)”

Why I became an Independent Celebrant

This summer, I was ready.  Ready to decide where my new life in Myddfai, Carmarthenshire, was going to head in the next chapter.  When you’ve been lucky enough to live a life that has been full and varied (not just because of opportunities but also challenges) then finding the next thing you want to focus on can be a challenge.

“I need to make a difference, I know that” I told John, my husband and partner for over 30 years now (we will celebrate 30 years of marriage next spring) as we sat by our woodland pond celebrating being discharged from my Cardiologist.  I’d been given a less than rosy picture for the next ten years, and thanks to Myddfai air, plenty of exercise in the garden and sheer determination as a couple, we’ve re-written our next chapter and I am well enough to work, part-time again.

As a business speaker and mentor, I was doing something I loved, with people who were taking control of their future, determined to make positive change and life-time goals come true.  It seems there is already common ground when I take on the role of Celebrant for couples who want to make a life together.

As an adopted child, I was officially given the name of my new family on my brother’s second birthday.  Becoming part of a family as an adopted child gives you a new sense of belonging, of being part of a tribe.  Working with families to welcome new children into their world, perhaps after a second marriage that means step-kids will be becoming a larger family unit, fills me with excitement.

As a daughter-in-law, who wrote and held the service for her father-in-law, who deserved to be remembered by those who loved and cared about him, who knew his humour and his dreams, I want to support others in saying their good-bye in authentic words, with meaning and love.

Becoming a Celebrant has been my new chapter, and I hope it will allow me to be part of the next chapter in the lives of many families.

Dinah

It’s more than just a communuty class

I am lucky enough to be learning a new skill, making stained glass, as part of this amazing group. It has become so much more for me than a class, it’s a place where I’ve found myself again.

Source: It’s more than just a communuty class

Dear hormones

Dear Hormones,

What are you playing at? Seriously, I thought we, as a body, were all in this together; fighting against the odds of EDS and Heart Failure, beating them against all expectations and doing a pretty impressive job of it actually.  Then, you took it upon yourselves to go off-piste and take control in, frankly, a hostile-coup!  I have been kidnapped and need to be rescued before all the things I know about myself and who I am fail to exist!

Menopause, peri or otherwise, you need to take a long-hard look at your behaviour and attitude to this relationship.  You’re walking all over the rest of the bodily functions and just making decisions without consultation, or warning, and expecting the rest of us to keep up.  What about some instructions or case-studies to ponder before being taken down a path we did not choose?

Let’s start with emotions; I have always been an emotional person, driven to hasty outbursts of love, tears or anger, not one to hide how I feel about things.  I had them pretty much under control as a woman approaching 50 though, and could usually decide appropriate locations to share emotions that might impact others.  Now, however, you’ve decided that I need shaking up a bit and even the mention of a sad-pet-story or a child telling her dad she loves him, reduces me to a wreck, crying uncontrollably, with snot-bubbles and everything.  I heard Michael Buble singing this morning and cried for almost an hour.  When John innocently entered the room and asked what was wrong, I started all over again.

And let’s not even begin to talk about Politics or I’ll be ranting for hours about the injustices on the planet and whom I believe to be responsible for them.  This is often followed by me throwing things!  Seriously, I had to replace a whole set of glasses last week as we were down to our last three.  I go outside almost daily and throw something at the wall, just so I won’t do anything worse.  John is learning to spot the signs and has started suggesting we go and cut wood in these moments as I achieve so much more that physically I thought possible when filled with this overwhelming urge.

Night time seems to be your chance to really punish me though, with sweats that mean I have to shower at 2am and anxiety like I’ve never experienced before. I’m worried about everything at night; from our ongoing struggle to sort our accounts out from when I had my surgery to whether I will make it my 50th this autumn, to what might cause the house to burn down.  And each worry seems to real, so important, that I am totally unable to resolve any of them with a sense of my usual calm.

I am horrible to John, to myself and even on occasion to our pets.  I am ashamed to say I shouted at Branston (our dog) yesterday, just because he made me jump when he put his head in my lap.  He just wanted to let me know he’d picked up my mood and could help, but I shouted at him.  I hated myself for a whole day for that.  I cried over it every time I thought about it.  Thank you for that, dear hormones.

I tell myself every day that I will take control and “own” my response to your constant changing, and that I can get through this without being awful or angry or ridiculously sad.  And so far, every day, you do your best to scupper my plans.  Well, okay, I get it, you want my attention and you want to be noticed.  I NOTICED!  YOU HAVE MY ATTENTION!  Now please, can we attempt to work together on this?

Yours, in hope,

Dinah

Letting go of letting-go!

A few years ago, I had a series of heart attacks.  From out of nowhere they stopped me in my tracks and made me reconsider everything about my life.  You could say they were a major crossroads; I’ve spent a great deal of time since focussed on “letting go” of the feelings I was left with, that I’d been deprived of the future I’d been planning, a brief example of what lay ahead enjoyed, the perfect business collaborations and friendships formed, all to be knocked back, all to be no longer available in my new life.  I think it was only yesterday that it hit me, I’d been so busy trying to let go, I had forgotten to look forward, to plan a new way, to explore what I have now that will shape a new path.

When life changes mean we have to make new choices, we have to allow ourselves a period of time to learn to adjust; that time required for acceptance to replace anger and frustration, time that heals initial pain and confusion and stops us asking “why did this happen to me” and replaces it with “what can I do no that this has happened?” and finally “I’m ready to see a future, how ever different it looks to the one I imagined.” When I was 26, I had a car accident that left me in a wheelchair for almost 12 years and one of my key learnings from this experience was that we have to mourn things we loose, not just people. I lost the use of my legs at 26, I had to mourn all the things I had lost from my independence to my joy of mountain climbing to making love with my husband.  I had suffered a loss, a bereavement, the death of my life the way it had always been.

The last few years have been my time to adjust, to come to terms with my latest loss, the belief that my heart was strong and would work, without me thinking about it, for many years to come.  Once you’ve lived through the heart attacks, the surgery, the physical recovery, the news of heart-failure, the difficulty breathing and total inability to do much of anything without help from others, you start to accept.  Acceptance that you are a different person, physically, and that means mentally too.  Acceptance that life is not going to look how you imagined, or planned. Acceptance that every day is rather special, precious, too important to waste on worries and concerns.

Now, I’ve reached the point of planning for a future; that feels amazing.  Seriously, when you’ve spent a few years not knowing if you’re going to make it, you see every single day as a bonus (even the ones where you feel negative and scared and less than great) because it’s been such an enormous effort, on the part of so many, to make it here.  Planning can take on a whole new meaning now, not just something I’m told to prepare for my business to thrive, but instead, a plan for my life, to live every day as though it might be the last chance I get to enjoy feeling this good.  I’m reminded of a song by Tim McGraw called “My next thirty years” and the lines speak to me of making every moment count.

My focus now is changing, from letting-go to letting-in; I’ve pondered enough times to last me a long, long life, what might have been if I hadn’t had the heart-attacks.  It is time to let in the new, embrace the opportunities starting to come my way with my new focus, my new goals in place.  It can so often be the case that we’re not open to new opportunities because we’re so focussed on the past, the ones we think we missed or messed up.  Not for me, that time in my life is through; I know I have limits, that my heart is depending on me to look after it and make sure I stick to those limits and behave.  And it’s also telling me in a loud, strong, clear voice “I trust you. Go get ’em girl. It’s time!”

And it is time. Time to move forward.  Time to let go of the letting-go and time to get on with the next chapter of this remarkable life.

Dinah x

 

Blue hair nightmare!

in June last year, I added a significant streak of blue “semi-permenant” hair colour to my blond bob in order to help raise awareness for Harrison’s Fund, fighting to find a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy. It seemed like such a good idea at the time; Blue Hair Day – a great way to get people to notice and learn about this terrible disease. What I hadn’t expected was that, almost a year later, I’ve still got remnants of that “semi-permanent” blue. What a nghtmare!

 

 

“I take it you won’t be going blue again this year!” My husband, John, commented when I mentioned the new website for Blue Hair Day was up and running. “what a bloody nightmare that’s been!” And that’s when it hit me (okay, it takes time to get things sometimes); my silly bit of blue hair was far from a nightmare. At worst it was a silly frustration that looked a bit like I’d over-done colouring and caused a reaction.

The real nightmare, the one I’d missed was Duchenne itself. The nightamre is what every family living with Duchenne wakes up to every day, only to discover it’s real. My hair was trivial and had, in fact, served its purpose well; by staying put, by being anything but “semi-permanent” I had been given a daily reminder of why I’d gone blue in the first place. I was raising awareness of somethign every child and parent with this awful disease has no choice about; Duchenne isn’t semi-permanent, it’s real, wrecking lives and in urgent need of investment to find a cure and save the lives of every child (almost exclusively boys) fighting every day against this debilitating, terminal condition.

Will I be going blue again this June? Of course I will and this time, I plan to talk to every single person who comments on my hair and tell them “It’s permanent, just like Duchenne.”

Please visit the Facebook page for Blue Hair Day and “like” to follow all the plans and how you can get involved in making a difference. Are you brave enough to go blue?

http://facebook.com/BlueHairDay

Dinah x

What’s your excuse?

It’s February!  Yes, it really is. January has passed and along with it go so many ‘best intentions’ and ‘new goals’ and ‘I really mean it this time’s; yes, the dreaded resolutions that are set, year after year, in some inane attempt to become someone else.  It reminded me of this blog I wrote during my time as a blogger for Virgin and I believe it’s worth sharing here.

“As we rapidly approach the end of another year and start winding down for the festivities, many of us will reflect on the past 12 months; some with more satisfaction than others.

Some will take a contented, almost smug look at their list of achievements for the year. They will review the goals they exceeded, the new projects they embraced along the way, the challenges they overcame and the crisis that became their best client of the year. They will celebrate those successes and learn from the journey.

Some will ponder the lack of progress towards their goals and consider whether they were simply overambitious. They will cite the obstacles that were placed in their way and the general bad-luck that prevented them achieving their targets. These same people will undoubtedly be setting new-year’s resolutions before Big Ben has finished chiming on December 31st, only to start the same process in motion for next year.

It is easy to set goals, to create a list of business-like targets that show we are serious about our futures and see potential in our product or service. Achieving them is another matter, and stems fundamentally from our own commitment to the outcome. In a blog I wrote earlier this year, I talked about setting goals and how the language we use impacts our results. Creating a list of goals / dreams / targets requires clarity and takes time; much more time than most people put in. And before you can start on a list, I recommend taking the following steps:

1) Step a year into the future – you’ve just had a fabulous year; one that you will never forget. One that you are really proud of. If you were to write about your achievements over the past 12 months, what would you write? Do it – you may be surprised by what you write.

2) Imagine that one month in your life was represented as a 24 hour day. Think about how you would want to spend that 24 hours. Who would you spend it with – and how much time would you give to each person or activity? Fill in your ideal 24 hours – a 24 hours that reflects the perfect balance for you. Now fill in your current 24 hours – how are you really spending your time and it is serving where you want to be in 12 months time?

3) Think big – no bigger than that, I’m talking real no-box-thinking. If anything was possible, who would you call? If there were no limits to your capacity and energy what would you achieve? Think dreams, think “yeah right!” and make a list. Then, with total honesty (remember this is your list) write what is stopping you achieving each of the things you’ve written on that list. Then cross off any reasons you have written that are simply excuses.

The truth is that you are the only reason you cannot achieve your dreams. You and your excuses. Far safer not to start than to start and fail, right? Wrong. Every excuse we create, every justification we make, we are simply reinforcing our own belief that we are not going to succeed. Pioneers, trailblazers, risk-takers and successful entrepreneurs don’t make excuses, they make connections. They involve their networks, their trusted contacts and they come up with solutions. They take a different approach and challenge the limiting behaviours that hold others back from success.

If you decide to make one change this year, one significant change that will increase your enjoyment and success, make it this – “no more excuses”.  ”

I originally wrote this blog for Virgin.com where it was published as one of my VIB (Very important bloggers) posts.  I have amended it slightly to share with you again.

 

You can have it all ladies….

I am happy with my lot. I know in my life I can have it all; motherhood, success, a happy marriage (27 years and counting), exotic holidays, a wonderful home, time with great friends, fabulous car, a wardrobe full of clothes I love, immaculate house hair and nails….. Sounds like a dream doesn’t it?

Many women ask me “how can I have it all?” and I have the same answer for every one of them…..

You can have it all – just not all at the same time.

My wonderful list is not all about now. I have had times where about half are happening for me together; I’ve had times where I have chosen to squeeze too many in – and lost sight of the really important ones. Why does “having it all” have to mean right now. Like spoiled children stamping our feet, are we simply throwing a tantrum? Is our perception of other women so warped that we believe we are failing if we aren’t juggling a million balls at once? Do we really believe there are women out there doing this single-handed and effortlessly? Get real!

The truth is they are all making choices; not all of them ideal. Compromise and patience may not feel comfortable alongside ambition and determination, but without them you are setting yourself up for failure on so many levels. We can choose to beat ourselves up for failing to vacuum, we can choose to berate ourselves as appalling mothers for missing swimming club or we can choose to acknowledge what we achieve each day and celebrate it.

So where do you start? A reality check would be a good beginning. When you talk about “having it all” what does that really mean to you? I’m confident that “beating myself up regularly” isn’t on there, so what is? No box thinking here – what does it really look and feel like?

The second step is more challenging; ask yourself who are you doing this for? Do you want others to speak about you as the woman who “has it all” ? Are you still attempting to make your father proud of his little girl? What exactly are you hoping to achieve? Being honest about this can be hugely liberating. My own experience showed me this clearly in my mid 30’s when I finally stopped trying to impress others and made my achievements simply for myself. I got so much more satisfaction and a huge sense of achievement and I saved all that energy and time!

The third and biggest step of all is to find juggling partners. Put people around you with the right skills and juggling becomes entertaining. Asking for help and trusting others are big obstacles for many of us. Asking for help can feel like failure – if you want it to. However, asking another to bring their skills to the party, to be a part of your team, is a compliment to them. If they value you they will be chuffed that you asked; they will understand it is a big deal for you. Do something totally non-selfish today and ask someone to be part of your juggling team – you’re inviting them on tour.

Over a life-time we really can have it all. We can appreciate every part of it more if we stop and take a good look in at our own lives. Those women you believe have it right are juggling too, they just realised they didn’t have to do it alone. They shared the load – and the balls!

Dinah x

I originally had this blog posted on virgin.com as one of their  VIBs (Very Important Bloggers)

 

Are you celebrating your successes?

 

Are you celebrating your successes?

In the current financial climate, there is so much negative talk and focus that it is easy to lose sight of our achievements. The successes we have on a daily basis that should be noted and celebrated. Yet these get lost in the noise and overlooked; taking with them our energy and drive, our determination and self-belief, our entrepreneurialism. We are so “busy” looking at the targets and goals we miss the ones we have already achieved.

There is no question it is tough being in business right now. We are reminded of this fact constantly, by the media, our peers, our families and our creditors. Everywhere we turn, the news is grim – and getting worse by the hour. The spiral of depressing financial and business news is bound to impact us. How we let it impact us is still our choice. We can chose to buy-in to the doom and gloom, tighten our budgets, limit our spending and feel anxious. We can also make a choice to celebrate the successes during such tough times.

Success doesn’t have to be a gold medal or a £million deal. Success is often about the first, tentative steps. Steps taken despite the fear of failure or rejection. Steps taken when everyone is telling you to stand still and bide your time. Success is about still being here, every day, with the right attitude and belief to keep driving forward on your path. Success can be in the smallest things, the actions we take towards positive change, the conversations that start a relationship, the long-resisted phone call to build a bridge. Unless we take the time to celebrate these steps, we drift onto the path being set by others and lose our way.

Focussing on success can be surprisingly difficult. In a society where we seem to relish the negative, being positive can prove hard work and takes dedication and planning. I am not suggesting you write a “positivity plan”, I am suggesting that you plan a strategy to allow you to remain positive if you wish to succeed. I see negativity as a habit – a pattern of behaviour we now do on auto-pilot; we are oblivious to the language we adopt, the behaviour we repeat and the company we keep that encourages and nurtures that negativity. So, like any habit, it can be broken – with the right planning.

Becoming aware of the negativity is key to changing the habit. Making a simple choice about how we start our day can set the tone for your attitude and success. Watching breakfast television may bring you gently out of your stupor, but if hearing the news reminds you of everything negative, then breakfast radio might prove more positive.   Being in the gym might be great for your abs but if it reinforces your negative personal-image, then find an alternative with fewer mirrors and perfect bodies around you. Spending time with friends is a great way to unwind, unless you have an energy-draining relationship. You can chose to continue or chose to change.

A few years ago I realised one of the most negative aspects of my daily routine was my “To do” list. Writing the list was negative – it reinforced that I was juggling too many things and felt overwhelmed ; completing items on the list was negative – I crossed out things I had done (when I was at school, if something was crossed out it meant it was wrong); at the end of each day I looked at all the things I had not crossed out and felt I had not done enough. I changed this habit – and now write my “look what I did today list” at the end of each day. This reinforces the positive contributions and steps I have achieved and gives me a clear picture of what I need to do the next day. It allows me time to celebrate my successes and acknowledge them.

We all know that success is very attractive. You will soon find that celebrating and acknowledging successes in your business attracts the type of clients and associates you want to work with. Be a success champion and celebrate the success of others around you too. Enjoy your success – and invite everyone to the party.

Dinah

•I originally wrote this Blog for Virgin.com as one of their VIBs (Very Important Bloggers)