A few years ago I was hit with the rather disturbing news that I might have only six weeks to live. I had been diagnosed with a very advanced and aggressive form of colorectal cancer. It felt as though I had been hit by a train.
The confrontation of my own mortality--and the imminent possibility of my own death--forced me into a mad scramble to get my life in order, to be ready to say my good-byes. But I was also faced with the immense (and even more immediate) task of getting my health-care needs in order, too--radiation, chemo therapy and surgery--and it was the latter that consumed my time, energy and focus. The good-byes would have to wait.
That same year my father died, then shortly thereafter an aunt and several good friends. It was a bad run. But as a baby boomer, it was also inevitable. Since I'm a writer and archivist, I was placed in charge of getting all of their remembrances together, of selecting photos for their memorials and death notices, selecting music for their services, counseling the family about interment options and other matters related to these deaths.
It was a daunting task. I always wondered what photos these deceased friends and family members would have wanted selected, what music, what parts of their lives they would have wanted shared. In one instance a 93-year-old friend handed me a note in the hospital and asked me to complete a final task for him. I could not read his handwriting. I was blessed to be asked, but burdened by the possibilities and uncertainties.
Then, this past summer I discovered a remarkable new web site called BCelebrated. I realized immediately this site was the perfect cyber-age tool to eliminate much of the trauma and challenges that I had personally faced, both directly and as a support person, in recent years.
BCelebrated allows individuals, families and friends to shape their own destinies, to get the information and images and music and wishes all together well before death comes knocking at the door. And I dare say that it provides a revolutionary new approach to death and the forging of ones legacy.
I was so fascinated by this concept that I contacted the site, founded by Debra Joy, an enterprising baby boomer in Southern California. I discovered that she herself had faced similar recent challenges in her life.
"After a terrifying boat trip that my husband and I thought would take our lives," she told me, "we were inspired to create BCelebrated, a place where people can chronicle their life, leave a permanent written and visual legacy, and make it easy for grieving loved ones to notify everyone in their community."
In addition to her own near-death encounter, Joy also had several close friends and family members pass. We compared notes.
"In true boomer fashion," Joy observed, "They planned unique funeral ceremonies unlike anything their parents or grandparents would have had. But their loved ones had no way of notifying everyone in their life circle. Our service helps people take control of how their lives will be celebrated, and by whom, and we hope that by becoming conscious of death they will be encouraged to live more fully."
As the site developed, Joy used people's real life-and-death experiences to shape the options that are made available on the BCelebrated site. Members can journal their life by adding accounts, stories, pictures, videos, music and more. After one's death, instead of leaving grieving family members scrambling to track down friends of the deceased, contacts are automatically notified by email and invited to the member's autobiographical site. Friends, family and colleagues have the opportunity to read his or her life story, share comments, make a donation to a charity selected by the member, send a gift to the grieving family or visit a password-protected private page that was created especially for them.
One interesting side benefit of the site is how it has brought generations of families together and provided opportunities to span the generational chasm.
"As people work with parents and grandparents to capture their life stories," Joy said, "they build meaningful bridges. What words do you want to be remembered by? What images? What music? What poetry or literature? What legacy do you want your spirit to cast? Bcelebrated creates a great opportunity for technology to bring generations together in this sensitive and creative process."
BCelebrated helps individuals and family members confront--and overcome--the varied fears of loss and the unknown associated with death.
The good news (knock wood) is that I am still here, embracing the gifts that each day brings. And BCelebrated has allowed me to both 'enhance my life' and 'seize the day,' knowing that my own legacy will be crafted by myself and not be a burden to those left behind.