My friend Debbie Ford passed away last week after a long battle with cancer. I still can’t fathom the idea that I’ll never hear her voice, enjoy lounging on a hotel bed like schoolgirls conspiring to balance work and play, or watch her deliver a wise and wild talk on stage. The world won’t be the same without her sweet presence.
Debbie was a gifted and inspired spiritual teacher who took on the grand task of helping people to embrace and integrate their disparate parts. She constantly challenged me to love every aspect of myself – especially the qualities that left me feeling self-conscious, embarrassed, or afraid. Any vulnerable admission on my part was always met with a loving, nonjudgmental invitation to find the bright spot in the darkness – to see the gift in what appeared to be a repulsive quality or behavior.
Debbie was a relentless advocate for loving oneself.
Along with being an important writer and teacher, Debbie had a variety of terrific talents. She had an extraordinary eye for beauty. Debbie loved real estate and she was able to create a home that lavished each visitor in comfort and visual splendor. The views, the furniture, the walls, the fabrics, – all of her chosen elements – left each guest spellbound. When she moved, I couldn’t wait to see what kind of wonderland she created next.
Debbie also had a huge appetite. She loved life, adored traveling around the world, and couldn’t get enough of out-of-this-world experiences. She was always up for something fun whether it be a fierce backgammon game late at night on the road, or tubing down a waterway laughing at the craziness of our lives. And, although this woman had a teeny, tiny body, she’d out eat me at every meal.
I will be forever grateful for the blizzard here in the Northeast that diverted my trip home from Miraval to San Diego where I’d have a chance to spend a couple of days with Debbie just before she died. We laughed, we cried, we talked openly about her death, and we said our goodbyes in the most intimate and beautiful way. Debbie assured me she’d be waiting for me at the end of my life but made me promise not to show up too soon. It was a gut-wrenching, awe-inspiring experience that I’ll never, ever forget.
Death is a doorway to the next stage of our spiritual lives and when we approach this doorway together, hearts and hands aligned, it becomes a profoundly healing experience for all parties involved. I’m so grateful to have had this adventure with her.
Before I left, there was one thing, in particular, that Debbie asked me to share with people as I continue to travel and teach.
“Please tell people that they do not cause their own illness – it’s a ridiculous notion that creates so much needless pain. All illness, including my cancer, is an invitation to love ourselves more,” she insisted. And then with her signature shadow laugh, she added, “The truth is, in the end, that’s what life is all about anyway – learning to love ourselves more.”
Amen, Debbie Ford. Amen.
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There are few things more profound than spending time with loved ones as they go through the dying process. In my grief, I’ve been helped enormously by a beautiful book given to me by my friend, Bob Olson. It’s called “No One Has to Die Alone: Preparing for a Meaningful Death“ by Dr. Lani Leary. Dr. Leary has been at the bedside of more than 500 people when they died and I can’t recommend her book strongly enough.
If you are dealing with grief or end of life issues, I encourage you to pick up a copy of her book and also to watch an interview between her and Bob called “Finding Peace and Meaning in Death and Bereavement.” It’s such a loving and helpful video and you can find it here. Thanks, Bob!