Who I am
Anastacia Brice. 57 years young, married happily to D for most of my life, no kids, two cats, loving, intuitive, wild, visionary, coach/consultant/chaos tamer, blossoming elder, and hopefully, one day, wise woman. Guided by the Divine, and absolutely subversive in all the best ways. I live in my beloved hometown of Baltimore, MD.
How I got here (why this work?)
Why this work? It would seem obvious, because I’m just past mid-life and all of this has become far more front-and-center in my own life as I realize there are fewer years ahead of me than behind me.
But, that’s the easy answer, and it doesn’t include the deeper “why” of it all. That’s something I’m still exploring, because, let’s face it, most people aren’t passionate about supporting others with aging and dying, so I need to understand why I am.
So, as to the deeper “why,” all that I can tell you is that death has been calling to me for a very long time, and I finally decided to answer the call. Aging is a recent addition to the mix. 🙂
My first encounter with death was when I was six, and I killed my goldfish because I didn’t understand that we couldn’t cuddle. I was broken hearted that he was dead, but immediately made my dad get me a tank-full of Mollies which I loved from outside the glass, and joyfully watched have many, many babies. That was when I started to learn about the cycle of life and death.
When I was 12 my maternal grandmother died in hospital after hip surgery. She was, at the time, the only person in my life who saw me and loved me for who I was, and the loss of her was profound for me. It was my first time really grieving and the heart-break was more than I knew a person could bear (this heart-break couldn’t be fixed with replacement fish!) It was also when I first experienced how we, as a culture in North America deal with death in the most buttoned-up, sterile, somber sort of way. I experienced my first viewing, open casket (and how people feel about seeing dead folk all gussied up), cremation, and I met my very first Funeral Director, who, wanting to make things easier on me, took me outside and introduced me to the squirrels he’d trained to climb his legs and take peanuts from his hand.
At 14, I experienced my first Jewish funeral, and my parents and I sat Shiva with the family for seven days. It was my first time coming face-to-face with the funeral rites of another culture, and I remember having the realization that their traditions felt so much more gentle than my own family’s. When I went back to school, I used the library’s sturdy Encyclopedia Brittanica (kickin’ it old school, pre-Internet!) to try to look up what other cultures do when there is a death, but remember that there was precious little I found at the time.
Also at 14, I went on a most fascinating school field trip—to a local funeral home. I got to see the embalming room, the casket room, the room with the burial gowns…and for the second time, met a Funeral Director who was one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known. People are always amazed to hear that a girls’ prep school allowed this field trip, but I have to say, it was probably the best field trip, as far as a learning experience goes. And it helped me get ready for my next experience.
At 19, Amy and Sue (two beloved friends from prep school who were also on the aforementioned field trip) along with almost all of Amy’s family were killed in a small-plane crash. It was the first (and only) time I’ve ever experienced caskets surrounding an entire room in a funeral home. Sue’s reception was downstairs, and that was the first time I’d experienced the peace a Christian mother with a strong walk with her Lord feels after a loss.
At 22, my father was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer, and I got to know what a long, difficult illness was like, close up.
He died when I was 27, following a three-day morphine-induced coma in a local hospital, and I experienced the kindness of healing professionals who were, for once, finished trying to heal him, and instead helped us have a hospice-like experience in a critical-care setting. I also sat my first vigil, experienced how a dying person can choose when to die (my father waited for his best friend, who, due to snow, had to take a bus from Chicago, and died two hours after he arrived), and experienced the beautiful moment of death. The sacredness of that moment was profound to me, and I was beyond grateful to have been there.
With his death also came profound grief. It was compounded by his dying on Christmas Eve, and my mother telling me that I’d killed him. So, I know both the pain of loss, the pain of having a holiday forever changed, and the pain that leads others to say the most horrible things.
But while I was in therapy about that, the call came. It was strong and loud and led me to want to volunteer with a hospice. I found out that I needed to wait a year before I could do that, so a year later found me sitting in orientation at a local hospice, doing an exercise about what people value in life (if we work together, I’ll have you do it, too). As I listened to what others in the room valued most, I experienced so much sadness, and the gut-wrenching realization that I was nowhere ready to work with folks at end of life.
I left orientation, and, for the next 25 years, I completely avoided death. I couldn’t make myself go to funerals, or even send cards to people following the death of someone they loved.
And the call stopped. Just as if it had died.
And then it came again, a few years ago. This time, I was ready. My life’s work and experiences had allowed me to catch up and heal my heart. I became curious again. And, I admit, far more fascinated with end of life because the years that had passed had begun changing how society views aging, had changed possibilities for how people die, and had opened possibilities around what rituals are possible after death. I realized how very much I wanted to be in the conversations that were happening on all fronts.
This time, although there was a clear call to work with folks in hospice who were actively dying, which I did for several years. I no longer do that for several reasons; mainly, I learned that it’s not mine to do.
What’s mine is the call to work with people from mid-life and beyond to help them live great lives as they age, have the conversations they need to have, tell the stories they want to tell, to understand the legacies they’ll leave, and to prepare (to the extent any of us can) for death.
I want to help people see aging as a positive journey. I’m not anti-aging, I’m anti anti-aging. Let’s all be as well as we can be. Let’s all look our best, at every age. But let’s find our way into being great (or at least OK) in our own skin—wrinkles and sags and all. Let’s get, finally, that the wisdom of aging is far more beautiful than society seems to say it is. Come sit by me. I’ll tell you how amazing you are.
And, I wanted to help change the conversation that we, as a society, have about death and dying. I believe that by the time you get around to dying, your life has entitled you to as happy an ending as you can make for yourself. And those who love you should get to hold that ending differently, too. Yes, it’s the circle of life, and it will be sad, but it can also be joyful, and celebratory, and beautiful.
I want to help people say goodbye. A good ‘bye…not a horrible, painful, somber one. Unless it is—as it was with my friends Amy and Sue. But even there, I feel certain that there was beauty and grace and love. I want to be sure none of the good ever gets lost when someone’s life ends.
And that’s the ultimate calling, for me in this work. To be given the opportunity to help families make the good front and center, even as their hearts break.
I do this through consulting, coaching, facilitating difficult conversations between people (let’s face it, we are never taught to talk to each other about this stuff!), legacy crafting, story telling, and obituary writing, and soon, I hope (once we get a grip on this pandemic!), I’ll be hosting some very interesting, sacred and irreverent events designed to help shift how we see death and dying. I also am an advocate for alternative wellness modalities that bring ease from small and big discomforts, such as essential oils and, in some cases, medical cannabis.
For some reason, this work has chosen me. I used to say that death had chosen me, but I think it’s life choosing me to help make aging, death and dying different (dare I say “easier?”) for people who find it harder than just about anything else.
Who I work with
Anyone interested in living a great life and holding death more lightly. People who want to explore legacy or have stories to tell. Those wanting to plan for death. And anyone needing a trusted soul to guide and facilitate difficult conversations with loved ones about aging and/or dying and end-of-life wishes.
- Coaching women to have extraordinary businesses and lives since ‘96. Happy graduate of Coach U.
- Formalizing the Virtual Assistance profession in ’97; founding AssistU at the same time. Since then, we’ve trained and supported close to 1,000 people in becoming virtual assistants in businesses they love and that allow them to have work that contributes to their having high-quality lives. We’ve also helped countless clients find and connect with our talented virtual assistants.
- Ardent death-positive evangelist since ’16, working through a beautiful local hospice, and with private clients and their families. Certified Conscious Aging Facilitator with the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
Things about me you probably don’t know
- I was born and raised in Baltimore, and have never lived anywhere else. I absolutely love it here and know more about my city than anyone I know who isn’t a professional tour guide. If you visit, I’ll happily show you what makes Charm City so charming!
- I’m multifarious, perspicacious, and voraciously verbal. I love words. I even like small ones now and then.
- I love to touch, feed, and hug giraffes. Live ones.
- I am the child of two alcoholic narcissists. Because of that, they couldn’t know or love me except as they created me to be. As a result, I didn’t even start to know who I really was till I was 30. In the past 20-ish years, I’ve learned about addiction, narcissism, what love is and is not, how to find my self, how to stand in my truth, how to not be a victim or martyr (flip sides of the same coin), how to deal with bullies, and many other wondrous things that I now bring to my work. There isn’t a thing I share or teach that I haven’t lived (except death), and I am committed to walking my talk. Does this mean I’m perfect? Not by a long-shot. But I am whole and right with myself.
- I’m an absolute girlie-girl and confirmed voluptuary. If it’s not comfy, it’s not for me.
- I practice maitri and tonglen, and I share Reiki.
- I am the least goal-oriented person you’re ever likely to meet.This obviously doesn’t stop me from doing BIG things that matter to me.
- I value: love—above all things. For me, it is the highest law and the ultimate religion, and shapes and colors every thing I do, every word that comes out of my mouth or through my fingers, and all of my greatest aspirations for myself and the world. Beyond that (or maybe in addition to?) are justice, freedom, and fairness. Almost nothing gets me hotter faster than what’s unjust and unfair, or what takes away personal freedoms. Then, the who of things really matters to me—who people are, and how transparent they are with others is a big deal. Then comes intensity, integrity, compassion, with graciousness and gratitude rounding out the list-not in any particular order, though, they’re all sort of glomed together in the number two slot
- in 2009, hypertensive, diabetic, packing on weight like mad due to the endless medication loop I was in, and afraid I was going to die, I had bariatric surgery (VSG) and lost the weight of an entire human adult. I’ve maintained 90% of that. It was a powerful lesson about reaching out for help despite feeling ashamed and incredibly scared.
- My greatest dream and aspiration: I envision a time when I’m part of a group of fabulous wise women and our primary work in life will be to teach younger women all that we know. If you share that vision, I’d love to talk with you. Soon, please. 🙂
What I believe
- I believe we’re all courageous
- I believe in love (bet you’re surprised, huh?).
- I believe in doing the right thing—always.
- I believe relationships rule the day, and good relationships rule the world.
- I believe that we’re all connected.
- I believe we should all do good, even as we’re trying to do well.
- I believe there’s no such thing as coincidence.
- I believe we are all powerful beyond measure, although most of us don’t believe it (we’re too afraid of being too big for our britches).
- I believe that there’s something bigger than all of us out there, but I don’t care what anyone calls it.
- I believe that if you get your foundation right (including having integrity and loving yourself), you can then riff off it in a million ways and things will most often work out well for you (and when they don’t, you won’t be shaken by it).
- I believe the right tool for the job is much better than the “it” tool of the day.
- I believe every one of us needs faith, and that life without it, in some form, is desolate.
- I believe every one of us needs some sort of practice that connects us with the cores of who we are.
- I believe that each of us could have personal and professional standards that are higher than they are today.
- I believe that if you have to “sacrifice” one thing to get another thing you want, something’s screwed up. And I believe that the world needs fewer martyrs, and more people making conscious, unabashed and unreserved choices.
- I believe diversity rocks, and we stand to learn a lot from one another. What we need is to be more curious and less afraid of each other. And we need to allow people who aren’t like us to ask us questions so they can better understand what makes us, well, us.
I also believe that women need to lead in this, because if women learn and become unafraid, they’ll teach the babies, and the babies will grow into a new generation of adults who behave so very differently than we do, now.
- I believe that in addition to the three Rs, kids in school should be actively taught things like relational maturity, self-love and self-care, how to be financially responsible, and how to commit to something bigger than they are. Since our children are our future, I believe we should be primarily concerned about raising them to be smart and good people.
- I believe women can do very well in business without following the traditional male model of business. Actually, it’s not just a belief. I’m living proof of it, and if I exist, many other woman do, too.
- I believe that when there seem to be two options, you should always choose the third because that’s where the magic is.
Why you should get to know me
Maybe we’re meant to work together. Maybe we’re meant to become fast friends. Maybe you’re meant to write a glowing piece about me and my work for the Times. It’s different for everyone. Find out… say hi!