Death is an inevitable part of life, so why are we afraid to discuss it? Dr. B.J. Miller and Shoshana Berger, authors of THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO THE END: PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR LIVING LIFE AND FACING DEATH, want to take some of the mystery and anxiety out of this universal experience. Watch the video above or read the transcript below to learn 5 things no one tells you about dying.
#1: It happens.
B.J. Miller (BJM): You don’t hear much talk about death. You may actually find yourself thinking that it’s optional or not thinking about it at all, which is a big part of the problem.
Shoshana Berger (SB): There’s a lot of things people don’t tell you about dying and death, and a lot of them came as a surprise to me as I had conversations with B.J.
#2: Pain is treatable.
SB: As a palliative care physician and hospice doctor, [Dr. B.J. Miller] treats pain very effectively, so all the fear that you have about tremendous suffering at the end of life is probably overblown. In the same way that we all have a lot of anticipation and fear when we’re getting on an airplane or doing something that’s risky, once we’re there, it’s a different experience. And I think it’s important to remember that.
BJM: The suffering many of us imagine must be part of the deal isn’t necessarily part of the deal. A lot, a lot can be done to ease your pain. This is where hospice and palliative medicine are particularly helpful, but any skillful guide, people who don’t run away, can be a very useful thing–someone to just sit and hold your hand and keep you comfortable and bear witness that way are all sorts of things that can be done to help people die, if not totally pain-free, at least a lot more comfortable than most of us fear or imagine.
#3: Grief is valuable.
BJM: Grief is a really good thing. It’s an extremely difficult thing, but it’s extremely normal. And it’s actually kinda beautiful and it’s also very useful. It helps you keep up with the facts of your life, it helps you stay in touch with the things and the people you’ve lost, and it really also clears your decks so as you move forward through life, you’re moving pretty cleanly. And also, grief is a way to touch back into the people that you no longer get to see. You can have a relationship with them in your heart, in your mind, in your body. So grief is good. Grief is very good.
#4: Most people are ready.
BJM: You come to realize that by the time most people actually do their dying, and sometimes it’s in the final moments, but one way or another, many people, perhaps most people, when it is finally time to go, are on some level ready to go. We mention this because when we imagine a future that we don’t understand, we tend to imagine it to be harder than it actually is.
#5: Death is transformative.
SB: The end of life and walking to that point with someone can be an incredibly transformative and meaningful experience. And I think people fear it and see it as something exotic and foreign, but when you’re actually witnessing it, it’s really life-changing. And it can be full of grace and beauty and an intimacy that you have not yet known.
Discover more insights about death and dying in A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO THE END by B.J. Miller, MD and Shoshana Berger.
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B.J. Miller, MD, is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco where he practices and teaches palliative medicine. He has been profiled in The New York Times Magazine, and interviewed on Super Soul Sunday,The Tim Ferriss Show, and On Being with Krista Tippett, and has spoken at the Aspen Ideas Festival and around the world. He is the author, with Shoshana Berger, of A Beginner’s Guide to the End.
Shoshana Berger is the global editorial director at IDEO, where she has worked on projects ranging from the end of life to modern Judaism to school lunch. She was a senior editor at WIRED, and has written for theNew York Times, WIRED, Popular Science, Marie Claire, and Salon. She cofounded the DIY design magazine ReadyMade, later turning it into a book, ReadyMade: How to Make (Almost) Everything.