“There’s a feeling …”
Throughout human history, one question has bewildered every civilization, society, and individual: What happens after we die? For some it’s a question for science, for others, a question of faith. But for Dr. B.J. Miller, it’s a question that he’s totally fine not knowing the answer to. Miller is a hospice and palliative care physician at the University of California, San Francisco, and, for him, death is about the living.
In a recent interview, Oprah Winfrey asked Miller to describe what it feels like to be around someone in their moment of death. “I’ve been around people who are just about to die,” Miller said. “Bodies that have just died. And there is this lingering sense, it’s true. There’s a feeling. It’s a palpable ..yeah, there’s a lingering.” But Miller was quick to say he’s not sure what that feeling is or if he could ever know. “And I don’t know if that’s in my mind or if it’s in the air or if that’s spirit.”
As the former executive director of the Zen Hospice Project, Miller can provide true solace for those facing the end, because he’s seen countless people pass peacefully. “I’ve been around folks who, I’ll be sitting there talking with their family and we’re having a conversation, and the person dies in the middle of a conversation. And it’s seamless,” Miller told Winfrey. “It’s almost gorgeously … mundane. It’s just, they were here and now they’re gone.”
Given his extensive research and experience with death, most would figure Miller to be obsessed with the after-life. But he found comfort in living in the here and now after losing three limbs in an accident “One thing that my injuries helped me with was to not need to know,” Miller says. “I didn’t need to have control over everything, I didn’t need to know the answers anymore. I mean, I love not knowing. The answer’s unimportant. It’s just a sacred and gorgeous moment.”