Hospice Doctor Describes What Happens The Moment After We Die

"There's a lingering."

Death is a mystery to all of us, but Dr. B.J. Miller may have more insights on the topic than most. As a hospice and palliative care physician at the University of California, San Francisco, Miller works closely with terminally ill patients at the end of their lives. In speaking with Oprah about life and death on OWN’s “SuperSoul Sunday,” the former executive director of the Zen Hospice Project opened up about his sense of what happens in the moments immediately following a death.

“I’ve been around people who are just about to die, bodies that have just died, and there is this lingering sense,” Miller says. “There’s a lingering.”

Miller, who faced his own mortality when he lost three limbs in a freak accident, adds that knowing what happens after this lingering has become less important to him. “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.”

Oftentimes, Miller adds, the actual moment of death is profoundly ordinary.

“In that moment of transition around the body, you’re really in touch with the continuum of life.”

- Dr. B.J. Miller

”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 says. “It’s almost gorgeously ... mundane. It’s just, they were here and now they’re gone. There’s a moment where it’s just so matter-of-fact... That’s its sort of charm. It’s its beauty.”

With his many years caring for the terminally ill, Miller has incredible respect for the brief period after death and strives to honor the moment of transition.

“It’s such a profound, stunning moment to see the body finally as a shell and devoid of that person,” he says. “In that moment of transition around the body, you’re really in touch with the continuum of life, that life is proceeding. That individual is gone, but life goes on.”

You can watch B.J. Miller’s full interview with Oprah right now through WatchOWN.tv.

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