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The Most Important Lesson This Hospice Doctor Can Teach Us About Death

Dr. B.J. Miller tells Oprah what he's learned in his years working with terminally ill patients.

Dr. B.J. Miller’s life appears to center around death. As a hospice and palliative care physician at the University of California, San Francisco, Miller works with terminally ill patients at the end of their lives and has witnessed the moment of transition hundreds of times. His work with the dying ― including his time as the senior director of the Zen Hospice Project, where he dedicated six years to developing a mindful patient care philosophy ― has given Miller a unique perspective about death, which he shared with Oprah Winfrey on OWN’s “SuperSoul Sunday.”

As Miller tells Oprah, he has come to view life and death as mutually inseparable, and being around the dying has taught him two valuable lessons.

“One great lesson is dying people are still living,” Miller says. “Dying is these final moments of a life, and therefore a very potent, essential, really concentrated part of life. But it’s a part of life. That’s the first lesson... ‘Oh, right. Dying’s part of the deal, and I’m still living when I’m dying.’” 

Dying people are still living. Dr. B.J. Miller

One result of death and life being inseparable, Miller continues, is how death informs life’s value. “Dying is what creates preciousness, what gives us the impulse to make meaning,” he says. “Death proves life. I heard that statement once and it makes sense to me. You know you’re alive because you’re going to die someday.”

The other big lesson Miller has learned has to do with life choices.

“Time is short. So, the decisions you make are of consequence,” he says. “Delaying things that you love or want or seek, not calling grandma, whatever it is ― you have no promise of tomorrow.  So live your life today. I mean, that’s probably the singular best lesson about dying is to teach living.”

You can watch B.J. Miller’s interview on OWN this Sunday, May 7, at 11 a.m. ET or catch the “SuperSoul Sunday” live stream on Facebook. (The full episode will also be available to view on WatchOWN.tv later that day.)

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