Summary: A Beginner’s Guide to the End by BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger
Summary: A Beginner’s Guide to the End by BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger

Summary: A Beginner’s Guide to the End by BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger

Don’t leave a mess

It’s not easy thing to do but cleaning out your mind buys you and the people you love a lot of freedom – the freedom from unnecessary suffering of sorting through baggage, both the mental kind and physical full of stuff. Get the unnecessities out of your way and do your best to say what you want to say. Lighten yourself so you can be more present for the rest of your life.


Leave a mark

You were here and you will be remembered for something when you’re no longer here. Even if you write no letters, sing no songs, capture no stories, your personal legacy may hinge on your interactions and words. Some of the people we’ve encountered left their legacies on a deep well of kindness that they and others drew from.


Yes, there’s paperwork

Planning takes time and getting your plans down on paper requires investment and busywork. But you’ll feel lighter after putting your plans on paper as if you’ve finally unpacked a luggage you’ve been carrying around for years. Though you can’t avoid death, this is one lace where you do have absolute control.


Can I afford to die?

If you look closely at the shockingly high cost of healthcare these days, it’s easy to feel as if we’re already bankrupt. Even if you’re not going through any sort of treatment, there’re plenty of ways to drain your bank account. So, if you’re saving for retirement, it’s time to add end-of-life costs to your savings.


I’m sick

Learning you have a life-limiting health problem is a radical moment. It takes time to get your head around the reality. In fact, you’ve just been reminded about the day of your death which will inevitably arrive but you don’t expect to arrive at immediately. In this state of mind, you’re just at the beginning.


Taking stock

Your self-belief about who you are and what you do will change the narrative and what’s physical possible. Look inward but also look outward. This is how you make the best decisions that will affect the rest of your time on earth. Whenever you find yourself at cross roads, take time. Pause and reflect.


Now what?

Illness will affect you. Treatment will affect you. Everyone has some control but no one has absolute control. Deciding what to pursue and what to forgo should be an ongoing conversation among you, your people and your clinical team. Consider the trade-offs when you’re presented with a choice but remember there’s no certainty of anything.



Death represents the mother of all fears. While there are many ways such as humor, creativity, forgiveness, prayer, perspective shifts and patience to cope with the fear of death or the death itself, it’s important to make room for fear. It won’t be so scary.


Breaking the news

Do your best to acknowledge what’s going on for yourself and everyone affected. Remember it’s an honor to be on the receiving end of this news no matter how hard it is to say. As Simone Weil said, “Attention is the purest and rarest form of generosity”. No matter what you hear, being there is the real balm.


Love, sex and relationships

Urgency has its gifts. Forever may be shorter than you think. If illness and imminent death give us anything – and they certainly do – it’s the vulnerability and intimacy that follows. Expect intimacy form surprising sources that you might not have considered until now.


Symptoms 101

Only you can see and feel how you’re doing internally. Track, experiment, communicate. Take what helps. Ditch that doesn’t. You may not be able to completely get rid of a symptom, but you’re very likely to feel better.


Hospital hacks

As a patient, it’s extremely hard to know what’s going on really and too easy to wind up in a situation you’d rather avoid. You and everyone around you needs to stay engaged. Listen, ask questions and speak up.


Help! Need somebody

We all need help. It may not be easy to let people see you’re in a rough shape but that pride isn’t helping you. There’s no shame in needing more support. People like to help people. Why would you refuse that very thing you give to others?


Care for the caregiver

Taking care of someone who takes care of you keep your sanity. Try to remember the gifts of caregiving: purpose, perspective and love. You’re receiving some of the most underappreciated work there is.


It’s your body and your funeral

Making a few good choices before your funeral will make things easier for people who love you and think highly of you. It can feel therapeutic for you to plan these final acts beforehand. But if you don’t have that privilege, rest assured there’s a system to help your loved ones. They’ll get through it. Everyone does somehow.


Final days

A dying body knows what it’s doing. Neither you nor your loved ones need to do much. There’s a shortlist of symptoms to watch out for when the death is so close. Try to let go and settle in now. This final stretch can be stunningly beautiful when there’s a comfort in it.


The first 24 hours

One call to the nurse or paramedics to make the death official and one to the funeral home or mortuary are really the only tasks you need to get done today. You may not yet ready to acknowledge the situation but this is the end of one period and start of another.



Grief is a period. A state. A place with its own weather and terrain. The sweetness of being loved and having love can help us wake up in the morning even when we’re feeling so many emotions. Look for it. This can be a very tender time, raw and unprotected. The grieving process is an opportunity, too. Take it.


Writing a eulogy and an obituary

Summing up a life is a difficult exercise. But it obligates the writer to call up memories – a way to honor the person and process one’s loss and it creates an atmosphere of community with other grievers. Do your best to be honest rather than presenting some idealized portrait others won’t recognize. People are drawn to true stories.


Celebrating a life

Sharing the loss of your loved one with others can be an opportunity to bring people into your life. The memories that friends and family bring up will stay with you forever. Cherish them.


The takeaway

The more you look at your life, the more you notice the beginnings and endings appear very much alike. All living entities go on to die and become other thigs. After we’re gone, our spirits live inside the entities of others we’ve known. This cycle of life is simple and undeniable.

Still, none of that lessens our sorrow. It’s certain that life does end distinctively. And that’s a harsh truth that we all come to deal with. With the end decided, you’ll find the route you take with all its turns and crossroads. That’s where the essence of life is found. If you find your way, help the others find theirs.

Death accepts us just as we are. Just participate. Resist the notion that you have absolute control. Resist the notion that you have no control. However you can, whatever you’ve got, participate in your care, your dying and your life.