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A Beginner's Guide to the End

Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death

By B.J Miller and Shoshana Berger
15-minute read
Audio available
A Beginner's Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death by B.J Miller and Shoshana Berger

A Beginner’s Guide to the End (2019) offers a practical guide to facing the inevitable and living with grief. Miller and Berger provide a clear, humane framework for navigating this journey, offering moving real-life examples and sound advice along the way. A Beginner’s Guide to the End helps us live the best life we possibly can, even as we face the end.

  • Anyone facing a terminal diagnosis
  • Caregivers and people with dying loved ones
  • Those who are dealing with grief

B.J Miller is an assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, where he teaches and practices palliative medicine. He has been profiled in the New York Times Magazine and has appeared on the Tim Ferriss Show and On Being with Krista Tippett.

Shoshana Berger is the editorial director of IDEO, a global design firm, and formerly the editor-in-chief of ReadyMade magazine. She has written for the New York Times, Popular Science and Marie Claire.

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A Beginner's Guide to the End

Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death

By B.J Miller and Shoshana Berger
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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A Beginner's Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death by B.J Miller and Shoshana Berger
Synopsis

A Beginner’s Guide to the End (2019) offers a practical guide to facing the inevitable and living with grief. Miller and Berger provide a clear, humane framework for navigating this journey, offering moving real-life examples and sound advice along the way. A Beginner’s Guide to the End helps us live the best life we possibly can, even as we face the end.

Key idea 1 of 9

The shock of a terminal diagnosis is traumatizing, and you must take time to stabilize yourself.

There’s no way around it – learning of your terminal diagnosis will pull the rug out from under you. Hearing this news has been described as a bad acid trip, or entering an unreal upside-down world. One minute you’re fine, the next, everything is brutally transformed. 

The first thing to do is to get back to some kind of normality. In those first twenty-four hours, get your feet back on the ground. There are things you can do to help with this.

Go to the places where you feel most comfortable, safe and secure. That might mean taking yourself to the cinema and getting lost in the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or wrapping yourself in a duvet and bingeing on your favorite TV series. Or perhaps you have a favorite park, or a quiet spot close to nature. 

Then, remember to call the people who will be most supportive – your family and friends, near and far, with whom you have a close bond. It’s important to share the burden. And don’t be afraid to indulge in whatever feels familiar and good. Perhaps that’s a pint of beer or a whole bucket of ice-cream. It’s best not to investigate your condition on the internet now – there can be a lot of junk to wade through. In time, you might want to conduct your own research, but you don’t need to do that immediately. 

Finally, there are several things you definitely shouldn’t do. 

You shouldn’t quit smoking or drinking or whatever coping mechanism you have. You might want to do that tomorrow, but for now, let yourself find comfort in whatever softens this blow. Don’t rush into dramatic decisions. Don’t leave the doctor’s consultation room and immediately get divorced or buy a Lamborghini. Don’t post about it on social media. Give yourself some space from that world, which may seem trivial in your current state. 

And certainly don’t commit to particular treatments, conventional or experimental. That requires calm deliberation, two things you won’t be capable of right now. This moment will never be easy, but these things will stop you from collapsing in on yourself. The best thing you can do is to get comfortable and try not to complicate things too much.

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