Discussion Questions for BJ Miller: Loving What Is
1. “Today’s episode is for everyone who feels like they might not climb every mountain,” Kate says in the intro to her interview with Dr. BJ Miller. Take a moment to imagine your life as a metaphorical mountain. Do you feel on the upslope? At the peak? On the downslope? In one word or phrase, describe the sensation of being you in this moment.
2. After a terrible accident in which he underwent a series of amputations, BJ Miller adopted an attitude of “fake it ’til you make it”—by which he means that the faith of others filled in the gaps while he learned to have faith in himself again. When has this attitude served you? Who “set the horizon” for you?
3. Americans have a deep desire to believe we are all limitless, Kate reflects (lovingly). Can you remember the first time you became truly aware of your own limits? Did it happen by force or some other way? How did itshape or reshape your desires for your life?
4. BJ admits, “I not only accept the idea of limitations, but I’m enamored with them.” Are you enamored withyour limits? Can you think of ways they’ve made you more creative or resourceful or thankful? If not, why doyou think that is?
5. Patients know something about being patient with their limits—and BJ has the unique perspective of having both been one and treating his own as a hospice and palliative care specialist. Do you think it makes a difference that our healers have also suffered? Short of manufacturing something horrible, how can we better prepare caregiving professionals to build trust with those they serve?
6. Kate and BJ dispel the myth that palliative care is only for the dying. Instead, the point of palliative care is simply “to ease” or “to cloak” suffering so as to optimize feeling good. Is there struggle in your life or the lifeof a loved one that needs easing? How have you tried to ease or cloak the pain? What would it feel like if youleaned into the limitations and worked with reality?
7. “Incompleteness, I guess, scares me sometimes,” Kate admits, to which BJ asks, “Do you think there is such a thing as a complete life?” What do you think? What would you regret not being able to be or do if your life stopped tomorrow? What’s one thing you can do this day or this week to honor that fear and use it as fuel?
8. The first line of BJ’s new book with co-author Shoshana Berger, A Beginner’s Guide to the End, reads, “There’s nothing wrong with you for dying.” The main message is there’s no shame in our human nature, our frailty, ourmortality. Who do you know that needs to hear this reassurance? How will you reassure them?
9. When BJ is feeling the weight of loss or grief, he reminds himself, ”Hey man, that’s love talking.” In what relationship is the weight of love talking to you right now? What is it saying? What are you saying back?
10. “If you can work with the end in mind, you can live with more richness,” Kate concludes. You can make different decisions. You can experience more clarity. You can crescendo with more ease. Fill-in-the-blank: If I can work with the end in mind, I can live with more __________.”
Bonus: After listening to this week’s podcast, what part of Kate and BJ’s conversation resonated with you most? What insight will you carry with you?
Discussion Questions written by author, editor, and facilitator Erin S. Lane.