Coming Back From the Dead Pt. 2 [BJ Miller]

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“Parts of me died early on […], but I got to redesign my life around that fact, and, I tell you it has been a liberation to realize you can always find a shock of beauty or meaning in what life you have left”


When I went on my search for content surrounding the theme of revival, it was difficult to not come across religious notions of the concept. Agreed, that this is a popular iteration of what we find in revival; a literal rebirth of life. We also have other types of mythos, such as the phoenix that rises from the ashes, using it’s former plight as it’s new armor. In these tales, often times, the revival, or revitalization, of the character is positioned in such a way that it comes back from the darkness in an improved state.

Originally, the idea started from the Selena Gomez song. “This is not survival, this is my revival.” That lyric resonates with the TED Talk on “what really matters at the end of life” by BJ Miller. He speaks greatly about the quality of life, primarily in the realm of hospice care; what can we do to eliminate unnecessary suffering for patients near the end of life. Ironically (because, when we look at hospice, a literal death is on schedule versus the concept of a revival), but BJ’s personal story is what struck me on this topic.

In the above quote, BJ talks about how parts of him died (in an accidental electrocution that cost him his legs and a forearm)

SIDEBAR: I would be remiss to mention something, not quite related to revival, that struck me in a very personal way related to BJ’s talk. Part of this project is a self-reflection and dissection of how I have reached where I am in my life at this point. BJ describes the concept of “Sensuous Aesthetic Gratification”, meaning, those things in life that, in an instant, we are rewarded simply for being. In this way, we love the time we have in accordance with the senses, by way of the body. This concept struck me in two very different pathways:

Sensuous Aesthetic Gratification as it relates to living: When I think about my own life, my struggles with binge eating, which I didn’t realize were present until after my weight loss. Often times, diets do not work for people because of their inability to be sustainable. Living a lifetime of habits that are built on sensuous aesthetic gratification come with an undying willpower. This is why relapse is commonplace. Building sustainable strategies that incorporate a balance of pleasure and discipline help to not teeter on either side of extremity. When BJ explained this concept, I immediately thought about times when my brain knew the consequences of eating several cupcakes but ignored it for the visceral, momentary pleasure. Finding ways to comfort yourself in these times is integral to move to a space where the impulses are lessened.

Sensuous Aesthetic Gratification as it relates to dying: On the flipside of this, BJ talks about this phenomenon as it relates to those who are close to death. He speaks about a woman who wishes to take up smoking again, not to be self-destructive, but to feel her lungs filled with a familiar, comfortable sensation. I was struck by this primarily due to my personal relationship with death over the last year; my father passing back on Christmas Eve. I remember him saying (more times than once) when I would try to give him suggestions in his diet (he had diabetes and was obese for the majority of his life). Although he did try, making small changes in the ways he knew how to and with the money he available to him, but I always was pushing him a little harder to try a little more. His mantra during these discussions were always, “I’m not going to live forever, so I want to enjoy what I have while I am here.” Although this such a clear and blatant example of what BJ explains, I was enlightened to this concept as it relates to death. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but, I had to share the striking revelation in my personal story. Although we can never change the past, I think by learning more about ourselves and the world around us, we are able to see the past like a movie, and new information gives us a deleted scene, or an alternative angle to something we’ve seen before. I think that that is the true power of education.

BACK TO REVIVAL: I want to end on a note that relates to this week’s theme in a more direct manner. The primary reason for my initial sharing of BJ’s story was not particularly centered around the content of the video, but, rather BJ’s personal story with death and revitalization. He talks about being in a hospital, not knowing if he was going to die or continue living. A nurse brings a snowball into his hospital room (with no window), and as it melted, he felt at peace, both with dying or living. His story of turning his literal near death experience with that of turning his life’s work into Palpable care, concerned primarily with the comfort and quality of life of patients. To me, this is a shining example of a personal revival, turning a truly traumatic and life-altering event, and using the catalyst for pain as the new reason to be alive (in this case, giving comfort to people). This is the definitive version of the phoenix’s tale. BJ used his pain and discomfort in the hospital to now help (as the director of a hospice care center) those who are seeking their final comforts in this world.

Revival comes in many forms. Some, more literal (like being on the verge of literal death), and some of it is more metaphorical as it relates to our identities becoming something new and powerful to propel us forward with a new found strength. The reason I chose revival as a debut topic was merely to explore what it means to return to something with a new energy.

The last point that I think is pertnintent, maybe not exclusively to revival, but about living life while we are alive. BJ talks about a patient named Frank – Regret. Live like frank always, dont wait. 

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