Thursday, June 20, 2013

Expanding my concept of heroism

I miss my friend Merle. I miss his good humor and his crazy wisdom. Throughout a really awful time in his life he managed to maintain a sense of humor and purpose making him my hero as well.

Over the last few months I've thought of Merle a lot and my view and understanding of heroism has expanded. It takes a hero to be sick and maintain a positive attitude. It also takes a hero to be a caregiver and not completely lose your mind. It takes a hero to coordinate the lives of children and family while caring for someone. And, to be able to add the care of yourself into that mix makes you nothing short of Super(wo)man.

My hat is off, and my heart goes out to all the caregivers out there. You are all my heroes. If you can do it with grace and good humor, then heroism only scratches the surface of my admiration.
Merle was my "work spouse". We met in 2006 when he was hired onto the team I worked on, and I will never forget the grace with which he navigated questions during his interview that left me cringing. Merle was a people-person, but more than that, he was my friend. We shared the same academic interests, sense of humor, and tendency toward irreverence. Every year we celebrated our birth week together -- our birthdays are separated by exactly 1 year and 1 week -- Why celebrate for just a day when you can celebrate for a whole week was our theory? When I got married in 2008, Merle read the 7 blessings at my wedding.
Merle was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at the age of 42, and immediately turned his formidable people-skills to advocacy, and his even more formidable will-power to living his life to the fullest. He began a blog ( and chronicled his experience from start to finish. He concentrated on living in the moment as much as possible. He adopted the mantra, borrowing from Monty Python's Holy Grail, "I'm not dead yet!", and celebrated his life though parties with friends and family with titles like "Tumor B Gone" -- commemorating his Whipple surgery, where guests were instructed, per the invitation, to "deposit tumors, illnesses, malaises, and other discomforts into the Flaming Chalice of Health at the front door"; and Tumorpalooza -- Versions I and II, in honor of the anniversary of his diagnosis. Merle worked until the last few weeks of his life, worrying all the time that he was not doing enough, when in fact, he was doing more than enough. When he could no longer work, he graciously invited visitors to his bedside 24/7.
Merle is the most heroic person I know. He is an inspiration for how to live, even when living seems hardest. I, along with many others, will miss his kindness, humor, intelligence, friendship, and bravery.

Merle Hamburger
Mar. 1, 1966 - July 19, 2011

Keep searching for that Holy Grail...

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