REVEREND ROBERT MEYER
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Early in the fall of 1981 Robert Meyer, our local Methodist minister, gave a sermon in the church on a Sunday morning. What he had to say hit the congregation like a ton of bricks. The following excerpt of that sermon was transcribed from the church recording system:
"By evening I shared with our Pastor/Parents Committee something of which I am sure, something of which I am very sure. I wish I knew how many of you I have already hurt.
"Friday morning my doctor told me I have cancer. He described it as a virulent kind, rapidly spreading. He said it calls for radical surgery of the most obscene and unpleasant kind.
"He also told me that if the disease had spread, I had four to six months to live. And, I hope that to offer the key words in what he said would be for me the words, "to live." Okay, "to live." I don't know how many days I have until I die. None of us do. But with your help I want to live all. Now say, "A-men" to that.
Bob invited me to visit him on his death bed. Each time I visited he seemed to be in acceptance of his impending death. He had flown to New Mexico for a new type of proton-beam treatment. Because the government was in a fiscal crisis, the day he arrived the program was halted. He returned to New Paltz without treatment. The cancer had spread to his pelvis, bladder, kidney, and liver.
In December, I asked if I could interview him so the kids in the Death Education class would be able to get first-hand information on the feelings of a person close to death. He was enthusiastic and suggested I record the session to make it easier. So, on December 24, 1981 I went to his bedroom, set up the tape recorder and conducted the following interview. His words were quiet and subdued. The tape had to be paused at times because he was vomiting or because he passed out. His blood chemistry was abnormal. He was on Bromptom's mixture and at times he slurred his words.(The ....... in the transcript represent pauses. The more dots, the long the pause.)
INTERVIEW WITH REV. ROBERT MEYER - 12/24/81
Um...the Question was, "Where did I first learn of...the illness - brief history of it?"
About this time of year - last year - I was going to the bathroom to urinate and I passed blood and had a very strong burning sensation - well burning in the penis. I wasn't too alarmed by this because this would be about the 4th or 5th time I would have developed a similar infection of the prostate gland which is common to man.
I took it to the shoemaker first but there was nothing wrong with it; brought it home - the shoe - contacted, contacted the doctor's office and he suggested I come in for a series of examinations - one of which is called a cystoscopic examination. That took place in the middle of January and through being able to visualize the infected area and the prostate - the doctor again conclude, concluded that, ahh, what we were dealing with was a chronic prostate infection.
Treatment for such an infection is generally medication mostly the - what are they? - um - what's your medication for this? - in pill form or sometimes in other forms. Previously it always is medication that are high in - uhh - sulfa. but sulfa isn't as popular.
So, within the next 3 to 8 weeks I received approximately all the different antibiotics known for this kind of treatment. In the meantime, a little worried that this thing was not straightening itself out, I turned to another doctor for confirmation of the diagnosis - but this is nine months later - he still confirmed it as acute - ah, uhm - prostate infection - ahh, the kind that clears itself up in its own time and not to worry about it. Ahh, however another report received the following day suggested to him a lot more was going on. And this time under a cystoscopic examination, they discovered an extensive tumor - one that is called - ahh - long, no, short-term....(?) cell...short-term; term transitional cell, rapidly growing - July 31st.
Ahh, it was determined then that the only course of treatment would be an operation...because this cancer does not respond to radiation or to...uhh, surgery...surgery generally. If the cancer were isolated, if it had not spread...uh, that surgery would be in order and that would be followed by many weeks of conventional surgery...although conventional surgery does limit (wife: radiation) uhh, radiation therapy - conventional radiation therapy - although therapy does very little to cure this disease.
Ahh. when we walked in the doctor's office the next time he had seen the - ahh - catscan. His face was aglow and he told us it was operable. And, when all things were set and ready to go for Thursday morning's surgery. I believe - ahh - take 3 to 7 1/2 hours - ahh - because they had to put a shunt in to remove...they had to remove one kidney and part of, ahh, the kidney that the third cell...ahh...another kidney in part (?) and that show (?)...........................
Question: Now in your opinion, now, you uhm...you know the cancer's been growing and you don't have too much time left - what, what do you think the time is?
As of this evening...I've been told I can expect 10 days...life...or 10 days of being around...ah, that information been crossed last week. However, I've known since the 31st, I've known since the onset - that this was a terminal cancer. I just had an opportunity to - ahh - go into a special program to receive the new treatment and, ahh, unfortunately, actually what happened was the facility ran out of money. Ok?
Question: Do you...when you think about this do you get emotional. Do you cry?
Yes! Oh, there are times when I cry when I think about it... ah...6 months may seem like a long time to know about something like this, but it isn't. and, I've discovered that about myself - I - I really have to wake up every morning and take a new look at it...and say, "I wish it weren't." This is what it is. And, that's what I do best with what we've got. But even at that, there comes the point when it's not easy, you see,...you do the best with what you've got. you become tired...and exhausted. and, not only by the disease, but what the disease demands of you. but, by the necessity to, ahh...live it out with your friends and family and friends as well.
Question: Are you still able to laugh - joke around?
Yep - occasionally you get that feeling.
Question: You know Elizabeth Kubler Ross came out with her famous stages of dying. what is your opinion on that?
(Cough) I think she...ahh...her five stages of dying are an accurate description of which you go through - ahh - most people go through. However, I wouldn't want to put a guy on this blanket 1/3 weight. I'm sure I just skipped some....I'm trying to think of which ones I did miss. anger - uhh - acceptance...peace...............................It made me realize what I do, but didn't come with as much force or such a recognizable pattern.
Question: Did you try to deny the illness at all or was that something that you knew was true and just went along with it?
Well, I wanted a second opinion. Then after that there is no room left for any kind of denial at all.
Question: Would you say the pronounced stage was anger or acceptance?
The pronounced stage?
Question: If you had to select one that you have been in the most...
Question: But it isn't the type thing where you just go into acceptance and stay there.
No...no...it's learning how to relive every morning. There is a story of Alexander, who had a slave. his only job was to wake him up in the morning and say, "Alexander, remember that one day you too shall die." this is all you've got. I think the acceptance, but then (?)....but the others do crop up.
Question: If you had your choice of dying here at, at your house, or dying in a hospital, I am assuming that you prefer to die in your house. Why, why have you done that?
.................................First of all, death, like life, ought to be a family affair: Something we ought to celebrate today. We had all kinds of primeval, immoral, and immature ideas about death for a long, long time. It is a stage of life. It's the last stage, anonymous, no color to it, leave early. I don't suppose, although I, I am among the last few weeks of my life so I've looked forward to death with great anticipation, and then, sense of hope and wonder...Ahh......................................As far as being in a hospital: I have many, many, many gripes about that. I value hospitals. I've been a minister for 29 years. I've seen hundreds of people, literally, die in hospitals. It's not the nicest place to die. It's the loneliest place to die. It can often be the dirtiest place to die. It can be the place where you have been forgotten for so long...umm...your funeral would be delayed four or 5 days past somebody else's, simply because you have been around so long as, "Old Mrs. Jones." Now that we have her old we keep that door closed, son...because she doesn't disturb all the other folks. And, I don't call that "care" (?) when you're facing death. Also, as a minister, psychologically and philosophically I believe that death has been overcome, that our victory has been won, and that what happens is we go into a new state of being. What that is I'll even guess is I don't know. but it has been part of my faith, and if that part of my faith proves me to be totally wrong I will still have not lost anything. so, that's about it.(?----?) it's worse now - do you want me go - I forgot your answer.
Question: Ahh, well, ahh I was going to ask you next about your feelings toward Hospice - are they still visiting you and, ahh, how's that working out?
Yea, they're still visiting. I'm a little disappointed that the Ulster County Hospice group hasn't really, ahh, been friendly enough to go ahead and do much other than to look in on me. Ahh, we are being looked in on to see how we are handling the situation. and, that's about all. Although through some financial pressure I think we are going to get somewhere out of Hospice in terms of volunteers. Umm, analysis of the situation is simply: They're writing me off to permit me to die at home, if and when I can. Later I want my body to be taken immediately to the crematorium and then prepare for a memorial service two weeks later....that's so Mill (wife's name is Millie)and I talked about, oh, many, many, many years ago, and repeatedly throughout our marriage (?.?). which over the years became simpler, simpler, simpler. (?...?)
(Wife is talking about Bob's Hospice comments. she didn't think they were complimentary.)
Well, Hospice is an organization which ought to prepare you to die. And, I don't know if that's what they are doing. In this case, I have a feeling that I, without being nasty about it, that I'm teaching them more then they 're teaching me right now - which is ok - that's part of the contract, (?) - (?) tell you.
(The tape has turned off at this point while Bob was regurgitating.)
Question: Do you want to add to your record today?
Ahh, yeah, of course people always ask, "How do you feel?" Today I feel...fine...you learn to say that more and more - umm - it's a protective little thing. Still you're dead but you don't want to talk about your cancer all the time. It helps to talk about your cancer. It helps to have a lot of friends who will listen about it - who listen about what you expect it to do, where you expect it to go..uhm..what the results are going to be - are you going to live or are you going to die as a result of it. And, the more friends you have that you can talk to about those kinds of things, and what you can do to get along each day...to make each day as full as it can be for you...it's fine with me (?). then you're on the right track. Talk about it. Ahh, some days you know you're not permitted to talk about it at all...except to yourself...and those (?...?) were good days...accept it and go on and say, "This is a challenge, not everybody dies from this disease. They're curing more and more, and so on. Let's see what we can do (?) me, myself- whatever other resources I have: My friends, oh, church and time. but, essentially we have to face it over and over.
Question: You talked about suicide. (Yes) What is your feeling on that?
.....I do not...in general believe in suicide. However, after living with this illness for six months...and putting together experiences out of my past where I worked with patients who were suicidal, because they were cancerous, and I do think it's about time that we had in our culture a good sit-down look at this whole question of a value to human life. You know, its dignity, and a way that should be allowable for a person to make his or her own choice as terminating in cases of severe, depilatory diseases................That's the way I'm right now. Uhm...there are many nights...even nights when I'm pain-free, absolutely pain-free physically, and I'm laying in bed and thought about ending this in my own way...out of so many fears, I've feared losing my own dignity as a person, which happens. You become the third party in the(?) ... the thing they make decisions for. Oh, when your not involved, of course, that becomes a burden, you become a burden, your own being is a burden, and you wonder how much of this one new day is worth all these burdens. And, I've found very few days to have (?). (Cough) I think he need a lot more looking at it. But...I don't know...it seems to me that somewhere in an act of suicide. or making an act of suicide possible. For a patient, euthanasia would be an act of grace and an act of love, not seen as it is today as an act of violence or an act of murder.
Question: Would you prefer to have someone take your life or would you prefer to take your own life (if everything was philosophically correct)?
If everything were philsophase, philosophically correct, I think it would be your obligation to do that.
Question: You know you have had a lot of people come down and visit you.(Umm, umm) There are probably a lot of people that don't come down to visit also.(Umm, umm) Even including those people that come to visit. Do you find people avoiding you possibly because of a death-fear that they might have?
Ahh hum, less than I imagined there would be. That's not a very helpful answer. That's why I never really (?). Well, I did notice a change in reaction...When we were told it was operable (?) we were much pleased with the reaction. However, we were told it was not operable. Ahh...people began, began not to ask so many questions about it. And that was repeated when we came back from New Mexico.
Question: O.K., Now a big Question: Ahh, Bob, uhm...I'd like you to leave a few words for ahh... some of these kids that would be in future Death Education classes. And, possibly you could, uhm, include in those words something about how you would live your life...again if you could do it all over. (Long pause - cough - long pause)
O.K. - Uhm...took some time with that because ...last couple of days I haven't been able to do much at all except...lay in bed. and, I cannot get out of bed on my own anymore. So, that's a lift-off. And I've been doing a lot of reminiscing... and that started...just quietly...well, one afternoon lying here I was thinking about...a fish dinner that our family had enjoyed out on Lake Charlevoix, Michigan...Oh, about 20 years ago. I suppose. ahh...we were visiting up there and stopped at a fishery and had such a good time, and good evening. It was one of the most pleasant experiences of our lives. So I decided to reminisce on that (?). And just about put the whole thing weaved together - together again - and, ahh, together. (cough) And, this step we think, we think, we were happy about - the happy events. (?) And, I would chance very few things...uhm, hardly any at all. I don't think I'll find any easier time to grow up, or any of that stuff. I just think I would stay pretty much the same. But, I was lucky enough to have a very close working family, and my mother and father and myself. (cough) We did many things together. Uhh - sort of set the pattern for my life. (cough - tape stopped)...Then the activity was...then we sat around the three of us...and, ahh...we had a good time.
Question: So your life was good enough that you would live it the same way again?
Yeh. I ended high school about the same time World War II ended...I had been admitted by college..University of Wisconsin..at Milwaukee extension..service..but decided there, after 3 or 4 sessions of college, to re-enlist. Then I enlisted in the Air Force. Was in the first troops that went in to occupy Japan. And, I'm in the first troops. My contingency has only (?) corporal..uh..with 11 men. And, uhh, we were glided in to what later became the largest air force base in the Middle East, and still is. (?) Air Force base in Japan...uhm... (taped stopped). That's in the period of time where the type of ammunitions that were loaded and dropped. And, the things I later saw somehow or another that became pretty clear in my own thinking that I had to go into a field of work where something could about this crazy world in which we could live all these, or kill all these children with, now atomic bombs...And I decided to take up the calling of ministry, follow through on that to see whether I was qualified in the judgment of others...and then eventually to seek the orders of the church. That's the deacon and elder; deacon and priest...I got married before we went to seminary which was terrific...ahh...cause it gave me a good partner to work with, someone who was interested in many things I was interested in. Someone who could type a term-paper in a hurry. She like to, because I couldn't. Someone who could hold me up when I had to cry, to realize I made some pretty bad mistakes...And someone to love and give herself equally to me, as I would give myself to her. And we had this...even from the beginning....Minister's never get paid much money and we know that when we're going into the profession. It's just one of those things. It's one of those groups that have never gotten back a fourth of what they're worth. I think ministers are worth a little more than you see them...ahh...And yet, let's look at it this way...ahh...You come to my house with a problem. I can, if I have a good minister, or serve as one to help to solve the problem. I may not have the answer right away, but maybe the answer for, or some answer will come (?). and maybe an answer (?) and, maybe you'll never find your prepared, for just that soon. (?...?). I have to say this, though, coming out of my own experience: Of all the people who visited me in the hospital, not many of them, two..three now...in my home, becoming a hospice...I suspect these people sitting here thinking..that...the clergy have been the only ones who are able to deal with the realities of dying...and what that whole package is more or less like; and what affects this package has on, just on the personal side of people who survive. The people who survive suffer the greatest agony, the greatest loss, the greatest hurt.. (voice trails off) ...In the end unless you suicide or something like that..but....................Any other questions? (recorder off) O.K., turn it on. (it's on!) It is on. All right, George asked yesterday if there were any things I would change or any want to do differently. And I said, "Yes." I would like to preach one more sermon. And the sermon's my way of saying that...All I regret, all the time that I wasted. And, what I meant by that was the, oh, not a lot of high-powered stuff, but simple things like Millie, my wife, asking me some night, "Ahh, maybe let's go to a movie after dinner." Well, I'd think for a moment, "Gee, that's a good idea. but I am so tired." And, I'd make an excuse. And, I'd say, "Let's go tomorrow night instead." And, very often it doesn't get done at all.. not at all. So, I would waste my time instead. And I'd, I'd look at things differently. I would ride over things differently, and try to get more fun...more life; more living, more joy, more kindness. just try to touch all the good things like that. (?) And not worry so much about whether I was a winner or a loser...or acceptable or unacceptable. I would just be who I am.
This recording was made on Christmas Eve 1981 at approximately 4:45 in the afternoon. At exactly 4:21 A.M. Christmas Day Rev. Robert Meyer died.
Two days prior to Bob's death he asked Millie to compose a letter and send it to all the members of his congregation. The following is what it contained:
December 23, 1981
Dear Church Family and Friends,
The Christmas cantata, "I believe," we hear from those who have visited us was an outstanding inspirational success. I knew it would be because the spirit of Christ runs deep and full through the life of our congregation. I would have given anything to have shared this Christmas with you, and I am heartbroken that I can not. We do, you and I, however share in spirit the same gifts which come each Christmas - the gifts of love and joy, of the Child's birth - the child who brought to us and to all humankind the dreams of the growing realities of his kingdom of peace and love.
You as our church family have already shared with us the gift of love. We thank you for your care, your gifts, your financial support, and all the many, many kindnesses you have extended. You have brought a richness to my life that I had never believed possible.
In our home, the joys of this Christmas have been intruded upon by our personal pain and grief. This shall be my last letter to you. On Sunday afternoon, my doctor informed us that the kidney which has been causing me trouble went back into failure, and it was his opinion that only days remain. Millie and Rick are doing their best to see that I can spend these remaining days at home in some degree of comfort. Again, I ask your prayers - for peace, the quieting of pain, and for strength for Millie and my family.
Goodbye. God bless. Love one another. Remember me from time to time - and by God's grace, may we all meet on the other side to pick up where we have left off. I don't know what the workday is like in my Father's kingdom, but I suspect that from time to time I will have the time to look over your shoulders here in New Paltz and cheer you on. Just continue to be as faithful and as caring a congregation as you have proven to be during these few brief years I have been allowed to share so happily in ministry with you. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his son Jesus Christ our Lord - and may the blessing of God Almighty - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - bless you always and forever.
Your pastor - with love,
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