Remebering Merle

In memory of my friend Merle Hamburger
by Rebecca Leeb McGinniss on Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 1:51pm

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…

2008, Purple Stride 5k for PanCan

A Tribute To Merle

Click on the link below to see a tribute to Merle’s life:

He led a good dash.

Merle Makes the Newspaper

The Atlanta Journal Constitution ran feature article on Merle in Sunday’s paper. Here it is.  Click on it to make it large enough to read.

Merle’s Obituary

Dr. Merle Edward Hamburger of Lilburn, GA, born March 1, 1966, died of pancreatic cancer on Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 10:45 pm. Merle’s life was dedicated to the development of good character, strong values, and positive self-image of today’s youth. His work at the Centers for Disease Control focused on preventing youth and domestic violence. As a black belt in the martial arts, he taught students courage, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit at Northeast Tae Kwon Do and American Karate Productions. He was also active in adult leader training for the Boy Scouts of America and an involved leader of the youth at Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett. Merle is survived by his wife, MaryBeth; children Benjamin, Kevin, and Abigail; mother Sydney; and siblings Marjorie, Isaac, and Sidney. Merle was predeceased by his father, Edward and older brother, Sandy. A memorial service will be held at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett, 12 Bethesda Church Road, Lawrenceville, GA 30044 on Monday, July 25 at 2:30pm. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Awareness Network,

Memorial Roast

Merle’s wish was that people gather to celebrate his life rather than sorrowfully mourn. A memorial will be held at the:

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Gwinnett
12 Bethesda Church Rd
Lawrenceville, GA 30044

The memorial will be held on Monday July 25, 2011 in the afternoon. Mary Beth is finalizing arrangements with their minister. A specific time will be set and posted on this blog shortly

Memorial Roast Dress Code:
Scouts: uniform would be OK
Karate: uniform would be OK
All Others: Casual “Merle” style clothing is appropriate or Tuxedo with Birkenstock sandals and white socks

A block of rooms and group rate of $79 have been arranged for at:
Country Inn & Suites
1852 Rockbridge Road
Stone Mountain, GA 30087
Let them know you are with the “Hamburger” group

In Lieu of flowers please make donations in Merle’s name to PANCAN.ORG
(Pancreatic cancer claims 95% of all patients with-in five years)

“Good Night Sweet Prince…

may a flight of angels sing thee to thy rest….” William Shakespeare

Merle passed away at 10:30 pm on Tuesday, July 19, 2011.

Be Peacfull!!!

Love Everyone


Date and time for a memorial service will be posted on this blog later today

Another Update


Today has been challenging; filled with frustration wanting to keep Merle comfortable while the inevitable approaches. Sydney (Merle’s mom) and MaryBeth have been with Merle all day. Scott, MaryBeth’s brother drove all night to be here as well. Diney, Merle’s  brother returned this evening. Merle’s highschool friend, Kathy, is flying down from VA tonight as well. Throughout the day there has been  a steady stream of visitors from AKP, the CDC, UUCG, and the BSA.

Merle seems comfortable however his breathing is labored and he is growing weaker.

We will continue to provide updates through this blog.

Here are some photo’s

Merle's 45th birthday with his family.

Merle, his brother Diney, and his best friend Luis

Merle on July 16,2011






Merle and MaryBeth at home June 2011

Merle gets a big kiss from his daughter





The Last Days

Scott Heidrich, Merle’s brother-in-law, here.  This morning around 9 am, the hospice nurse stated that he probably only has 24-48 hours left.  He is unresponsive, but I like to think he can still hear us if anyone would like to stop in and say good-bye.  Address is in the post before last.  I met Merle about 27 years ago, when I was 10.  I really looked up to him and thought he was a great guy soon after we first met.  He was a father figure for me, and will always have a special place in my heart.  I love you, Merle, and my life definitely benefited from having you in it.  I will forever hold onto you in my thoughts and memories.

Ups and Downs

Merle’s team of doctors, nurses, social workers, et al. met on Thursday and have decided that Merle should remain inpatient.  It is still possible he will come home for a brief visit, but he is probably going to stay primarily inpatient for the duration.  We are unsure about the safety of letting Merle come home without someone watching him (and not distracted by kids or chores) 24/7.

Merle has still has periods where he is mostly lucid, although even then he often has trouble finding the words he wants to say.  The majority of the time, however, Merle is extremely confused and he spends most of his time sleeping or laying in bed seemingly unaware of what is happening around him.

He is nonetheless still Merle: stubbornly independent and determined to “do it himself.”  He dislikes the fact that he needs help to stand up or walk and will try to do so without help, which has led to some thankfully minor cuts and bruises.  He refuses to call the nurse for anything, although he

Hospice Update

After a rough night Friday, Merle has settled in to the hospice and seems comfortable there. He still has a lot of edema in his belly and his legs, making it difficult for him to walk, but it has improved now that he is in the hospital bed with his legs up for most of the day.  We take short walks around the facility and in its garden a couple of times a day to keep up his mobility, but he is resting 20 plus hours a day.  He is very jaundiced from liver failure, and the combination of dehydration and jaundice makes it  difficult for him to focus or express a rational thought.  His pain seems well controlled by the morphine pump he is now on, though.

Our family is coming down to help out with managing things here.  My parents came Saturday and will stay until Wednesday.  Merle’s mom came today and will stay indefinitely.  Merle’s sister may come Thursday for a few days.  Merle’s brother is coming Friday for the weekend.  The plan is to have one adult with Merle to make sure he does not try to get up by himself (he is very unsteady on hos feet) and one adult with my kids at all times.  Between family, church friends, CDC colleagues, BSA friends, and others this plan seems to be working well.

The plan is for Merle to stay in hospice for 1 week for evaluation, and then he may be able to come home for a while.  They are trying to get some of the fluid off, re-evaluate his medications,and make sure his pain is under control.