What’s it like to know that your death is imminent?
54 year-old Dr. David Meyers was willing to tell me.
Shortly after his wife, Hannah, survived breast cancer, he began losing strength in one of his feet. Then, while he was swimming one day, he was incapable of doing the breaststroke. David had been a competitive swimmer. So something was really wrong here.
Brain scans showed glioblastoma. They gave him a year to live.
That was five years ago.
Surgery and medications extended his life, but now, they could do no more.
David and I connected in February 2023 to talk about what it was like to be knowingly nearing the end of his life.
Is he scared?
No. He’s sad. There is so much love here. He isn’t done with experiencing and sharing that love.
What does he want done with his body?
He wants to donate it to science. He tells me the story of how he met Hannah while he was in medical school, and that their first real date was over the body of a cadaver in a lab he was working in. He was so impressed with how she – a humanities grad student – was curious and compassionate. When he tells me the story, my knees get weak. What a way to fall in love.
What does he hope his last words will be?
I love you. Be kind.
What would he like his last meal to be?
Dark chocolate. Definitely dark chocolate.
We talk about what he’d like his surroundings to be like when he dies.
We talk about what it’s been like telling his friends that he was dying.
We talk about the power of meditation. He is drawn to the practice of Metta, or, loving kindness, which we both practice. The way it works is, first, you send yourself love and compassion. And then you imagine sending those feelings to someone you care about very much. Then you send love to someone you aren’t very close with but see now and then. And then—my favorite—you send caring thoughts to someone with whom you have a difficult time wishing well. Linger there. Then, send love to all beings on the planet. And then, to everything that exists everywhere.
We talk about how important it is to use the words “death” and “die” instead of euphemisms like “pass away”. He says we can talk directly about death and still be kind and gentle.
We talk about how he’d like to be remembered: someone who’s kind. Someone who supported those around him, and through his work, made the world a better place.
At the end of our interview, it is difficult to say goodbye.
But I’m glad to say that it was not our last goodbye. Our last goodbye was a couple of weeks ago, three months after his episode aired. David asked to talk with me on the phone.
He told me that all life-extending measures were beginning to fail. In a few days, he would stop eating and drinking. Hospice would be there to make sure he was comfortable. He wanted to thank me for the episode we made together. For being his friend.
He also told me that since the episode aired, people from all over the world have sent him dark chocolate! ”I have a lifetime supply!” He said. Imagining him repeating that line to his friends made me smile.
I told him that for the rest of my life—and this is coming from a white chocolate fanatic—every time I’d have dark chocolate, I would savor it, and think of him. Better yet – I would beam the sensation of tasting it to him, wherever he was.
He told me that his last meal would now also include an especially cheesy slice of pizza from their favorite local spot, and a glass of Domaine Ste. Michelle. That was the same sparkling wine he shared with Hannah on their wedding day.
Our goodbye was full of many long pauses.
We said “I love you.“
The last word he spoke to me was “Peace.“
On July third, Hannah let me know that David died the night before.
I listened to our conversations again, the unedited ones.
Hearing his voice, I wept.
I wept with gratitude to have heard it in the first place, and with sadness that it would make no more new sounds.
And then I felt him with me. Smiling.
And then I listened.
I heard his gentle voice, whispering: