Rob Mermin and Bill Morancy lived in neighboring apartments in Montpelier, Vermont. They were best friends. And when Bill was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he asked his best friend to help him die.
In 2013, Vermont passed the The Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act, or Act 39…our version of Death with Dignity. The legislation allows eligible Vermonters with terminal diseases the option to be prescribed medication that will hasten the end of their life. In 2015, Bill elected to use Act 39 to end his life, and he asked Rob to help him. This is a story primarily about their friendship–and the months, days and moments leading up to Bill’s death.
To learn more about Rob Mermin and his illustrious career as a mime and the founder of Circus Smirkus, visit here.
The music for this show was made by Vermont musicians Brian Clark and Mike Donofrio. And you heard from the original film soundtracks of South Pacific and Carousel, both by Rodgers and Hammerstein. The piano licks in this show were made by Vermont pianist Marie Helene Belanger
Kudos for Show
The 2019 movie, Paddleton, from the Duplass Brothers, was based on this episode and story.
Notable podcast, AV Club, June 13, 2016, for Last Chapter
Audible Feast, June 11-17, 2016
WOW! Moving; on a subject on everybody’s minds.
Excellent program, as always.
The man who created a spectacular young circus talks about death. More importantly, he talks about friendship, and I am so grateful to have heard this.
Fantastic interview! I am so thankful that Rob was willing to share their story. Very powerful. Not easy to listen to but glad I did. This is a conversation that most of us won’t ever have the chance to have/hear. Thanks for bringing Rob’s story to us.
I just listened to your “Last Chapter” episode and it really hit close to home. Last year my mother received the same diagnosis as Bill and I lost her on March 30, 2016. Our relationship was strained and unresolved and my grieving process has been significantly more difficult than I anticipated. I listen to a lot of podcasts and so many of them seem to be about death or dealing with your parents. I’m sure that they have always been this way but it feels more frequent lately. Thank you for the episode. I listened to it and sobbed about my own loss and Rob’s experience. I have had difficulty confronting my grief the last few months but I am trying to take it head on now and your episode encouraged the tears to flow.
I am a fan of your work and look forward to upcoming episodes. Thank you.
I have a mother who is 101 and in very bad condition in a nursing home who can’t let go though her quality of life is very bad, an older sister who died badly of cancer and other siblings who are well in their way to the end and wish for them, as well as myself for a good death: one of choice and some control, with someone you are close to near by who cares enough to be there. I would want no less for my pets and loved ones to remember the best of who they are as they leave. What more can you ask for?
Ditto. You can’t ask for more than a good friend and a peaceful death. Amazing.
Thank you Erica.
Very powerful. At 80 and still active and in good health, this is my idea of the ideal way to go.
Thanks, Erica, Rob and Wake Up to Dying. This is a beautiful story about a man who brought so much light to Montpelier, especially to film fans. He left the way he lived, his own way. Also such a moving portrait of a friendship. Story like a prayer.
I am a hospice nurse in California and our state has now signed a very similar act. Our staff is deciding what roles we will play within the process. Thank you so much for this chapter Rob. It is good to put the human side into it. The current law sounds restrictive and here it is so expensive . . . at least a step toward self determination. Thanks again for your story, a friend of Laura
This remarkable interview, with its deep humanity, thoughtfulness, and even humor, describes and models an approach to life as well as death. Rob’s comments on friendship, sorrow, and mystery prompt reflections on what we value and how we live our lives, as well as how we depart.
Rob’s voice as he tells this story is clear and singular, and I’m not sure that anyone else could have presented these events with such simplicity and grace. Thank you for making this interview available to listeners.
Erica, you help to make my world so rich. Your stories are amazing. This one really struck a chord. Last year I helped to care for my Uncle’s body, the day after he died from a heart attack. Rob’s experience with Bill brought back the memories and experience of this transformational time for me, family and friends. Thank you.
Bitter-sweet story. Most thought provoking. Thank you.
Death with dignity, death with a dear friend holding your hand, death on your own couch in your own living room….hard to imagine a better death. I wanted to know more. Was there suffering? any last minute “oh no, what have I done?!?” or did Bill just lapse into a sleep-like state. What a story. It takes the vague idea of “I’m going out on the ice floe” right down to the reality. And…what would this story have been if Act 39 (Patient Choice at the End of Life) was not an option? Rob’s telling, your editing, and Bill’s credo, which he stuck to to the very end, coalesce into a truly remarkable tale. Thank you.
I listened to this episode right after listening to, “Our Neighborhood,” and while this may sound strange to some, the transition was beautiful. Kids being kids having fun in graveyards, to adults acting like kids when together even in the last moments of one of their lives. Just was seamless for me. Bill and Rob reminded me of the special and enduring friendship I have with two friends where we actively behave as kids as if we’ve been given a second chance at it without the sadness, anxiety, or fear that sometimes accompanies childhood. Thank you Rob for sharing your story and for having the courage to hold your friend’s hand as he moved on down the road, so to speak. Thank you Erica for the work you do and bearing witness to Vermonter’s stories. I just love your work!
Proud to have known and loved both of these remarkable men and to have witnessed their friendship.
Beautiful and moving. Thank you Erica and Rob.
I’m Bill’s son. I liked this piece as well. I have to say I am glad that he had the chance to be the one in control of how his life ended rather than having to wait until the disease took its time to kill him. And you’re right, it was very much him. He always wanted to call the shots in his life and he managed to do that until the very end.
I was listening to Rumble Strip as I pulled into the parking lot of my local grocery store. I couldn’t turn off the car, this story was so moving. Thank you Bill and Rob, for this lovely narrative of friendship and life. You both modeled, so beautifully, what it means to live.
Even though this is certainly a story about death, it is also about love and compassion between friends. I would be grateful to have a friend like either of these men.
Great radio. Simply great. Thank you.
Many many thanks, Erica and Rob, for sharing this experience. Such a beautiful and meaningful story which can help many people consider the importance of thinking about and embracing the way we choose to die.
I second what Scott O says (“Great radio. Simply great”).
. . .stunning job by all participants, radio that makes you feel.
Gratitude to Bill and Rob for courage, honor and dignity. Beautiful work, Erica.
Thank you for sharing the story about friendship and facing the inevitable with dignity and choice.
An incredibly moving story. It certainly shows the value of having such a law to allow compassionate choice for a person in Bill’s situation.
Thank you, Rob, for being willing to give this interview in such a caring way. I would say however, that when you travelled to that pharmacy, you were not going to pick up Bill’s ‘death’ but you were going to pick up the means for Bill to avoid horrific futile end of life suffering.
Shame on the local pharmacies for refusing to supply the medication needed. I see a certain irony here, because as a former pharmacist, now long retired, I used to dispense bottles of 25 capsules of the same drug, when it was frequently prescribed for insomnia. Ian Wood. Australia
I have some concerns with this. There are miracles that happen every day. People with certain death prognosis have recovered before. And also who’s to say what could be learned in the last few months of life. Under intense circumstances, pressure and stress we as humans go through a certain process of growth and understanding. It is the same process with which diamonds are made. Are we preventing this very process from happening by ending our own life? This is assisted suicide. I don’t care what people call it. And what is a possible next step in this process, taking our life because of less circumstances such as depression? I know I’m being harsh right now but I think it is very serious when The state and government start making assisted suicide ready available to all.
Love to the “wonder and sorrow”