Saturday, April 23, 2005

Book Blessing: Tuesdays with Morrie

Believe it or not, I had not yet read this 1997 best seller. Yes, I'd heard how great it was in a generic sense, but no one had told me what it was about.

I came across this book among my grandmother's things still knowing nothing more than the title. And still ignorant, I began reading it while at my aunt's bedside. At that point, I think it took me about one page to realize this book by Mitch Albom was about death and dying.

Although I was probably the last person on earth to read this book and thus there is little need for a review, I decided to write one anyway. Perhaps it'll remind you of a few of the gems in this documentary or perhaps... I was the second-to-last person on earth to have read it. ;-)

Mitch Albom had been living a life focused on his successful career, but he questionnned his values when he renewed his friendship with his former professor, Morrie Schwratz. At the time of their reunion, Morrie had already begun a physical decline from a terminal illness, ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

I really grew to like Morrie as a person throughout Mitch’s descriptions of their interactions and their conversations. And we had a few surprising things in common.

“He was a religious mutt, which made him even more open to the students he taught over the years. And the things he was saying in his final months on earth seemed to transcend all religious differences. Death has a way of doing that.”

As I’ve written before, I feel my own non-categorical spiritual beliefs enable me to reach out comfortably to patients and family members facing death of all religious practices.

So many pieces of the book reminded me of my relationship with my aunt who recently passed on April 11th. Though we definitely did not have nearly as many frank discussions about death as Mitch and Morrie did, there was a similar feeling of intimacy in the conversations we had about life and in the time I spent at her bedside before she died.

Throughout this book, Morrie offers us wisdom from his perspective as he knowingly approaches his own death. He encourages us to prepare for our own death, stating, “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” He suggests we live each day as if we have a bird on our shoulder that asks us if we are ready to die. Doing so, will help us to keep perspective on whether or not we are doing everything we need to and being the people who we really want to be.

He also covered areas I had not given much thought to before, such as the concept of detachment.

He exhaled. “You know what the Buddhists say? Don’t cling to things, because everything is impermanent.”

But wait, I said. Aren’t you always talking about experiencing life? All the good emotions, all the bad ones?


Well, how can you do that if you’re detached?

“Ah. You’re thinking, Mitch. But detachment doesn’t mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully. That’s how you are able to leave it... If I hold back on the emotions – if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them – you can never get to being detached; you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, “all right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.”

My friends and family are often concerned because I seem "so sensitive.” I grieved openly over my grandmother’s death. I talked openly about how sad I was. But throughout that time, their alarm seemed so unnecessary. I was hurting, true. But now I feel at so much more peace. This “going through the emotions” makes sense to me. Though I am still struggling with what he meant by “detachment.”

I probably picked up different aspects of this book than others due to the fact that I was actively grieving as I read it. I will definitely want to read it again when the acuteness of my grief - over both my aunt's recent death and my grandmother's death the month before - is even more distant.

But in my grief, this book has been both inspiring and comforting.

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” – Morrie Schwartz

NOTE: I am intentionally not providing a link to any of the on-line bookstores, because I would prefer you to support your local independent bookstore. To order on-line from the independent bookstore nearest you, please check out Book Sense.

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