The course was Social Phycology that was held every Tuesday by Professor Morrie. The Professor was diagnosed with ALS. He wanted a “living funeral” where everyone told memories they had of him while he was still alive. As a class, we could see him getting weaker and weaker.
I had lunches with the professor and promised after graduation that I would always stay in touch. It was a promise I did not keep. I bounced all over the place and finally took a job at the Detroit Free Post as a Sports writer.
I started buying a house, cars and stock. I married a girl named Janine. I was always busy with my work. I was skimming through the channels on the television, and seen Morrie on Nightline.
Ted Koppel was interviewing him. He was in a wheelchair. Morrie asked Ted questions about who was in his heart and about his faith. He was quick to answer that his daughter was in his heart but hesitated on his faith.
He tell Ted that he wants to live each day to the fullest. The one thing he dreads the most is when someone else had to take care of his bathroom needs.
I decided to pay a visit to my professor. I pulled up hesitantly trying to finish my conversation with the paper. He seen me and said Mitch you finally came back to see me. I called him Coach. He had me sit down and began telling me that he would be dead in four to five months.
I tried telling him he would be around longer but he was convinced.
He said the doctor told him that taking a deep breath and holding it counting in your head until you needed a breath again. He said that his breaths were getting shorter until he needed to take another. Coach said how love always wins. He was getting tired and said it was time for me to go.
I had an assignment at Wimbledon and all I could think about was Coach and the talks we had. When I traveled back to Detroit, I found out the Union went on strike and I was without a job. I called Morrie and we met on Tuesday. I remember him telling me that money was not the most important thing in life.
Morrie asked about the newspaper strike and could not understand why the two sides do not communicate. He was now dependent on Connie to help him with his bathroom needs. He told me that once they start wiping him then he has lost all independence. He told me it would be like becoming a baby all over again.
Morrie told me that now that now that he was suffering that he wanted to feel closer to the others that were suffering as well. He told me that he cries each morning and after that he does not feel sorry for himself. I thought is this what happens when you get close to death. He told me the most important thing in life is to give love and to let it come in. One day while I was still in college, Morrie walks in and just sits there saying nothing.
It made a lot of the students angry and agitated. They did not know how to react when all was quiet. His lesson was why people were uncomfortable to sit in a room with people in silence. I made the seven hundred mile flight every Tuesday just to talk to a dying man. We talked about life and love each week. He told me to put a limit on self-pity and be thankful for what you are still able to do.
I decided on my next visit to bring a tape recorder. He wanted someone to hear his story. It seemed that Morrie was in a different place now. He was more sensible and in a healthier state of mind. I made a list of questions for him to answer that contained death, fear, aging, greed, marriage, family, society, forgiveness, and a meaningful life. These were the things I wanted to know about him.
When people are around him he feels delighted but when he does not have anyone around he is depressed. He had said that his mother had died when he was young and it still brought tears to his eyes. He talked about his youth and being poor with nights only a piece of bread. But one thing they received was love from the new stepmom. He longed for the kisses and hugs at bed time.
He vowed as a teenager that he would never exploit someone else and never allow himself to make money off the sweat of others. He talked of death and said if this is the day I die did I do the best to be better prepared while I am still living. His philosophy was learn how to die and then you f learn how to live. He told me that everyone is too materialistic and that we take life for granted.
He told me to look outside and see things as if it were the first time. How the wind blows the limbs on a tree, a bird singing, the changes in seasons, and never think they will be back again for you to see. We talked about family and how it was the foundation.
You need the love and support of your family. He said spiritual security is having family watch out for you. He told me that having a child was the best thing in the world as you have someone that you are responsible for and that you love with all your heart. I had a younger brother who was stricken with pancreatic cancer just like my uncle. My brother did not want any help and wanted to fight it on his own. So I through myself into my work.
Morrie was having difficulty swallowing now and could only eat soft foods. His refrigerator was full from all the previous foods I had brought to his home. I was told he did not want to hurt my feelings. His table beside him had even more pills and he was having difficulty at night choking constantly on phlegm.
Today he wanted to talk about detaching yourself from what was going on inside of you. You do not let the experience penetrate you. Devote yourself to show it would be the third and last show. Ted could see how much the disease had progressed.
He talked for a while and became very tired. He told Mitch about having to go to the morgue to identify his dad. He said when he died he wanted to be surrounded by his family. I brought my wife to meet Morrie and she sang to him. There was a tear in his eyes when she finished. We talked of marriage and how both parties have to work at it and respect each other. We all have the same beginning and the same end. It is what we do in the middle that makes us different.
I had told the Nightline crew that I was less afraid of death now. He started listening to more music and watching out the window. He said he would know when it was time to say goodbye. He said in death they will get my body but not my spirit. He said he has been bargaining with God to become an Angel. He talked of forgiveness to yourself and to forgive others. Morrie told me he thought of me as a son.
All I could think about is having to say good-bye. He wanted me to continue to see him when he was gone on Tuesdays. He wanted to be cremated. He had a terrible spell the night before and felt he was ready to go that a certain peace had taken over. He told me to make peace with the living which meant my brother. I received a call that Morrie was real bad. I went there and waited until he was ready to see me.
It was not in his study but in his bedroom. Finally, he said my dear friend. I told Coach I loved him. He had me hold his hand He had me touch his heart. He said this is how we say good-bye. He told me he always knew I loved him. I told him I would see him next Tuesday.
Morrie died after four days of being in a coma. His family took turns by his side and when they all went to get coffee, he passed away. I believe he wanted it this way so that his family would not be haunted by his last breath. He had been buried near the water. I thought this was a great spot to come and talk to him and found an imagined conversation felt natural. It was Tuesday.