The events of Tuesdays with Morrie are set in motion when Mitch finds out his beloved former college professor is dying and decides to visit him. The lessons that Morrie imparts to Mitch arise from Morrie's desire to teach the world about death and how to live when one's dying, as he faces the inevitability of his own fast-approaching death. The book, then, serves as a meditation on death.
Morrie ruminates throughout the fourteen weeks on the effect that other people's deaths have on the living. At the beginning of nearly every lesson, Mitch shares of a story of death from the newspaper he reads on the plane ride to Massachusetts, and he regularly notes developments in the high-profile OJ Simpson murder trial going on at the time. While these events have little effect on the actual storyline, they emphasize that death is all around us and affects everyone. Mitch, for instance, is severely shaken as a young man by the untimely death of his favorite uncle, and Morrie never fully recovers from the death of his mother. However, these personal instances of death serve as catalysts for change. Mitch’s uncle's death is one of the primary reasons that Mitch decides to pursue a Masters degree and gives up becoming a professional pianist, and the lack of love and affection in Morrie’s life without his mother and before his father's remarriage drive Morrie to build his own family that values affection and the showing of emotion.
Despite a natural human fear of death, Morrie seeks to find a means of facing or engaging with it so he can die peacefully. As part of this quest, Morrie conducts research on how other cultures around the world view death. He is especially interested in cultures that believe in some sort of reincarnation. As a belief that relies on the cyclical nature of birth and death, the idea of reincarnation fits thematically with the other cycles in the text and the world: school years, seasons and the life cycle of plants like the hibiscus losing its leaves in Morrie's window, sports, and even the cycle of Mitch's weekly visits to Morrie with their greetings and goodbyes. Ultimately, Morrie develops his concept of detachment, which involves feeling an emotion, recognizing it, and then living through it. This thought process allows him to face his own death without dwelling on it negatively. It instead allows him to use death as an excuse to live his life to the fullest, knowing that if he wants to do or say something, his time to do so is short.
The ideas of death as being part of a natural cycle and that death is better treated not as something to fear, but rather as a motivator to live life more fully, link death with life. In this way, Morrie's lessons about death are not just lessons about how to die, but about how to live life. Morrie's dying with is to pass these lessons on so that others- Mitch and the reader- can also let go of their fears of death and live their lives to their full potential.
Death Quotes in Tuesdays with Morrie
"Mitch, you are one of the good ones," he says, admiring the briefcase. Then he hugs me. I feel his thin arms around my back. I am taller than he is, and when he holds me, I feel awkward, older, as if I were the parent and he were the child.
Instead, he would make death his final project, the center point of his days. Since everyone was going to die, he could be of great value, right? He could be research. A human textbook. Study me in my slow and patient demise. Watch what happens to me. Learn with me.
Morrie cried and laughed with them. And all the heartfelt things we never get to say to those we love, Morrie said that day. His "living funeral" was a rousing success.
After the funeral, my life changed. I felt as if time were suddenly precious, water going down an open drain, and I could not move quickly enough.
Instead, I buried myself in accomplishments, because with accomplishments, I believed I could control things, I could squeeze in every last piece of happiness before I got sick and died, like my uncle before me, which I figured was my natural fate.
I knew there was plenty of food at the house, but I wanted to contribute something. I was so powerless to help Morrie otherwise. And I remembered his fondness for eating.
Holding him like that moved me in a way I cannot describe, except to say I felt the seeds of death inside his shriveling frame, and as I laid him in his chair, adjusting his head on the pillows, I had the coldest realization that our time was running out.
And I had to do something.
“I'm going to say it again,” he said. “Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” He smiled, and I realized what he was doing. He was making sure I absorbed this point, without embarrassing me by asking. It was part of what made him a good teacher.
“If you don't have the support and love and caring and concern that you get from a family, you don't have much at all. Love is so supremely important. As our great poet Auden said, 'Love each other or perish.'”
When you're in bed, you're dead.
“In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right?”
His voice dropped to a whisper. “But here's the secret: in between, we need others as well.”
Then I'd go for a walk, in a garden with some trees, watch their colors, watch the birds, take in the nature that I haven't seen in so long now.
In the evening, we'd all go together to a restaurant with some great pasta, maybe some duck—I love duck—and then we'd dance the rest of the night. I'd dance with all the wonderful dance partners out there, until I was exhausted.
I blinked back the tears, and he smacked his lips together and raised his eyebrows at the sight of my face. I like to think it was a fleeting moment of satisfaction for my dear old professor: He had finally made me cry.
The last class of my old professor's life took place once a week, in his home, by a window in his study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink flowers. The class met on Tuesdays. No books were required. The subject was the meaning of life. It was taught from experience.
The teaching goes on.