It’s been an emotionally draining week, between Marty’s death, memorial service and burial, Lucy’s birth on Wednesday, and Mom’s return home from the hospital last Sunday after a two-week state due to an episode of congestive heart failure.
As I wrote Thursday, the memorial service was packed with well-wishers, all of whom expressed their condolences and shared tender remembrances of my father-in-law.
“It would have been nice if he could have heard all the kind things people had to say about him,” Helen, my mother-in-law, said this morning.
Marty did not seem to have the experience of some Holocaust survivors, who, in the grips of Alzheimer’s, end up reliving their horrific wartime memories, although his agitation at times did remind Helen of Dylan Thomas’ epic line, “do not go gently into that good night, but rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
But he did not have a period while he was alive when many people who had known and loved him told him what he had contributed to their lives during the nearly 78 years that he was alive.
Morrie Schwartz did, though.
The late Brandeis professor and mentor to sportswriter Mitch Albom knew that ALS, or “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” was going to kill him, so he decided to hold a living funeral while he was still alive and while his faculties were intact enough for him to enjoy and savor the moments.
Albom writes about this and other aspects of Schwartz’s decline in Tuesdays with Morrie, the story that catapulted the highly successful sportswriter into national mainstream prominence.
For those who have not read it, Tuesdays with Morrie starts with Albom reconnecting with his former professor shortly after Schwartz has learned of his diagnosis. Albom is having his proverbial Dantesque lost in the middle of a dark wood moment, having drunk heavily of professional and material success but hungering for something more and deeper.
Schwartz provides it for him.
Through his courageous and forthright dealing with ALS-at one point, Morrie tells Ted Koppel that “Somebody’s going to have to wipe my ass for me”-Schwartz inspires the younger man to live with more purpose and with deeper involvement in causes greater than himself.
One can feel the imprint of Albom’s sportswriting background in the writing, which is punchy and filled with pithy, one-sentence paragraphs designed to heighten the emotional impact on the reader. His writing is conversational.
Albom’s story of coming to a greater sense of life’s meaning moved me less than his description of the wisdom and bravery Schwartz displayed in the disease’s relentless advance.
Schwartz did not invent the living funeral, but his is one of the most famous examples of it. The event for Marty was extraordinarily powerful, I imagine that religious folks will say that he knew about it, and the living funeral is something to consider for others that we will inevitably face in the upcoming months and years.