Tuesdays with Morrie

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Graduation

GRADUATION

Morrie died on a Saturday morning.

His immediate family was with him in the house. Rob made it in from Tokyo-he got to kiss his father good-bye-and Jon was there, and of course Charlotte was there and Charlotte's cousin Marsha, who had writ­ten the poem that so moved Morrie at his "unofficial" memorial service, the poem that likened him to a "tender sequoia." They slept in shifts around his bed. Morrie had fallen into a coma two days after our final visit, and the doctor said he could go at any moment. Instead, he hung on, through a tough afternoon, through a dark night.

Finally, on the fourth of November, when those he loved had left the room just for a moment-to grab coffee in the kitchen, the first time none of them were with him since the coma began-Morrie stopped breath­ing. And he was gone.

I believe he died this way on purpose. I believe he wanted no chilling moments, no one to witness his last breath and be haunted by it, the way he had been haunted by his mother's death-notice telegram or by his father's corpse in the city morgue.

I believe he knew that he was in his own bed, that his books and his notes and his small hibiscus plant were nearby. He wanted to go serenely, and that is how he went.

The funeral was held on a damp, windy morning. The grass was wet and the sky was the color of milk. We stood by the hole in the earth, close enough to hear the pond water lapping against the edge and to see ducks shaking off their feathers.

Although hundreds of people had wanted to attend, Charlotte kept this gathering small, just a few close friends and relatives. Rabbi Axelrod read a few poems. Morrie's brother, David-who still walked with a limp from his childhood polio lifted the shovel and tossed dirt in the grave, as per tradition.

At one point, when Morrie's ashes were placed into the ground, I glanced around the cemetery. Morrie was right. It was indeed a lovely spot, trees and grass and a sloping hill.

"You talk, I'll listen, " he had said.

I tried doing that in my head and, to my happiness, found that the imagined conversation felt almost natural. I looked down at my hands, saw my watch and realized why.

It was Tuesday.

"My father moved through theys of we, singing each new leaf out of each tree (and every child was sure that spring danced when she heard my father sing) . . . "

--POEM BY E. E. CUMMINGS, READ BY MORRIE 'S SON, ROB, AT THE MEMORIAL SERVICE

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