Wisdom from Morrie

Morrie Schwartz, a professor emeritus of sociology at Brandeis University, was diagnosed with ALS in the summer of 1994 and passed away in November 1995. He devoted the last year of his life to using his illness to teach others about living and dying. He was an inspiration to friends, students and colleagues—young and old—on dying with dignity. He wrote 75 aphorisms that he called “Reflections on Maintaining One’s Composure While Living With a Fatal Illness”. These aphorisms are the basis of his book,  Letting Go (later republished as Morrie: In His Own Words).

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  • Be clear about what you need and want
  • Ask for it
  • Persist in trying to get it
  • If you don’t get it, know when to give up trying and accept the loss
  • Know you can experience more freedom to be who you really are and want to be because you now have nothing to lose
  • Learn how to combine detachment with involvement, caring with disease, despair with hope, and life with death
  • Let others’ affection, love, concern, interest, admiration, and respect be enough to keep you composed
  • Be patient with and accept your and others’ shortcomings and limitations— again and again and again
  • When you are utterly frustrated and angry, don’t be afraid to express anger or to curse silently, under your breath or out loud if the situation permits. You don’t have to be nice all the time and get people to like you and want to be with you—just most of the time
  • If you need to rail against your fate, do so while you also try to use your situation to enhance and transcend yourself and achieve a higher level of functioning, whatever that may be
  • If you can’t have large victories or achievements, be grateful and celebrate the small ones. Many small ones may add up to a large one
  • Watch for and enhance that which motivates you to be composed and involved
  • Reduce your fear of death
  • Keep your heart open for as long as you can, as wide as you can, for others and especially for yourself. Be generous, decent, and welcoming
  • Be kind and loving to yourself. Befriend yourself. Be compassionate to yourself. Be gentle towards yourself. Do not put others down or criticize yourself continuously
  • Friends and family may see you as less incapacitated than you are because they want you to be “better”. They have this need because they care about you. Accept this, while trying to convey your reality without imposing it on them
  • Whenever a lessening of a physical power occurs, it will always feel to soon. Expect this reaction, and perhaps by preparing for it mentally, you can soften its impact
  • Resist the temptation to think of yourself as useless. It will only lead to depression. Find your own ways of being and feeling useful
  • At some point, be prepared to deal with profound contradictory feeling—for example, wanting to live and wanting to die, loving others and hating them
  • Watch out for emotional, spiritual, or behavioral regression when you are tired, sleepless, or anxious. Try to find ways to avoid that state or get yourself out of it
  • Be aware that you are living in the shadow of increasing dysfunction, discomfort, dependency, and death. Come to terms with this shadow in whatever way you can
  • Allow yourself to be admired— to be an inspiration to others for your behavior, attitudes, and spirit
  • Find a time of the day to face fully your dread, horror, anxiety, fear, rage, and anguish in regard to past, current, and future losses and dysfunctions. Weep and grieve deeply at this time. Once you have honored these feelings, be done with them and go back to your involving life. You may find that you are strengthened by your tears
  • Maintain necessary illusions, but not completely unrealistic ones. For example, to hope that my ALS will reach a plateau or move slowly is realistic, but to expect to be cured is not. Be hopeful, but not too foolishly hopeful

Want some “more-rie”? The New Jewish Theater is starting its 2017-2018 season with a production of “Tuesdays with Morrie”, which has been adapted from Mitch Albom’s best-selling book about his relationship with his professor and mentor, Morrie Schwartz, at the end of his life.  If you’re interested, you can buy tickets here or by calling 314-442-3283.

Tuesdays with Morrie FB Post

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