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Memento Morrie:
Images of Love & Loss
with Aphorisms by Morrie Schwartz

Facing my fears of life and death - that’s what I realize I was doing in the 1990’s with my camera and in my life.  As a student at Brandeis University, I was fortunate to know  Morrie Schwartz, who was wonderfully open about his philosophy on living and dying.  Morrie’s lessons were chronicled in four Nightline shows and in the book, Tuesdays with Morrie.

 

“Death ends a life, not a relationship,” Morrie said. He enjoyed the idea of people coming to visit his grave on a peaceful hill overlooking a pond - “You talk and I’ll listen.”  Morrie showed me another way to face death and, in the process, live my life well.

 

We had agreed to an exhibition pairing my photographs with his aphorisms and I was able to show our work at Brandeis just before he died on November 4, 1995.

 

I left the USA in 1997 after having earned my degree and went on to live and teach overseas for 25 years.  Now back in the US after so long – I return to Morrie’s story which continues to be inspirational.

photo of Morrie Schwartz © Heather Pillar

Morrie's friends and colleagues at Brandeis University arranged a 'Living Memorial" to celebrate Morrie's life while he was living. 
Morrie loved this image - its the first one I made of him- and displayed it prominently.

Shula Reinharz relates a story at Morrie's Living Memorial at Brandeis University
Shula - Morrie's hands
00:00 / 01:08
Shula -Unconditional Love
00:00 / 02:41

Shula (Shulamit) Reinharz, Brandeis University, Jacob Potofsky Professor of Sociology Emerita  with Morrie at his "Living Memorial."

Caregiver Bertha helps to life Morrie Schwartz
Caregiver Bertha and Morrie Schwartz
Morrie Schwartz and caregiver Bertha appear to hug while Morrie is seated in a wheelchair

Don't stay preoccupied with your body or your illness. Recognize that your body is not your total self, only a part of it.        
                                                  aphorism by  Morrie Schwartz

Thursdays with Jeannie (1 min audio)

In the late 70's and early 80's, Jeannie Lindheim and Morrie were good friends from being in the same groups.  Then, 15 years passed.  When Jeannie read the Boston Globe article "A Professor's Last Lesson: His Own Death" about her friend, she called him immediately.  Delighted to hear from her, Morrie asked if she could come over and she did that very day- a Thursday.  It was as if almost no time had passed; they laughed and cried (mostly laughed) almost every Thursday for the next six months.  

Morrie's friend Jeannie visits on Thursdays and sit at the kitchen table

Morrie's philosophy of celebrating the life he has left keeps him composed during the times when it is difficult to accept loss of movement due to ALS.

Morrie is relaxed and content with the moment
Morrie and Charlie, friends and colleagues for 25 years, share a laugh
Charlie Derber (2 min audio)
00:00 / 01:50

Sociology professors Charlie Derber and Morrie Schwartz have been friends for over 25 years. Morrie believed in seeking out people who touch your heart and investing time and effort in those friendships as frequently as possible.

Rob Schwartz (1min30sec audio)
00:00 / 01:34

Morrie's son Rob gives his father one of the many kisses as they spend time together during the last months of Morrie's illness.

Morrie and Rob Schwartz share a tender kiss
Morrie Schwartz meditating with his teacher

Narayan, Morrie's meditation teacher suggested that the leap between life and death may not be a wide chasm, but instead - maybe there is a little bridge.

Morrie Schwartz

Morrie has had time to get affairs in order and his family has had time to think about life without him.

Mitch was Morrie's student at Brandeis University.  Mitch took every course that Morrie offered during his time as an undergrad.

Morrie and Mitch Albom hold hards
Mitch Albom, author of Tuesdays with Morrie interviews Morrie Schwartz

Author Mitch Albom interviewed Morrie on Tuesdays from May to October 1995.  The book, Tuesdays with Morrie, became a best-selling book, a movie and a play.

Morrie tires as Mitch Albom adjusts the lavalier mic on his shirt in order to record his wisdom

The lavalier microphone that Mitch Albom pinned to Morrie's soft, cotton shirts frequently needed to be adjusted for better sound quality.  Many parts of these recorded conversations can be heard all these years later on Mitch Albom's podcast: Tuesday People.

Tuesday was always a special day to Mitch and Morrie.  Morrie's office hours at Brandeis were on Tuesdays; Mitch came the first time to visit Morrie after learning about his ALS diagnosis on the show Nightline was also a Tuesday. 

"We're Tuesday People" Morrie explained to Mitch.  They met on fourteen Tuesdays in 1995 and that became the book, Tuesdays with Morrie.

Morrie Schwartz looking up to the heavens

Morrie passed peacefully on November 4, 1995.  His family had stepped out of the room and he died at home, as he wanted.  

It was a cold, grey day.  It felt appropriate for the feelings of all the lives Morrie touched.  However, we knew that the sun will shine again and life goes on and we are all a little wiser for knowing this professor who lived with love and died with dignity.

This memorial gathering also celebrated Morrie's life and in attendance were Ted Koppel and Mitch Albom.  They amplified Morrie's message of love and loss.

The memorial held at Brandeis University for Morrie Schwartz
Rob Schwartz, Morrie's son,  places stones on the grave according to Jewish tradition

In May 1996, Rob visits Morrie's gravesite after the stone is installed. 
According to Jewish tradition, while flowers may be a good metaphor for the brevity of life, stones seem better suited to the permanence of memory.

Morrie's widow Charlotte lived a long and productive life, dying peacefully at the age of 98.  Morrie and Charlotte are together again.

The gravestone of Morrie Schwartz and Charlotte Green Schwartz

I visited Morrie and Charlotte in July 2022 after the gravestone was installed.  Morrie would say that when coming to visit him - "you talk and I'll listen."

I talked about how our six month collaborative photography project affected me.  I try to be kind to myself and others as we all grapple with matters of love & loss.

The gravestone of Morrie Schwartz and his wife
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