Morrie’s impending death is the unavoidable center of Tuesdays with Morrie. While Morrie’s decline and eventual passing is the tragedy of the story, it is also the thing that takes all the usual social taboos off the table and allows Mitch and Morrie to talk with frank honesty. The knowledge that Morrie’s time is limited drives him to share as much as he can with Mitch, with his family, and with the world before he’s gone. This deadline motivates the depth and sincerity of Mitch and Morrie’s conversations throughout the book.

From Mitch’s introduction of Morrie, he makes it clear that Morrie has always acted outside of social norms. Morrie unabashedly loved to dance without any sense of embarrassment. As a professor, he always encouraged vulnerability in his classroom and found ways to help his students succeed, even if it meant breaking the rules. By delving into Morrie’s history, Mitch reinforces the genuine nature of Morrie’s attitude toward death. Morrie has always been generous, and so his generous attitude at the end of his life is not an act or a change of heart, but rather the natural continuation of Morrie’s character.

Mitch, on the other hand, freely admits his time with Morrie is a transformative experience for his worldview and way of life. As a student, Mitch cared enough about his professor to take every class he could with Morrie and even to gift him a briefcase upon graduation. That same admiration returns when Mitch hears about Morrie’s illness, but it is not until their Tuesday meetings that Mitch begins to internalize Morrie’s advice. Although his life is successful on paper, Mitch feels like he’s missing something. That itch provides him motivation to learn from Morrie and enact foundational change in his life.

Morrie’s life has not been without its tragedies, and his willingness to share his personal history gives us further context for the advice he gives Mitch. Morrie’s mother died when he was eight years old, and he openly continues to grieve such a deep loss. His affection-less relationship with his father was never what he wanted it to be, and he deliberately raised his own sons differently. Morrie makes a point to be involved in their lives in a capacity his father could not give him. Even though Mitch knows Morrie through the lens of his academic work, Morrie sees himself through the lens of his family and community.

Along with Morrie’s stories and Mitch’s personal recollections of his professor, Mitch includes constant reminders of the violence, chaos, and cruelty happening in the world. Mitch’s newspaper is on strike throughout the book, leaving Mitch temporarily jobless and the rest of his company in turmoil as the strike escalates. He talks about celebrity drama, global wars, and the OJ Simpson trial. Mitch always contrasts these large-scale events with Morrie’s relatively small world. Morrie focuses on the good he can do for the people around him, and Mitch increasingly emulates Morrie as the book goes on.

Despite his deeply personal anecdotes and history, Tuesdays with Morrie almost treats Morrie as free from the restrictions of individual perspective because he is dying. Mitch shares how so many people came to visit Morrie in the hope that he would have some insight into what happens after death. People view his terminal illness as a way for Morrie to occupy multiple dimensions—life and death—and they rely on that hope for some sort of absolute statement on the meanings of existence. Morrie cannot provide that answer, nor does he pretend he can. He does, however, present his aphorisms and conversations as somewhat definitive. Mitch, at least, sees an aspect of moral right and wrong in Morrie’s perspective on the world. It is Morrie’s urging that causes Mitch to reinvest in his marriage, set boundaries on his work life, and work harder to understand and connect with his brother. Morrie’s stubborn gratefulness for his life despite his body’s decline helps Mitch to see the value of Morrie’s perspective and experiences.

The less glamorous undercurrent of the story is Morrie’s physical transformation. For Mitch, the tension with death inspires emotional and philosophical life changes. For Morrie, the story is about the slow loss of his body. In Morrie’s first TV special, he talks about how he dreads the day “someone’s gonna have to wipe my ass.” But, when that day comes, Morrie finds it is less humiliating than he expected. The more assistance he needs to sustain his body, the more Morrie learns to trust and treasure the people who help him. The book is relentless in describing Morrie’s physical limitations, but also all the physical contact those limitations require. Morrie becomes obsessed with closeness and physical touch, unabashedly craving it from his companions. Mitch sees this desire, and responds by freely hugging Morrie, kissing him on the cheek, and later offering to help pick Morrie up and move him as he needs. Morrie’s assertion that human connection is the most important aspect of a person’s life encompasses the need for physical connection. Morrie says he gets to be cared for like a child again, without any cultural barriers between him and his carers. Although Morrie talks about detaching his emotions from his body as the latter deteriorates, his physical experience plays a crucial role in teaching the lessons he has for Mitch.

Death and grief are inescapable human experiences, and Tuesdays with Morrie remains relevant because of its candid engagement with them. Morrie reveals, while dying, that his life was best lived for and among other people. Mitch takes Morrie’s example to heart. In the 20th anniversary edition of the book, Mitch gives an update about his own life that shows how Morrie’s lessons had a lasting impact. Rather than returning to the worldly priorities he held at the beginning of the book, Mitch pivoted his focus to other people. Morrie’s deep desire to connect with others has continued long past his death, as his memory and legacy are cemented in Mitch’s book and life.