Discussing matters of life and death

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

When Joy Bell read "Tuesdays With Morrie" she thought it was a fascinating book about how people learn to live while they face death. As a hospice volunteer, Bell helps patients and families learn to accept death when it comes. She shares in their joys and their sorrows.

When people are dying, family members often shy away and leave them to die alone because the situation scares relatives. In his three years as a hospice volunteer, Bill Mercer has learned that death is not something to fear.

Getting the generations to share ideas, wisdom and lessons about life is why Central High School librarian Julia Jorgensen selected "Tuesdays with Morrie" as the book Cape Girardeau will read in February during the third annual United We Read program.

Written in 1997, the book was a national best seller. It is a compilation of what author Mitch Albom learns about his mentor and former college professor, Morrie Schwartz, as the elder man faces death. Schwartz had Lou Gehrig's disease, also called ALS, an incurable ailment that affects nerve cells controlling motor functions like walking.

Third time

The book is the third for the city's United We Read program, in which everyone is encouraged to read and discuss the same book during February. Though many titles were considered, "Tuesdays with Morrie" appeals to a broad spectrum of ages, Jorgensen said.

She wants people participating in the book discussions to talk about life's lessons, what kind of advice they've found useful or that they've given out and how they might consider spending a "perfect day" or the end of their days.

The first discussion is at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Barnes & Noble Booksellers. Other discussions are planned throughout the month. (See accompanying schedule.)

Jorgensen said she would like people to talk about how circumstances can change life and about what older generations can offer different ages of people.

When younger generations don't connect with their elders, "You lose so much not being able to talk to those people," Mercer said.

During her year as a hospice volunteer, Bell said, she has learned things about acceptance and spirituality that truly transcend words. "It's been a delightful gift to be able to share time. I've gained a better view of myself and my spiritual connectedness."

Julie Metzger remembers "Tuesdays with Morrie" as a "life review," something she sees occurring as a grief counselor and social worker at Southeast Missouri Hospital.

Facing death can be a time when people are gifted, she said. Hospice can help people understand that they have a gift -- a chance to share their stories, get their affairs in order and be able to have a peaceful closure. "That's a lot of what the book addresses."

Jorgensen hopes the monthlong reading focus helps spark some insightful discussions, but also that it encourages people to read. "I'd hope that people recognize that reading doesn't have to be a solitary sport, that a lot can be gained after reading a book and talking about it."

Other books from past United We Read campaigns include "A Painted House" by John Grisham and "All Over But the Shoutin'" by Rick Bragg.

ljohnston@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

WANT TO GO?

Feb. 2: 6:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble. Discussion led by Bill Springer.

Feb. 8: 1 p.m. at Centenary United Methodist Church parlor. Discussion led by Julia Jorgensen.

Feb. 10: 2:30 p.m. Central High School library. Discussion led by Dr. Mike Cowan, principal.

Feb. 17: 6:45 p.m. (dinner is at 6 p.m. with reservations) at Girl Scout Office. Discussion led by Denise Stewart.

Feb. 23: 6:30 p.m. at Generations Center at Southeast Missouri Hospital. Discussion lead by Bar McKeon. Information about ALS will be available.

Feb. 24: 7 p.m. at Cape Girardeau Public Library. Discussion led by Sam Blackwell, managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

Feb. 25: 12:45 p.m. at Central High School Library. Discussion led by Jenni Emanie, Lauren Thompson, Stephanie Watts and Elizabeth Day.

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