Study Guide

This Is Where I Leave You Mortality

By Jonathan Tropper

Mortality

I have to smile, even as I chafe, as always, at our family's patented inability to express emotion during watershed events. (1.4)

The novel's just started and we already know what Judd's challenge will be. In order to properly mourn his father, he'll need to learn how to share his emotions with his family. Good luck, bro.

So his actual death itself was less an event than a final sad detail (1.21)

Mort's death wasn't sudden and shocking; it had been a long time coming. Sometimes, those deaths are harder on a family, which has to mourn while the dying member is still alive.

Childhood feels so permanent, like it's the entire world, and then one day it's over and you're shoveling wet dirt onto your father's coffin, stunned at the impermanence of everything. (4.34)

Poor Judd: thirty-five years old, and he's finally being forced to grow up. His father's death is the last nail in the coffin—pardon the pun. Now his dad's dead, and he's got to be the man of the house. But first, he has to get a house.

Consumed with Dad's slow death, Mom forgot to cancel the pool service, and so the swimming pool in the garden glistens with blue water, but the grass is starting to come up through the paving stones around it (5.2)

Talk about a fitting metaphor for the way the Foxman family deals with grief: things look OK on the surface, but it doesn't take much snooping to see trouble popping out from below.

"Stop interrupting me. Your father lay dying in his bed for the last half year or so. How many times did you visit him, any of you?" (7.30)

So, why didn't Judd visit his dad when he was sick? They didn't have the best relationship, but Mort seems like a good dad overall. If we were in a betting mood, we'd say that Judd didn't want to see his beloved father as a shell of his former self.

The visitors are mostly senior citizens [...] coming [...] to pay their respects and contemplate their own impending mortality, their heart conditions and cancers still percolating below the surface (8.9)

Mort's peers have a much different experience at his shiva than his children. While Judd and his siblings have to deal with death as a concept, Mort's friends have to face it as an impending reality. Once all your friends start to die, it's hard to forget that you might be next.

I remember Applebaum's wife, Adele, a tall, vivacious woman with big teeth and a resounding laugh. She would grab my hair when I was a kid and say, "Oh, Hill, the girls are just going to go wild over this one!" [...] She started having strokes a few years ago. (12.21)

One of the saddest parts of death—or dying, really—is seeing the difference between what someone was and what they've become. Thinking about Adele, Judd even manages to muster up a little sympathy for Mr. Applebaum, who was just annoying to him before.

For some reason sitting here with my little brother, it suddenly occurs to me that we will never see our father again, and I feel a crushing desolation deep in my belly. (23.68)

Judd has been stuck in the "denial" stage of grief for a while now. It's not until he's faced with his own impending fatherhood that he finally understands the loss he's suffered and seems to move on to acceptance. (Not sure what happened to the other three steps; he must have rushed through them.)

"Why didn't I miss him more when he was alive? He was dying for two years, and I only visited him a handful of times. What could have been more important than spending time with your father?" (38.88)

We 100% guarantee that no one in the history of the world has ever said, "Yep, I sure did spend enough time with that person before they died. I have no regrets at all." We're always going to wish we'd done or said more—the hard part is acting on it now.

"Hillary was the love of his life, and he died knowing she wouldn't be alone. He told me that many times toward the end." (47.59)

Aw. Mort really is a good guy, isn't he? His acceptance of Hillary and Linda's relationship reveals that he was able to make peace with his own death, leaving a really touching example of fearlessness and love to inspire his family. You got us right in the feels with this one, Tropper.

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