An Uncompleted Story (Not This One)

Jenny [I never use real names] was  eager to see me. This was her infrequent chance to dispel the boredom which she sugar-coated with a TV that beamed at her with the superficiality of a smiley face. Now with me there, she chit-chatted as long as she could to prolong my stay. Talking-time was a rationed goodie, because her daughter, son-in-law and grandson were seldom in her bedroom. It was quite a production to help her out of bed, being heavy and largely immobile, so she could not go in search of interaction with them at will, much less seek it outside the house. Whenever I visited her, I took in the sounds and smells of young lives coming from the rest of the house while we sat in the quiet: her daughter clanging a frying pan down on the stove and squeaking open the oven; grandson-friendly smells like fried chicken carousing all about the house, and the explosive noises of a video game alternating with the grandson’s yips of satisfaction upon beating the odds.

The patient and I had been visiting each other for many months, and when she ran out of her own stories to tell me, we figured out that she would love to hear me read detective stories aloud to her, because she found it too hard to read print. We became our very own mini book-discussion group. I would read a few paragraphs to her, then pause, and she would give her opinion of the author, or guess what might happen next. I might offer one theory of who the murderer was, and she might counter with a differing theory. Not only that, she would defend her position. And as at most any discussion group, we would meander off-topic, from complaints about how seldom she had visitors, to a confession that she really shouldn’t be on hospice because the family signed on just to get more free hours for a home health aide to help bathe and dress her. (More on this sort of thing another time, otherwise I myself will be off-topic, one of a writer’s Deadly Sins)

One mystery novel I read from not only had an intricate plot, but also was a parody of mystery novels. The detective overlooked obvious clues for example, while his wife and others gave him advice and picked up on all sorts of clues, both obvious and subtle. To be honest, I have wracked my brain for the name of the author and the book, which had something to do with blackmailing. Maybe one of you will know. At any rate, Jenny always wanted to know what would happen next, and so did I, as I did not peek ahead. But neither of us ever got to the end of the story. One day, before our next scheduled appointment, she had reached her own denouement. Besides missing her, it always has bothered me that she died before she could hear the much-anticipated resolution of the plot. I  had senselessly thought at the time, “How could she die before we finished the book?” Like the uncompleted detective story, death leaves trails of loose ends as well as roads that veer towards untidy beginnings. -Karen B. Kaplan

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6 thoughts on “An Uncompleted Story (Not This One)

  1. I thought the story was very well written, and I could readily visualize what the author saw. My appetite was whetted and ready for more, but the end was suddenly there. Perhaps more could be told.

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  2. John Dieker says:

    Karen, I sure appreciated your story. What a cool way to interact with your patient by reading and interacting with them on the story. It showed so much of your compassion and heart to minister to this person, and not having to just focus on the impending event. As a person who is living with constant pain, I so much appreciate people who want to talk about life, and not “how are you?” “How is your pain?” . Thanks for sharing this with us….jd

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    • It’s so true that we tend to define a person by his/her disease, and forget that is just one part of them. Whether in hospice care or anywhere, I try to not only live in the moment, but the segments of that moment. As far as comments you don’t like, such as “how’s your pain?”, you can try to deflect it with humor or some other unexpected response. Even if they don’t take the hint, it will make you yourself feel better. -Karen

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  3. Michael H. says:

    This was a great read. I had to look up the word…denouement! 🙂
    I learned something new today.

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    • There’s nothing like a crucial word in a narrative to get somebody off the couch to look it up. I chose this word because it has the connotation of referring to the end of a book as well as to endings in general. Thanks for your praise. -Karen

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