False Pretenses

Ironically, one of my comments on last week’s post,”An Uncompleted Story (Not This One)” dated July 10, stated that the post itself was incomplete too. Certainly any story can potentially go on further, but I take the comment as high praise meaning he couldn’t wait to read more about Jenny.

One of the loose ends about Jenny was that she had been at best a borderline case for hospice care for quite awhile. Such people can be put on hospice because hospices want to have as many patients as possible. Ultimately she admitted to me that she just wanted to be on the program in order to get some free hours of help with bathing and dressing by the home health aide. I did not know this for many months. In the meantime I was puzzled that visit after visit, I did not see signs of decline such as loss of appetite or changes in her ability to move around in bed. At one point I even showed her how to do some yoga designed for the bed-bound. (By the way there are chair-bound yoga moves too.)

Once Jenny finally told me the truth about getting put on hospice prematurely, I felt defrauded. She was seeing me under false pretenses. A chaplain is there not just to provide companionship, but to provide a safe place for patients and families to express their concerns as they cope with the impending crisis of death. I felt like a firefighter who had put on all her heavy equipment and driven over with alarms clanging for miles around only to find there was no fire. Once again, loose ends remain in this post. Perhaps this will be true for all my posts, given the nature of this topic. That, too, is ironic, as we think of death as final, as the ultimate closure.  _Karen B. Kaplan

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