What to read to my ill grandmother
November 17, 2009 6:55 AM   Subscribe

In search of something to read to my ill grandmother.

My 87-year-old grandmother recently broke her hip while in the long-term care facility she lives in (it broke from osteoporosis, not a fall). She's in terrible pain and in failing health, and the last time I went to see her, it broke my heart to watch her in so much pain. She got a shot of painkiller while I was there, but the shot took 20 minutes to relieve the pain and she had nothing to concentrate on while she was waiting for it to work (she doesn't have a television in her room, only a radio, which is background music more than anything). I'll be there this weekend and want to read to her to try to take her mind off the pain, so I'm looking for short, simple books or stories to read to her, something sweet and easy for her to follow.

Her short-term memory is shot from previous strokes, so she won't retain it for very long; probably the shorter the story, the better for any chance that she'll be able to follow the story. I just want her to have a soothing voice or cadence to focus on, rather than me just assuring her every couple of minutes that the meds are going to work soon. Poetry would probably be ok too. Thanks.
posted by pised to Writing & Language (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Garrison Keillor has two very nice poetry compilations: Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times. Thank you for doing this for her.
posted by somanyamys at 7:10 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Poetry might be nice-- you wouldn't have to worry about her forgetting plot points and getting confused. Could you just ask her or a family member what poets she likes?

I'm always a fan of reading Walt Whitman out loud, but only if your grandmother's okay with some not-so-veiled sexual imagery. I find what he has to say about life and death very comforting, but I'm not religious at all, so if your grandma is, she might not be comfortable with that.

Ovid's Metamorphoses could work well, actually: it's basically the entire Greco-Roman canon told in short, disjointed, but beautiful linked vignettes. Raeburn's translation is good. If your grandmother learned Greek/Roman myths as a child, many of these will be very familiar to her-- and Ovid's just a lot of fun to read.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:11 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

How about some poems by Robert W. Service? If she's together enough to focus, she'll enjoy the humor and adventure. If not, they have a great rhythm and lively rhymes, so the sounds should themselves should provide some pleasure.
posted by yankeefog at 7:15 AM on November 17, 2009

Neil Gaiman writes some great short stories. Poetry, too.
posted by sickinthehead at 7:20 AM on November 17, 2009

I'd try a collection of lighthearted, humorous essays--something like Garrison Keillor, Erma Bombeck, Louis Fulghum--that kind of thing.
posted by drlith at 7:20 AM on November 17, 2009

The only blessing of short term memory loss is that you could read her the same thing over and over and she'll probably love it. My Grandmum could watch Daniel O'Donnell a hundred times and enjoy it as much as the first. Can you phone and ask her what she enjoyed most from her childhood.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:25 AM on November 17, 2009

How about some Sufi teaching tales? They're usually short and thought-provoking in a funny way. The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin is one.
posted by cocoagirl at 7:25 AM on November 17, 2009

Psalms? Comforting and uplifting - especially in times of distress and pain.
posted by watercarrier at 7:38 AM on November 17, 2009

Reading to her is a wonderful idea, and I know you will get many great suggestions for stories and poems to share with her. But might I suggest you tell her your own stories.

Just reminisce with her, for her. Small things about her, about your relationship with her, that for whatever reason, stuck in your head all these years. There need not be narrative. You don't have to have a point. From the small and silly things you or she might have done, to things she might have said that made a difference for you. She may be entering her final days. And despite all the pain, and foreign surroundings, despite the fears and the unknown, this is a beautiful time. It is as much a part of life as birth is.

So as you sit with her, you need only let her know she is loved. And in reminiscing, you give her the gift of knowing that her life had real meaning, that she found her way permanently into you. And in her contributions to the conversations, you may find out what had particular meaning for her, what, from her perspective, her life was all about.

The conversations may be small and quiet. They may be tender. Or tough. They may be hesitantly one-sided. But whatever they are, they will be enough to give her peace. As her life may be entering it's twilight, you have the opportunity to let her know that she will be remembered. That she will live on in your heart. That she is loved.

Whatever you do, it's obvious that you care about her, about her comfort. And her peace. These are important times, for both of you. And as difficult as they can be, you are lucky to have them. This is, after all, what life is all about.
posted by nickjadlowe at 8:07 AM on November 17, 2009

Some Edith Wharton short stories went over well with my grandma, but that might be just as much because I like them.
posted by jeb at 8:13 AM on November 17, 2009

I remember my father reading The Deacon's Masterpiece to me when I was sick once. I think it is a treasure, and I remember feeling very loved while he was sitting there, reading.
posted by SLC Mom at 8:15 AM on November 17, 2009

She might enjoy any of Jan Karon's Mitford series ... as far as I can remember, not virulently evangelical, just gentle books about good people.
posted by Allee Katze at 10:33 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

My boyfriend and I are reading All Creatures Great and Small to each other at bedtime. Or, more accurately, he reads the first three paragraphs of each chapter until I start snoring. The chapters are usually about 3-7 pages long at the most.

It's nice because not only is it soothing and quaint (in a way that I'm sure your grandma will like -- it's set in the late 1930s in Yorkshire), the chapters are more or less written as separate stories within the larger narrative. It doesn't have a large number of characters to follow, either. She'll probably remember the books and/or the BBC TV series from the '70s.

You might also look into Chapter A Day, which is broadcast from Wisconsin Public Radio. Some of their stuff is available on CD. They're current and classic books, edited and read (in dulcet tones, of course) in half-hour increments that stand well by themselves but make you tune in the next day.
posted by Madamina at 11:20 AM on November 17, 2009

I just read my beau Letters from a cat and he was charmed by the story. The introduction is on the long side, but each of the letters is short.
posted by Stewriffic at 11:26 AM on November 17, 2009

Some of the essays, short fiction and fables of James Thurber might fit the bill. His work is generally short, witty and enjoyable.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 11:43 AM on November 17, 2009

JD Salinger! Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters is the best book ever.
posted by chunking express at 6:53 PM on November 17, 2009

I think reader's digest might fit the bill. Short easily understood pieces.
posted by jefftang at 1:28 PM on November 18, 2009

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