My hospice patient with dementia likes to be read to. He doesn't really care what and so I picked up a Reader's Digested condensed volume with four stories--one was a romance, one a WWII thriller, something else I can't recall, and The Bear, a wilderness adventure about the duel between a huge grizzly and a hunter (I believe it is taken from James Oliver Curwood's The Grizzly King.) I chose the last one, since he hasn't really liked discussing the war on previous occasions (he lost three brothers in WWII and served in Europe himself.) So we've been reading The Bear. It has long descriptive passages on the beauty of the mountains and the life of bears; occasionally, there is a big scene with the bear and the hunter. My patient, who is usually too confused to comprehend what happens around him, has responded well and even reacted to and commented on the book. He says he likes the way I read.
My other hospice patient, with Parkinson's disease, has trouble with her eyes and so I've been reading to her. She had chosen Inge Auerbacher's biography I am a Star: A Child of the Holocaust, which is a book for young people. It is a harrowing story, but my patient, who is Jewish, has numerous books about the Holocaust and also Judaism on her shelves.
As I read to them both, I realized something quite profound: these could very possibly be the last books they read, or have read to them. Their very last books.
What would I choose, if I could? I've thought about it briefly and think, if I could choose, I would choose Little Women or Little House on the Prairie. These are childhood books, familiar and comforting. They are also easy to read aloud. Through hospice, I've realized how some things just aren't meant to be read aloud--some poetry is very difficult--and the sports page just sounds stupid. I might also enjoy Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, but I've known Louisa May Alcott and Laura Ingalls Wilder much longer. Or Harry Potter--I forgot all about those books! I could definitely hear those again or read them myself.
There is something about books being read by a person to another. It's more intimate and engaging than all the televisions turned up so loud in nursing homes combined. I can modulate my speed, I can pause, we can discuss; my patients know I'm talking just to them. Audio books might be too fast, not tailored to the listener, easy to get lost in. Though, I've never tried them. And none of my patients have had audio books or even talk radio; some have music, but it's just filler.
So, what would you want to read, or have read to you, as your last book?