The Power of a Good Story

Books!  I always feel like I’ve hit the motherlode when I walk into a room filled with books.  And if I start a book and the story is a good one that really holds my interest, then I feel like I’m holding a treasure in my hands.

If you’ve been reading my blog on a regular basis, you know that my mother is in a nursing home.  I’ve written about her quite a bit over the years in my blog.  She was a schoolteacher for almost 35 years and was very instrumental in starting me on a lifelong love affair with learning and with books.

She read to me from the time I was a toddler until I could read books on my own.  Then she’d faithfully take me to the public library so that I could check out books to supplement our home library.  Of course, she’d also come home with an armful of books.

After her series of mini-strokes left her with symptoms of dementia and the macular degeneration left her almost blind, she could no longer read on her own.   I discovered though, that she still enjoyed listening to me read to her.  In the last 3-4 years, I’ve read quite a few books to Mom, from non-fiction accounts of Midwestern blizzards to Erma Bombeck to children’s books.  I have found out that in her current condition, puns are lost on her.  Word play, irony, and fantasy are way beyond her comprehension now though pre-stroke, she had a brilliant mind.  So we’ve settled mainly on books aimed at a 5th or 6th grader. 

I really enjoy reading out loud to Mom.  I was a drama major in college (one of my two majors) and have always loved to perform so doing the characterizations while I read is a lot of fun for me.  Readers’ Theater was one of my favorite forms of performing and this is like being onstage all over again.  It’s not unheard of to notice people lingering out in the hallway listening to a particularly exciting chapter of whatever story we’re reading.

The current book we’ve been reading is “The Summer of the Monkeys.”   We’ve both been enjoying it.  I’ll ask Mom, “Are you ready to have me do some more reading?”  She’s been responding by saying things like “Oh, yes!”  or “Do you mean the one about the monkeys?”   I’ve been amazed that she has been able to remember from one visit to the next that the story has been about monkeys, although I always make a point of recapping the previous action before starting the next portion of the book.

Today, I went over to visit Mom and found her in her room, snoozing in her recliner.  I gently roused her and said “hi.” 

“Oh, what did they find?”  she asked.

I was confused.  “What did who find?” I responded.

“You know,” she replied.  “What did they find?”

“Well, I don’t know,” I answered.  “Where you dreaming, Mom?” I gently asked.

“No,” she said.  “I’ve been so excited that I could barely sleep last night wondering what it was that they were going to find…….in the story!”

Now it was clear to me.  When I had stopped reading yesterday, we had left the characters watching a truck pulling into the farmyard and I had left her with the teaser, “I wonder what they are going to find in that truck.”  She had remembered that!  I was astonished and so very happy that the story had so captivated her that it had managed to bypass the damaged neurons in her brain and make the proper connections with her memory bank.

I pulled out the book, opened it up and we headed off into our story once again.  Right before the lunch announcement came over the loudspeaker, I had reached a touching part in the story.  The father was crying, the mother was crying, the main character was bawling, and the sister was crying.  I glanced up.  Mom was trying to wipe her eyes with her sweatshirt and the front was soaked with her tears.

“Mom, ” I said, jumping up for some tissues, “Are you having a little problem with your eyes?”

“I might be,” she said, smiling at me.

We didn’t get the book finished today but we don’t have much further to go in it.  I promised her that we’d finish it on Friday.  I wheeled her down to the lunch room, set her at her table and tied her bib on for her.

“We had a good day today, didn’t we?” I said.  “That’s a good book.”

“Yes, it is,” she agreed.  “It’s been a long time since a book made me cry.”

I could have cried myself with the happiness of having a bit of my mom back, the way she used to be, thanks to the power of a good story.

Project 365 – June 2 (Day 6)

 Trying to figure out what buttons to use on my Tappan Zee sweater, which is nearing completion.  I’m leaning towards the pewter flowers.

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Hot Flashed Funk

  • And I’m crying! How very touching–thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Great blog entry Mom. Glad we all love reading. And like Mary, I almost cried hearing how much it meant to Grandma. Love ya.

  • What a joy to find a way to connect with your mom in spite of her limitations.

    I loved this post.

  • What a wonderful post. I, too, know the soothing power of a book being read aloud to a dear relative.

    As for me, i not only love the look of books but also love the sound of turning pages AND the scent of books. Just like the smell of a newly opened box of crayolas, the smell of some books takes me immediately back to another time and place.

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