Here is the text of an e reference query we received recently:
“I am not a fan of poetry - never have been, never will be. However, my 37 year old daughter has a MLS degree and is well read; she is on her deathbed with cancer. She can no longer read, but I would like to read her poetry or short stories for a few minutes each day. Can you recommend a book I might use? Thanks.”
Oh. Oh, dear.
I don’t know about you, but I felt inadequate to answer this question alone. Choosing words for someone else to go out of the world on seems a serious assignment to me, especially if you don’t know them. I asked my coworkers for their recommendations, then I called the man, since he had included his phone number.
“Sir? This is the public library calling. You emailed us for recommendations about what to read to your daughter.”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I’m glad for your help. It’s….difficult to think at a time like this, and our tastes are so different.”
“I am so sorry, sir. Our staff who have been coming up with suggestions all have you and your daughter in our thoughts.”
“Thank you. I….appreciate that.” He cleared his throat.
I asked if his daughter liked nature (thinking Robert Frost, Walt Whitman), plots about people, maybe with a twist? (O.Henry), or animals (James Herriot).
“My daughter really loves animals,” he said. “I think she would enjoy stories with animals, as long as they are short.”
Aha. “James Herriot’s stories are about a country veterinarian in England. They are short and humorous, and really show the animals’ personalities, as well as their owners.”
He sounded relieved. “Oh, thank you, so much. That sounds like something she would really enjoy. It will be a pleasure to read them to her.”
I told him I’d gather the titles for him and put them at the checkout desk so he could pick them up when it was convenient for him.
“I’m sure I’ll be down tomorrow during my lunch hour. I read to her in the evenings, after work.”
The thought was wrenching for me, just as an observer. To work all day, knowing you would be going to your daughter’s bedside as she faded from life….
Deep breath. “Bless you, sir.”
He hesitated. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Why books, why read? Because books are a refuge when life hurts. They make us laugh, they make us cry, they give us a break from the pain and they give us hope.
Even on our deathbeds.
Perhaps, especially there.