The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip

In The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold, Aidyn Kelley has been a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star for a year. But she feels more than ready for a real assignment, not the research she’s done for other reporters and the few light pieces she’s written. She was an award-winning student journalist at the University of Missouri, after all. So she sends a note to the managing editor, bypassing her supervising editor, laying out the reasons she is qualified and eager for meatier assignments.

Aidyn learns there is a reason not to bypass one’s supervisor. The managing editor wants to fire Aidyn, but her supervisor, Woods, advocates giving her a stern-talking to and low-level assignments until she learns humility and respect for the rules.

The first assignment is to interview and write an obituary for a dying septuagenarian, Mrs. Clara Kip. Aidyn dreads visiting the hospice center and talking to a dying woman. But if she wants to keep her job, she has no choice.

Aidyn finds more than she bargained for in Mrs. Kip. But Mrs. Kip isn’t going to unfold her story all at once. She wants Aidyn to make up some extraordinary deaths for her, and for every one, she’ll be allowed to ask Mrs. Kip three questions.

I don’t want to say too much more about the plot, because discovering Mrs. Kip’s personality and background along with Aidyn is half the pleasure of reading this book. I had thought, at first glance, that the story line would be pretty predictable. But the author throws in lots of surprises.

Alongside Aidyn’s journey, Mrs. Kip is dealing with the fact that she is dying, having to accept the weakening of her body and her confinement to the hospice center. Even so, she feels God has a couple more things He wants her to do before she runs out of steam.

Some of the quotes that stood out to me:

She could only trust that the Lord was up to something. Because he usually was (p. 2).

Clara gazed at the sliding glass doors of Sacred Promise. Such an odd feeling to know that once she walked in, she would not walk out. She clung to the belief the Lord had something for her here, so she shuffled forward. (p. 12.).

“I did nothing amazing, Miss Kelley,” she insisted. “Despite what you’ve been told. I simply tried to love people as best I could for as long as I was privileged to be with them. We don’t stay long in each other’s lives—that’s the crux of our humanness. You have to be the friend people need while they are there with you, because it’s the only chance you’ll get.” (p. 198).

The Lord will give you all the words you need. It’s not about whether they sound pretty. It’s about what he will do with them (p. 200).

This was a touching and encouraging story in many ways.I enjoyed both Aidyn’s and Mrs. Kip’s journeys.

The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon

The tag line for The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon by Linda MacKillop is “Eva wants to run away from her life–if only she could remember how.”

Eva has been moved from her long-time cozy home in Cape Cod to the city of Boston to live with her granddaughter, Breezy. And Eva hates it. She hates the city, she misses the familiarity of her own home and town, she’s an introvert who has a hard time with the constant stream of students and friends in Breezy’s house. Breezy’s neighbor, Mabel, tries to keep an eye on Eva, but Eva feels Mabel is intrusive.

Then, on top of everything else, Breezy announces that she’s getting married to her boyfriend, Ian, and they’re all going to live in Ian’s old fixer-upper family farm with his elderly uncle.

It’s all overwhelming for Eva, but she’s stuck. She can’t count on her memory any more. Even when she works out what seems like a perfectly logical plan, she ends up getting into trouble.

I was first attracted to this book because I identified a lot with Eva. I’d probably feel the same way in her situation.

But as the story unfolds through flashes of Eva’s memories, there’s more to Eva than the desire for solitude and independence. She’s been pretty awful, driving her husband and children away, saying negative things without thinking (even before dementia). I wish we’d gotten a little better idea of why Eva was the way she was. The only clue I caught was that her dad tended to speak to her the same harsh way.

I think all of us would like to live independently, mentally and physically capable, til we’re 100. But reality doesn’t always work out that way. One poignant piece of advice Mabel offers is, “When the time come to release the last smidge of life, Eva, you want to have kissed the most important things good-bye already. Getting old like us involves lots of little deaths to prepare for the big one—like saying good-bye to loved ones, your home, your health” (p. 249). I’m tucking that away for later.

I can’t say I warmed up to Eva like I have other curmudgeonly characters. But I did come to appreciate her struggles, empathize with her, and understand her better. There’s no grand climax of eye-opening for her, but a gradual realization that she has treated people badly and needs to accept them and life circumstances more graciously.

I was curious about what inspired the author to write this book, so I searched a bit and found this interview, which helped me understand the story a little more. I especially liked this sentence: “The characters in the novel decide to move toward Eva without being put off by her abrasive personality, giving her the opportunity to decide whether she’ll receive their love and acceptance.”

I liked the theme of second chances. Even in old age, even in dementia, steps can be taken to heal relationships and accept love.