During the last few days of my mother’s life, she was in a hospice facility which proved to be the best possible place she could have been for receiving care, comfort, and compassion.
My sister and I stayed with her—even overnight—for four days straight. We reminisced, read scripture, encouraged her, pondered about heaven, and sang dozens of songs straight from the Psalter Hymnal we’d grown up with in church. Songs that Mom had played on the piano and organ for decades.
I had the honor of sitting beside her as she took her last breaths. Mine was the last voice she heard on this earth before hearing the welcoming words of Jesus and the symphony of heaven.
I was grateful for those few days with Mom, and wouldn’t trade them for anything. I was also grateful to the hospice staff for all their attentiveness, kindness, and care.
That meaningful experience is probably what compelled me to read The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip by Sara Brunsvold. Normally, I wouldn’t want to read a story about somebody who’s dying.
Another draw: an intergenerational relationship. With so much emphasis on youth and a devaluing of the elderly, I love to see examples of how an older person’s wisdom and experience has bearing on a young person’s life.
The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip won a Carol Award for best debut novel (August, 2023).
Aidyn Kelley is talented, ambitious, and ready for a more serious assignment than the fluff pieces she’s been getting as a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. In her eagerness, she pushes too hard, earning herself the menial task of writing an obituary for an unremarkable woman who’s just entered hospice care.
But there’s more to Clara Kip than meets the eye. The spirited septuagenarian may be dying, but she’s not quite ready to cash it in yet. Never one to shy away from an assignment herself, she can see that God brought the young reporter into her life for a reason. And if it’s a story Aidyn Kelley wants, that’s just what Mrs. Kip will give her–but she’s going to have to work for it.
Debut author Sara Brunsvold delights with this emotional multigenerational story that shows that the very best life is made up of thousands of little deaths to self. You’ll want to be just like Mrs. Kip when you grow up!
Clara Kip makes an astute observation in comparing a leaf to human life:
“A leaf is a silent proverb. . . . When it buds on the tree, people rejoice.
Throughout its prime, they love it for the shade it provides.
But only when it reaches the end of it time on the tree does its brilliance come through.
Sometimes yellow, sometimes orange, sometimes deep red.
Dazzling in its artistry, like a drop of sunset you can see at all hours of the day.
A leaf has the most extraordinary death.
There is so much beauty to it.” — Mrs. Kip, p 91
This is just one of many tidbits of wisdom Clara imparts to twenty-two-year-old Aidyn, the reporter. In hospice, Mrs. Kip dazzles like this leaf, all while losing more independence daily, each day closer to her death.
Hers was a life marked by hardship and the pain of broken dreams and widowhood. As a young adult, Mrs. Kip wanted to go to San Paulo to help people, but tragedy took her life in a different direction.
Aidyn is only at the hospice facility by command of her boss. It’s the last place she wants to be—surrounded by whispers of death, with a supposedly dead-end assignment, to boot.
Aidyn’s outspokenness at work—boldness that invited trouble—is contrasted by her initial mousy demeanor at the hospice facility that overwhelms her. Plus, she doesn’t quite know what to make of this newest resident, Clara Kip, and her unconventional habits.
Mrs. Kip is bent on making the most of every minute she has left. Sometimes that involves sitting with Charles in the room next door, encouraging him. As Jimmy, the attendant, says about Mrs. Kipp, “I’ve seen loneliness kill faster than cancer. She’s giving him a gift that medicine can’t provide” (p 125).
No doubt Mrs. Kip knows a few things about friendship.
“We should never underestimate the life-changing gift of friendship.”
—Mrs. Kip, p 192
“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.” — Mrs. Kip, p 198
It doesn’t take long for Aidyn to discover that Mrs. Kip’s life could be a bigger story than she anticipated. But she’d better hurry before Shayna, her nemesis at the office, gets it first.
After more discoveries, Aidyn stands in awe of the woman’s accomplishments, and suggests that Mrs. Kip get some of the credit. But Mrs. Kip won’t hear of it.
“Honey, I told you I was a bumbling fool the majority of the time.
I had maybe five minutes of brilliance.” — Mrs. Kip, p 204
Apparently, Mrs. Kip downplays that brilliance. But it’s a brilliance that inspires, motivates, and challenges Aidyn in ways she never anticipated. Brilliance like an autumn leaf.
This story is set in 2016 in order to coordinate with 1970s events in Kansas City.
A few things bugged me, such as a certain inconsistencies in two characters. The hospice setting seemed spot-on based on my own experience, but the breaking of HIPPA laws bothered me. Some of the nurse’s actions seemed unnecessary and insensitive.
Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile read and will most likely challenge you to evaluate your own life and friendships. It sure did for me.
My predictions did not always come true, but the story worked its way out quite satisfactorily. Perhaps I should say brilliantly—like an autumn leaf.
Join me today for some Q & A with Sara Brunsvold.
Questions about The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip
What was your inspiration for writing this story, and in particular, for choosing an older protagonist in hospice?
Intergenerational friendships are an under-appreciated and beautiful gift. I already had a heart for them when this story idea came along. The seed of the plot came when I happened upon a call for volunteers from a local hospice house. They were looking for volunteers to sit at the bedside of their residents and collect stories from their lives. Those stories would be captured in a commemorative book for their loved ones.
That got me thinking, “What would motivate someone to serve in that capacity?” Which lead to “What if they were volun-told to do it?” From there, the story began to take shape.
Much of the story’s power comes from having two protagonists at opposite ends of life thrown together. How did that plan develop?
At the time I began to write the book, I was leaning into the Titus 2 call for “older women” (that’s me) to train up the younger women. It takes a lot of trust in the Lord to be a spiritual mentor, a lot of putting self aside.
I wanted to write a story that captured Titus 2 womanhood in action, exploring it from the perspective of both the older woman, who feels the burden to pass on her faith, and the younger woman, who is experienced enough to understand just how inexperienced she really is.
How well do you know your characters’ personalities when starting out? Did Clara and Aidyn hijack the story or did you have full rein?
Character development is where I start with stories. At least for the primary characters. I write what’s called a character bible in which I answer interview questions in the voice and experience of the character. It’s through these interview questions I begin to understand how they see and interact with the world, what makes them tick, their quirks, etc.
That said, everyone has nuance to their personality, so I leave room for the characters’ personality nuances to come out as I write. For instance, Clara had a sharper, more aggressive edge to her than I originally thought. She could go into full-on Mama Bear mode when the situation called for it.
What would Clara and Aidyn have to say about you? Come to think of it, what would Woods say about you?
What a fun question! Woods undoubtedly would applaud my reverent fear of deadlines. Aidyn would appreciate our shared love for life stories. And Clara would be tickled by my desire to embrace the Titus 2 call. That’s what I hope they would say.
Did you already know a lot about the Laotian refugees in the 1970s? What’s the most unusual thing you had to do, learn, or research to create this story?
I didn’t know anything about the Laotian refugees until the day a family friend handed me a yellowed newspaper clipping about the resettlement efforts and said, quite prophetically, “You need to write about this.” She had been heavily involved in the resettlement efforts in Kansas City, and she generously shared her story, pictures, personal artifacts and connections.
Sitting and listening to her was a highlight of the research process. A local library has an online collection of every Kansas City newspaper article published during the Vietnam and post-Vietnam era. I spent hours searching through it, learning about what led up to the refugee crisis in southeast Asia and the incredible stories of survival these refugees have.
Most of them are inspiring. Some are tragic. All affected my view of that period of world history and how it impacted today.
Questions about Writing
What books have been most influential for you as an author?
To Kill a Mockingbird made a huge impression on me, as did Little Women. Notice a connecting theme: intergenerational relationships.
Share a little about your novel writing process, and the length of time it takes to complete a book.
I start with the seed of a plot, then do my character and setting development. Getting the story on the page involves first freewriting in longhand then switching to my laptop. Writing by hand activates a different part of your brain, and I rely on that to capture new ideas or problem-solve for plot issues.
The length of time it takes to complete a book entirely depends on what my deadline is. Getting a first draft down is about five or six months. Revisions on my end take another two or three months. My publisher’s editorial process takes another six or so months. That’s about the max speed I can go right now with children at home and a day job.
Please share something about a current project or the direction you want to go as an author.
My second novel, The Divine Proverb of Streusel, releases Jan. 16, 2024. The story centers on a young woman navigating a family crisis by cooking her way through her great-grandmother’s German recipes. Go here to take a look or pre-order.
The story is inspired by my own family and heritage, so it’s a much more personal book. Some of the recipes featured in the book are from my grandmother, who would be delighted that her Scalloped Cabbage will live on. I’m working on a third novel right now and have signed with Revell for a fourth. They will release in 2025 and 2026, respectively.
Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists?
The best thing I did when I was dreaming of being a novelist was plug into a community of like-minded authors who were at or above my level. Iron sharpens iron. Much like with faith, a solid writing community is critical to finding the education and encouragement you need to stay the course.
Back to Laura . . . On a similar note . . .
If you like novels about intergenerational relationships, you might enjoy A Hundred Magical Reasons (formerly Fifteen Minutes with Mr. Baum). This dual timeline novel spotlights L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and his friendship with a young girl. That girl grows up and, many decades later, relays her story to a young woman. Set near Holland, Michigan, this pre-published novel alternates between 1980 and the early 1900s. Read more and watch the book trailer here.
If you like small town stories about family dynamics and secrets, you might enjoy my re-launched novel All That Is Hidden. Set near North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains in 1968, the story spotlights the bond of family and the connections of a tight-knit community. Northern exploitation threatens as a father’s hidden past catches up to him and tests family ties. Learn more and watch the trailer here.
All That Is Hidden awards:
- Winner of the Artisan Book Reviews Book Excellence Award
- Semifinalist in Serious Writer’s Book of the Decade contest
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Bio of Sara Brunsvold
Sara Brunsvold creates stories that speak hope, truth, and life. Influenced by humble women of God who find His fingerprints in the everyday, she does the same in her life and her storytelling. Sara’s recognitions include the 2020 ACFW Genesis Award for Contemporary Fiction and a Carol Award for Debut Novel. She lives with her family in Kansas City, where she can often be spotted writing at a park or library. Learn more on her website.
Join me next time for a visit with author Susie Finkbeiner.
Meanwhile, have you read The Extraordinary Deaths of Mrs. Kip? Have you had any meaningful friendships with someone from an older or younger generation?
Sign up for my monthly newsletter to receive tips, recipes, freebies, giveaways, and the prequel for All That Is Hidden: www.StandoutStoriesNewsletter.com