In Loving Memory — a short story for English reading and speaking

Elaine is grieving.

Her husband, Henry, passed away six months ago. And Elaine can’t bear it.

Then she finds a second phone that Henry had in his bedside drawer.

She turns the phone on and what she sees she cannot believe…

 

This is a story about technology and the deceased. (Please be careful about introducing this story to certain students – I leave that to your discretion.)

The short story comes with a complete lesson plan which includes:

  • Introduction
  • The Story
  • Reading Comprehension Questions
  • Essential Vocabulary
  • Discussion Questions
  • Many vocabulary exercises
  • Group discussion and debate
  • Writing

You can download the full and complete lesson plan below.

Use in your class today!

Introduction

Introduction

How do people grieve in your culture upon the death of a loved one?

Do you think technology can help with the grieving process?

How do you feel about apps and technology entering our lives?

Are we losing touch with who we are? Or are we too dependent on technology these days?

The Story

In Loving Memory

It had been six months since he died.

Elaine was still grief-stricken at the loss of her husband, Henry. She had tried to throw herself back into life. But nothing worked.

Friends she talked to, joining social groups in the small town where they had lived together all this time.

All it did was remind her of her husband. The man she had been married to for over thirty years.

She lay on the bed that she used to share with her husband, clutching the pillow where his head lay. Inhaling his aroma into her mind.

But the scent was gradually fading, and it just made her cry.

On Henry’s side of the bed was his bedside table. A lamp that he used for reading late at night.

A small drawer that she had not looked in since Henry had passed away.

Elaine reached down and pulled at the drawer and it opened. Inside, she saw some of his things.

A book, half-read, an old business card used as a marker.

A pen, some discarded batteries, and a brand-new notebook that had not been used.

And a phone.

Elaine had been through his phone that he had left behind. She had to scour the phone for numbers and addresses that the lawyers needed for bank records and other bits and pieces of information.

She had no idea he had another phone.

Raising it in front of her eyes, she wondered what to do.

Maybe this was his secret phone. Maybe he was having an affair before he died and this was the phone he used with the other woman.

Curiosity got the better of her, and she clicked the phone into life.

It was not password protected, and she gazed at the screen.

Just one icon appeared on the front of it.

She didn’t recognise the app, and no name was visible. She had no idea what it could be.

Elaine raised her finger and clicked the app.

The screen shot into a bright light and Henry’s face became visible before her eyes.

He was moving. His eyes blinked, the corners of his mouth creasing up into his familiar smile.

‘Took you long enough, love,’ said the image. ‘I’ve been waiting for ages for you to turn this thing on.’

The voice — Henry’s voice — it was him. It sounded just like him.

Elaine stared back at the screen. Back into the eyes of the man she had loved for so long.

‘What?’ she said, her voice coming out a quiet whisper.

The image of Henry smiled back at her.

‘That all you got to say?’ he said. ‘It’s me, love. How’ve you been?’

Elaine’s jaw trembled. How could this be?

‘Henry?’

Henry — the image of Henry on the screen — beamed back at her. The crinkle in his eyes that Elaine knew too well when he smiled at her.

It was him.

Elaine let out a scream and dropped the phone.

She ran out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. She slammed the door, locked it, and fell on the bathroom floor, sobbing.

What was this?

What kind of cruel trick was her mind playing upon her?

Too alarmed to step outside the bathroom, she stayed in there all night. She pulled towels from the rack and covered herself in them.

Elaine barely slept.

Instead, she kept going over what she had seen on that strange phone.

Eventually, the sun came up and in daylight Elaine felt more at ease to come out of the bathroom.

She skirted past the bedroom and went downstairs. Put the kettle on, and made herself a strong cup of coffee.

Her sister might be able to explain it. She always seemed to understand these things.

She fancied herself as a bit of an armchair psychologist.

Elaine could practically hear her voice now.

‘That is just the mind processing the loss of someone you love. We all deal with grief in different ways.’

But what Elaine had seen on the phone made no sense at all to her.

She sat in the living room and drank her coffee. Went into the kitchen and drank a second cup.

She turned the TV on and watched a breakfast show, hoping it would remove all the strange thoughts in her mind. All it did was annoy her.

Finally, she decided to take another look at the phone. She had to see it in the cold light of day.

Very slowly, Elaine went back up the stairs, glancing this way and that like a killer was about to pounce out in front of her.

She got to the bedroom and pushed the door open.

The bed covers all messed up from where she had left them the night before. And, on the floor, the phone.

Elaine sat on the side of the bed and bent down to pick the phone up.

Then, taking a very deep breath, she slid her fingers across the screen.

The phone beamed into light and there, smiling back at her, was Henry.

‘Oh there you are,’ he said. ‘I wondered where you went… Was it something I said?’

And he let out a laugh like old times.

‘Henry,’ said Elaine. ‘How is this possible? Where are you?’

Henry gave her a nod of his head.

‘It’s technology,’ he said. ‘I don’t really understand it myself. But here we are. Now you can see me. And I can see you.’

Elaine touched the screen and brushed the image of Henry’s eternally kind face.

‘I miss you,’ she whispered back at him.

‘I miss you too, love,’ said Henry. ‘But we’re here now. So everything is alright.’

Elaine lay back on the bed, on Henry’s pillow. And she stared back into the eyes of her loving husband.

He talked about things in their life. Asked if she had mowed the lawn in the back of the house.

She told him about her sister. The neighbour’s cat still clawing at their fence as it always did.

Elaine smiled for the first time in six months.

She was happy again. Back with Henry.

Her Henry.

reading comprehension questions

Reading Comprehension Questions

Who is the main character in the story?

Where does the story take place?

How long has it been since Elaine’s husband, Henry, died?

What has Elaine tried to do to cope with her grief?

Describe the contents of the drawer on Henry’s bedside table.

What makes Elaine curious about the phone she finds in the drawer?

Why does Elaine think the phone might be Henry’s secret phone?

What is the first thing Elaine sees when she turns on the mysterious app on the phone?

How does Henry’s image on the phone react when Elaine finally turns it on?

Describe Elaine’s initial reaction when she sees Henry’s image on the phone.

What does Elaine do after she drops the phone and runs into the bathroom?

Why does Elaine decide to consult her sister about the strange phone incident?

How does Elaine feel the next morning after spending the night in the bathroom?

What is the first thing she does in the morning?

What does Elaine hope to achieve by watching a breakfast show on TV?

What is Elaine’s emotional state when she decides to take another look at the phone?

How does Henry explain his presence on the phone to Elaine?

What emotions does Elaine experience when she sees Henry’s image on the phone for the second time?

What topics do Elaine and Henry discuss when they communicate through the phone?

How does Elaine feel after talking to Henry through the phone?

What details from their life does Henry mention during the conversation with Elaine?

How does the story end?

Essential Vocabulary

Essential Vocabulary

Grief-stricken

Curiosity got the better of her

Bank records

Social groups

Affair

Scent

Aroma

Alarmed

Skirted past

Scour

Tremble

Annoy

Inhale

Blink

Mowed the lawn

Draw

Sob

Beamed into light

Marker

Cruel trick

Eternally

Discarded

Armchair psychologist

Nod of his head

Click into life

Cold light of day

Brushed the image

Password protected

Eternally kind face

Stared back into

 

Exercise

 

Write down all the words and phrases in your vocabulary notebook. Look in your dictionary and find the meaning of each word. Write the definition next to each word.

Then make up your own sentences using each word or phrase.

For example:

 

Grief-strickenExtremely sad because of someone’s death or something extremely sad that has happened.

 

AffairSecret romantic involvement between two people who may or may not be married to other people.

 

Then write a sentence of your own that uses the new word or phrase correctly.

 

After the sudden loss of his father, the man was grief-stricken for weeks.

 

The politician was forced to resign when news of his secret affair came to light.

 

Do this with all the vocabulary and, over time, this will help improve all your English skills — reading, writing, speaking and listening.

Discussion Questions

What happens in this story?

What emotions do you think Elaine might be experiencing in the story, and why?

How would you react if you found a mysterious phone with a video message from a deceased loved one?

Do you believe in life after death or the possibility of communicating with the deceased through technology? Why or why not?

How do you think technology has changed the way we cope with grief and loss?

If you had the chance to communicate with a lost loved one through technology, would you take it? Why or why not?

What kind of technology do you think Elaine and Henry are using to communicate with each other?

Is Henry still alive somehow? Or is Elaine accessing an app that is a rendition of Henry?

How might cultural or religious beliefs influence one’s reaction to the idea of communicating with the deceased?

Are there any cultural or religious beliefs in your country in terms of communicating with the deceased?

Discuss the role of memory and scent in the story. How do they contribute to Elaine’s grief?

Do you think the story has a happy ending for Elaine? Why or why not?

Do you think it is healthy for Elaine to continue talking to her husband this way? Or should she just come to terms with the fact that he is gone?

What do you think Henry means by “It’s technology” when explaining his presence on the phone? What kind of technology is it?

How might the concept of an afterlife or communication with the deceased be perceived differently in various cultures?

What about in your culture? When people die, where do they go according to your cultural beliefs?

Explore the theme of acceptance in the story. How does Elaine come to terms with the unexpected situation?

How do you think Elaine’s relationships with friends and neighbours might change after her discovery?

Will she speak less with them?

What about her relationship with her sister? If she told her sister about the app she is using, how do you think she would react as an ‘armchair psychologist’?

Discuss the impact of grief on a person’s daily life. How does Elaine’s routine change over the course of the story?

How do people deal with grief in your country?

What do you think is the best way to deal with grief in your opinion?

Reflect on the role of routine and familiar surroundings in helping individuals cope with loss.

What might be the psychological implications of using technology to communicate with the deceased?

Can it help people, do you think? Or hinder the grieving process?

Share your thoughts on the importance of closure in the grieving process. How does the story address this theme?

Consider the significance of the small details in the story, such as the half-read book and the unused notebook. What do they symbolise, do you think?

How do you think Elaine’s sister might react if she were to discover the mysterious phone and its contents?

Discuss the idea of love transcending death. How is this concept explored in the story?

Can love transcend death? Is love forever?

If you were to write an alternative ending to the story, what would it be, and why?

You can download the full lesson plan by clicking the link below!

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