The Chronicle Review

To My Student, on the Death of Her Grand­moth­er(s)

Christophe Vorlet for The Chronicle Review

June 18, 2017

Please ac­cept my sym­pa­thy on the death of your grand­moth­er(s).

How trag­ic that she died in­con­ven­ient­ly right in the mid­dle of Finals Week. It is par­tic­u­lar­ly sad, and ter­ri­bly un­lucky, that she did so on the six-week an­ni­ver­sa­ry of your oth­er grand­moth­er’s death, dur­ing mid­terms. Al­though you have nev­er men­tioned your grand­moth­er(s) in any oth­er con­text, up to and in­clud­ing when the class dis­cussed Faulk­ner’s As I Lay Dy­ing — when, as you might re­call, you told us that you couldn’t "get into it" be­cause death "hap­pens to old peo­ple, not me" — I am sure that you are heart­bro­ken, the way a nor­mal hu­man be­ing would be, at such a loss twice over.

With re­gard to your di­rect re­quest, of course, I will be hap­py to ac­cept your fi­nal pro­ject late, so long as you a­gree to the terms laid out in this con­tract:

You a­gree:

  1. That you will bring me any two of the following:
  2. (a) A copy of your grandmother’s obituary from a newspaper.
    (b) A bulletin from the funeral service for your grandmother.
    (c) A videotape of the eulogy you said you needed to spend several days writing before the service because you were, as you put it, "her favorite."
    (d) An audio recording of your performance of "Somewhere Out There" at her funeral because she "loved James Ingram’s voice."
    (Note: If you are unable to locate a copy of the video or audio recording of the funeral, you may perform these pieces during my office hours instead.)

  3. That you will follow a modified version of Victorian mourning, wearing full black clothing for the semester following this one, and then gray or violet clothing for the semester after that.

  4. That, again following Victorian mourning customs, you will remain chaste for one year after your second grandmother’s death.

  5. That I may, at any time over the next two weeks, visit your home, sorority, workplace, or gym in order to assess how you are "holding up" in the wake of your grandmother’s passing. This agreement extends to Saturday evenings after 10 p.m. and Sunday mornings before 11 a.m. Should I find you indulging in any behavior that I deem to be disrespectful to her memory, I am authorized to perform the entirety of M’Lynn’s final monologue from Steel Magnolias, so as to remind you what real grief looks like.

  6. That whenever we run into each other on campus, I am authorized to grip your shoulder and ask in a worried tone, "How are you?" and that you will, in turn, provide a lengthy and detailed explanation of how life has changed for you since you endured your grandmothers’ tragic deaths.

    You further agree that I may tell you one long, somewhat pointless story about my own beloved grandmother(s), and that at the end of said story, you will hug me while saying, "Thanks, Professor Reed. That really helps." Upon parting, you agree to walk three paces, turn, and give me a thumbs up.

  7. That should you try to claim a step-grandmother’s passing during a future midterms or Finals Week, up to and including your pursuit of a postdoctoral degree, lightning will immediately strike you dead.

Giv­en all of the a­bove, I a­gree:

  1. To buy your ex­cuse.

Please sign and re­turn.

Shan­non Reed is a vis­it­ing lec­tur­er in the Eng­lish de­part­ment at the University of Pitts­burgh. Her work has been pub­lished in The New York­er, Mc­Sween­ey’s Internet Tend­ency, and The Wash­ing­ton Post.