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:
- That you will bring me any two of the following: (a) A copy of your grandmother’s obituary from a newspaper.
- 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.
- That, again following Victorian mourning customs, you will remain chaste for one year after your second grandmother’s death.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
(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.)
Given all of the above, I agree:
- 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.