Grandma says “it’s hard to be born and it’s hard to die,” and turns out, she’s right again, just like she was right when I was 17 and she said, plainly, “You’re over-plucking your eyebrows.” 

I was furious, and told my mother so after Grandma left that day. “How would she know? She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” 

It was 2001. I was absolutely over-plucking my eyebrows. 

20 years later, when I pulled a high school photo of me off my dad’s bookshelf and joked to my nieces, “do I look the same?” — they both looked at the photo, then looked at me. Polly shrugged and said nothing. “That doesn’t really look like you, Auntie Al,” said Araceli, plainly. 

“My grandma kept telling me I was over-plucking my eyebrows and I didn’t believe her,” I replied. “She was right.”

The girls stared at me like I was nuts and I stared back at my former self, wondering, my feelings slightly hurt somehow.  


“Thinking of you and your family in this profound time,” reads a comment on my aunt’s post about Grandpa entering hospice care. Kerry had posted a picture of herself with Grandma and Grandpa on the golf course, and written:

 “He is 94 this month and has had a long and happy life. We hope his transition is peaceful and that in spirit he is already playing a round of golf with Mom on his favorite course.” 

I like that this woman I don’t know had called this a “profound” time, and I want to hold on to that feeling. At brunch on Saturday with Natalie and Lauren, I had told them about my conversation with my aunts and grandmother the night before, and what Grandma had said about being born and dying, which she didn’t say to me directly but Kerry had relayed. What Grandma had told me directly was how lucky they were — she repeated that — and how we “don’t know where life will lead us” — and called me, as she always does, “darling daughter of our darling daughter.”

Both Natalie and Lauren agreed that my grandma was right, and one of them, or maybe me, said that my grandma was quite profound.

Later, I wondered if each of us were sitting in the booth thinking about our own grandmothers, even as the conversation changed to photo shoots and Beyoncé tickets and party funerals. I thought about the differences between Patricia and Salina, my two grandmothers, and how Grandma had said on the phone the night before, “I was jealous of Salina” before she knew, of course, how life would turn out, and that “poor Salina” would die when she did, when I was only 12. I thought about the time as a child when my mother told me she wished I enjoyed visiting her parents as much as I did my father’s. “But I just don’t,” I said, plainly.

“That hurts my feelings,” my mom replied. 

Until then I hadn’t known I was capable of hurting an adult’s feelings.


I text Lauren about watching my cats whenever I end up going home to Indiana. “I wonder what it’s like to be in your 90s,” she texts back. “I guess you’d probably have a lot of equal parts simple and profound thoughts like your grandma.”

That night I tried writing a poem about going out to brunch while my grandfather was dying, but none of the lines felt right, really — except for, “Rex, more than anyone I’ve ever known, cared about a well-timed meal.” 

This poem idea about going out to brunch while he was dying began to feel too obvious. He’s dying but he hasn’t died, yet, at least not that I know of, yet. Since Saturday I have also done many other things as he is dying: read a book, walk on the lakefront, laugh hysterically at the movies with Beth, participate in 12 virtual meetings, drink coffee, eat, sleep, buy cat food, wash a load of whites, change the sheets, live. 

My other grandfather died on February 14, 2009, and all day on February 14th I kept wondering if both of my grandfathers would die on February 14th. It’s now February 16, 2023. I wonder if he is holding out for his birthday in a few days.


I wanted to write something simple and profound about my grandfather Rex — to translate how it felt eating lemon poppyseed pancakes the afternoon after my aunt described feeding him puréed food shaped like a waffle, because he was almost unable to swallow. But when I put down the words it felt only simple, not profound at all, just sad. 

I wanted to say, simply, that my last visit with him was one of the best we’d ever had, looking at old photos and me asking questions about his sister Mabelrose, even if Grandma had to do most of the talking and repeat most of what I said to him. After 76 years together, his stories are also her stories and she can tell them just as well, but I could see in his eyes he wanted to say more than he could. He’d always been the storyteller. 

It was September 17, 2022. I sat next to Grandpa at their dining room table, just as I had been doing at every meal in that room since I was a child. He had been quiet for a few minutes before he looked at me and said, “Well? Did I tell you everything you wanted to know? About Sis?”

“You can tell me more if you want, Grandpa,” I said. “I like the stories.”

He smiled, and told me one more. 


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