After my grandfather retired from working as the Dean of the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, Ohio, he and my grandmother followed their son, my dad, to Jamaica Plain, a neighborhood inside of Boston. They moved into an apartment on Lakeville Road, a few streets away from the house I grew up in. It took five minutes to drive there, fifteen minutes to park. I always wondered what we looked like, my family’s four faces peering out the windows of our gray Toyota Camry, circling the block for a parking spot, driving round and round until my mom yelled, “There!” and a car pulled out. Hallelujah.

Lakeville Road was lined with red-stoned townhouses. Each townhouse had its own stairway leading up from the sidewalk and a heavy glass door with a half-round stained glass window displaying the house number. Standing on the stairs of Number 7, reaching for the door, I was eye-level with the bowed windows of my grandparents’ first floor apartment, could see the periwinkle sofa and dark wood coffee table of their living room. Once through the door, I would press the buzzer to their apartment and then leaf through the magazines lying by the mailboxes, waiting for my grandfather to let us through the second glass door, to free us from this carpeted glass cage.

No matter how long, the wait was worth the greeting we received. My grandfather would emerge from his apartment and walk in front of the door, waving his arms like he was an air traffic controller and we were his airplanes. Even through the glass, I could feel the warmth radiating from his glistening eyes. He would walk to the alarm system, carefully punch in the security code, and then swing open the door for us. As a shy young girl, I struggled with my ability to express the excitement I felt in this moment. I wanted to run and jump into my grandfather’s arms but all I could manage was a smile. I hoped my grandfather could see in my eyes the warmth I felt for him.

I would follow closely behind my dad as we crossed the third and final door to enter my grandparents’ apartment. The hardwood floors creaked under the weight of my thin body. My grandfather’s desk was to the immediate right, covered with stacks of notepads and piles of mail. This was where my grandfather wrote his sermons, where he made out checks to dozens of charities, where he contemplated that week’s grocery list. After my grandfather died, my dad would inherit his father’s desk. Like my grandfather, he has both the ability to accumulate a life’s worth of paper and to write eloquently.

My grandmother would be sitting in the living room on the periwinkle sofa, nestled between pillows monogrammed with my grandparents’ initials. Bending down to hug her, I could feel the warmth of her white turtleneck shirt and blue cashmere cardigan, smell her rose-scented perfume, and hear her struggling breath. Her hands shaking as she lifted her upper body, reaching out to pat my back. The release of her body as she fell back into the sunken spot on the sofa.

When I was ten years old, my family moved from Jamaica Plain to Bethesda, Maryland. I went from seeing my grandparents every week to seeing them every Thanksgiving. Four years after we moved, my grandmother died from pneumonia. She had been in poor health from the time I can remember and my grandfather had been her caretaker. Before she died, she and my grandfather came to visit us in Bethesda. They stayed in our basement and I remember how hard it was for her to get up and down the stairs. They moved to be near us, we left them, and then we exiled them to the basement.

After my grandmother’s death, my grandfather began to lose his ability to speak. The doctors did not know the cause of this deterioration. One suggested it was simply my grandfather’s attempt to form a new identity after losing his life partner. Another suggested it was the result of a small stroke. My grandfather did not push for answers. On one of our visits back to Jamaica Plain, my mom, my grandfather, and I took a walk around nearby Jamaica Pond. We walked slowly, my mom asking questions and my grandfather struggling to form the words we knew he had inside of him. We could see them glistening in his eyes.

My grandfather’s chair was placed in the corner of the living room. Its seat was worn-in from years of sitting and reading. When my dad and I came to see my grandfather as he was dying, I remember how little of the chair he took up. He was as frail as its dark wooden frame. I remember looking at the stacks of books that surrounded the chair and thinking this was what it meant to be dedicated to knowledge. My grandfather sat, staring out the window, his eyes no longer glistening but simply watering.

While my parents and grandparents talked, I would go over to the baby grand piano in the other corner of the living room. I would trace my fingers across its top and look at the rows of silver framed photographs on display. The photographs never changed and yet each time we came over, I found myself drawn to them, as if I would forget the faces of my cousins if I did not practice this ritual. I would sit on the piano bench and place my fingers on the keys, pretending I knew how to play. My grandfather’s sheet music was marked up by his piano instructor from whom he took lessons until he died. I never got the chance to meet her, but I always wondered what it would have been like to teach my grandfather. Did he make mistakes? Did he play as loud as he laughed? Did she learn to read his eyes for words like we did?

I will admit that I looked forward to our visits partly because of the black olives. My grandparents would set out a bowl of canned black olives on the coffee table when we got there and within minutes they were gone. When my grandfather got up to refill the bowl, I would follow him down the hall and into the pantry-sized kitchen. My grandparents ate their meals in this room on a wooden table half-covered with mail. They sat in dark-blue canvas chairs that groaned under the weight of the human body. On the last Thanksgiving we celebrated with my grandfather, my family brought over a turkey breast and cranberry sauce and ate turkey sandwiches with him at this table. It was pushed against the wall so that only three sides were usable and four chairs could fit comfortably. The five of us—my grandfather, my mom, dad, sister, and I—crowded around, trying not to acknowledge that we were facing the end of something other than a table.

On the way back to the living room, I would linger in the hall to look at the framed black and white photographs covering the walls and over fifty years of life. My dad when he was nine. My grandmother when she was healthy. My sister when she was a baby, before she was a sister. My grandfather when he was ordained. Except for this photograph and the theology books that lined the living room bookshelf, there were few signs in the apartment that pointed to my grandfather’s work as a minister. In fact, it was not until my grandfather’s funeral, when I met the parents of children my grandfather had baptized and couples that he had married, that I realized how disconnected I felt from my grandfather’s religious life. I never heard him give a sermon, never even heard him mention God. When my father was sixteen, my grandfather gave him the choice to continue going to church or not. My father chose not. He never returned and never brought my sister or me to church.

Last spring, I took a printmaking class in which I made a woodblock print of a photograph of my grandfather sitting on a sofa, holding a book. I carved the shape of his face, his hair, his glasses resting on the bridge of his nose. I carved the way the straight stripes of his collared shirt curved around his arms and the way the pen he held rested in-between his index finger and middle finger. I carved his glistening eyes and his half-smile of contentment. I printed fifteen editions of the print to give to family members and presented the first edition to my cousin at his wedding this summer. It was in the process of making and presenting these prints that I realized how much my grandfather had become an icon in my life. A symbol of knowledge, curiosity, generosity, and dedication. And the ritual visits to my grandparents’ apartment as a child were the religion I never had.

Amen.