Singing Amazing Grace

I felt like I couldn't breathe under the enormity of grief.

watercolor of a young woman staring out of the window on the passenger side of a car with tears rolling down her cheeks
Image created via Midjourney

I've struggled with Thanksgiving for years. I always enter the holiday season thinking about years past.

2015. Nelle had died. I was pregnant with Iris, but only found out a few days before so I kept the secret to myself. It made that painful "first holiday" feel somewhat hopeful.

2016. Iris had died. I was so angry at the world. I hated Thanksgiving. I wasn't thankful for anything.

2017. Autumn was an infant, but it was still only two years since I'd lost my babies. The holidays were met with a mixture of relief that she had been born healthy and sadness at what I had lost.

And then there was 2020. The year that we spent in isolation, separated from our friends and family due to Covid-19.

As we drove to our friends' house for Thanksgiving yesterday, I thought of 2020 — but not because of the pandemic.

My grandma had been spending the year in lockdown in her memory care unit. She was so fragile, 100 years old, and her health had been bumpy. Finally, my aunts and uncles who lived locally had been given permission to visit. "Compassionate care" as she reached the end of her life.

My aunt played the YouTube video "The President Sang Amazing Grace" for my grandma, an exquisite tribute to the moment that Barack Obama sang Amazing Grace during the funeral of Clementa Pickney, a politician and pastor who was murdered in a racially motivated attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

My grandma said that she would love to hear the family sing Amazing Grace.

So from our separate homes, we gathered via Zoom to record ourselves, singing together.

I thought of this yesterday... because a photo popped up from "On This Day" two years ago — my grandma, watching the video. It might be one of the last, if not the last photo I have of her. She died three weeks later.

As we were in the car yesterday, driving to our Thanksgiving dinner, I listened to "The President Sang Amazing Grace." And I stared out the window of the car and cried.

I was crying for my grandma, yes. I miss her a lot.

But I was also crying as I thought of the raging gun violence in this country. This song was recorded two years ago and the Charleston church shooting was back in 2015. But not much has changed.

In the past week, five people were killed at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs and 25 others were injured. Three days ago, six people were killed and six others injured at a shooting at a Walmart in Virginia.

And Uvalde. And Highland Park, not too far from our home. And 600 mass shootings this year.

I was thinking about those families, sitting next to empty chairs at their tables. I felt like I couldn't breathe under the enormity of grief.

It shouldn't be this way.

"We argued where to lay the blame
On one man's hate or our nation's shame
Some sickness of the mind or soul
And how the wounds might be made whole
But no words could say what must be said
For all the living and the dead."

Needing Distractions for the Day
I enter each holiday season now with trepidation.
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