This image contains: me, smiling.
Amazing Grace

 

“Grace, you have a visitor,” said the nurse to my grandmother.

I approached the bed with caution, not knowing what to expect. Her hair was as white as the pillow and the sheet that covered her. Her eyes were sky blue, and they were looking straight at me. Her mouth broke into a weak smile of recognition.

“Hi Grandma.” I grasped the wrinkled hand that lay on the sheet. After
pulling a chair close to the bed for me, the nurse left the room.

I took stock of my surroundings. The bed was next to a window. The
curtains were open, and bright sunlight streamed into the room. The only evidence of
illness was a machine that stood next to the night stand, its roar and hiss
filling the room.

“I was hoping you would come before it’s too late.”

“I came as soon as I could. Mother called me only last night, and I caught the first plane
out of New York. It arrived about an hour ago.”

“I’m so glad you came,” said Grandma, squeezing my hand. “How’s your work going?”

“I’m still working on my new CD. It should be released in a few months.”

“That’s wonderful. When you and I sang together years ago, I never dreamed you’d be
singing for a living.”

She closed her eyes and fell asleep. I held her hand and thought of the happy times I
spent with my grandmother as a child. When I visited her, we often sang together as we
did dishes or other domestic chores. Her favorites were “I’ll Fly Away” and “When the
Roll is Called Up Yonder,” and I learned these and many other songs at an early age.

One Sunday morning when I was about thirteen, Grandma and I were driving to church
when we heard Judy Collins singing “Amazing Grace” on the radio. Grandma pulled the
car to the side of the road, and we sat and listened. I could tell she was touched by this
particular version of the song. Her eyes grew misty, and she reached into her purse for a
handkerchief. “That’s so beautiful,” she said.

I bought a recording of Judy Collins singing “Amazing Grace” and practiced singing it
her way until I mastered it. The next time I visited Grandma, I surprised her by singing it
that way, slowly and methodically. Grandma’s eyes filled with tears, and she reached for
a handkerchief. “Melissa, you have such a beautiful voice.”

She called the pastor of the Baptist church we attended and arranged for me to sing
“Amazing Grace” at the service the following Sunday morning. It was my first solo
performance, and I was terrified, but Grandma said, “If you can sing to me, you
can sing to the congregation. Just pretend you’re sitting at the kitchen table across from
me like you were the night you first sang me the song. God has given you a
wonderful talent, and He will give you the courage to use it.”

Despite my nervousness, my performance at church was a success. People in the
congregation wiped their eyes and blew their noses. That was when I decided I
wanted to be a singer.

Grandma always supported my musical endeavors. As I grew older, I lost interest in
singing hymns and started singing popular songs. I even wrote a few of
my own. I learned to play the guitar and used it to accompany my singing.

Although Grandma didn’t like this kind of music, she always listened with interest.
When I landed my first recording contract, I called her from my apartment in New York
City. “Oh Melissa, God has finally answered my prayers,” she said, her voice breaking.
“Now, you can make money by sharing the special gift He has given you.” That was
about ten years ago.

Since then, although I couldn’t always find the time to visit Grandma, I often called and
wrote her. She was always there for me through the triumphs and sorrows of my career,
even when she was diagnosed with cancer, and her prognosis was grim.

Now, as I sat by her bed at the nursing home, I noticed a portable CD player on the night
stand next to the bed. On top of the machine lay a copy of one of my albums. I was
touched by her loyalty. As I was about to insert the disc into the machine, her voice
stopped me. “No Melissa. I don’t want to listen to that now.”

“What would you like to hear?”

Without hesitating, she said, “I want to hear you sing ‘Amazing Grace’ the way you sang
it in church those many years ago.”

“What?”

“You heard me. I’ve been waiting so long to hear you sing that song. You sang it to me
years ago so you can sing it to me now.”

It was years since I sang that song, but when my mother called the night before, she said
they didn’t think Grandma would live much longer. I couldn’t deny a dying woman her
last request, could I?

Although I wasn’t warmed up, and I hadn’t practiced the song in years, I sat up straight
in my chair, took a deep breath, and began. At first, my voice was hesitant, but when the words and interpretation came back to me, I grew more confident. As I sang, I
forgot Grandma was dying. I was singing in church years ago for
the first time. When I finished, Grandma’s eyes were misty. I pulled a Kleenex
from the box on the night stand and wiped them.

She smiled and said, “I want you to sing that at my funeral.”

“What?”

“Promise me you’ll sing that song at my funeral the way you sang it in church years ago with no band, no chorus, no nothing. Promise me, Melissa,”

Although I wasn’t sure I could do what she asked, I said, “Okay Grandma, I’ll sing
‘Amazing Grace’ at your funeral. Now try and get some rest. I’ll be right here.”

With a satisfied sigh, Grandma closed her eyes and I did the same, resting my head on
the back of the chair. A light touch on my shoulder woke me. Shaking my head to clear
the cobwebs, I saw the nurse standing by my chair. Grandma’s hand was cold and limp.
One look at her face told me she was at peace.

“It was your song that did it,” the nurse said, as I blinked back tears.

“What?”

“She had been asking for you. She said she was hoping to hear you sing ‘Amazing Grace’ one more time. After you sang that for her again, she figured it was time to go.”

“I guess so.”

“Your grandmother already made arrangements in advance. I just need to call the funeral
home. If you need anything, just pull the red cord.” When she was gone, I let my tears
flow.

I kept my promise to Grandma. I sang “Amazing Grace” at her funeral with no
accompaniment. I sang it slowly and methodically, the way I heard Judy Collins sing it
years ago, the way Grandma liked it. When I first sang the song in church, my
performance was followed by a chorus of Amens. Now, there was only a
respectful silence.

I also recorded “Amazing Grace” on my next CD, which was released a few months
later. In this recording, I sang it the same way. It was the last song on the CD. In the
liner notes next to the song title I wrote, “This selection is dedicated in loving memory of
my grandmother, Grace, who always supported my musical endeavors.”

***

The above story was published in the spring/summeer issue of Magnets and Ladders. Click the Play button below to hear me sing the way Melissa sang it at her grandmother’s funeral.