• Rebecca Feinglos Planchard

Jan. 6th: Grieving my British Great Aunt & American Democracy


Me on a trip to Washington, DC, a few years back

On this day a year ago, I started my day by watching the live stream of my great aunt's funeral in England, and I ended it by watching the live stream of the Insurrection in Washington, DC.

I grieved then during both.

I grieve today, still, for both.

For both, it was a feeling of helplessness mixed in with the grief.

I couldn't be in England for the funeral because of Covid fears, and my brother likewise did not feel safe traveling or taking my 96 year-old grandmother across the ocean. (This was before vaccines, of course.) I imagined my grandmother watching from my brother's laptop, stoic as ever, but devastated at the loss of her younger sister, her only sibling, with whom she spoke every day more than once. I couldn't be with my nana in Canada, either.

I was just sitting at my kitchen table, watching the live video of the funeral, crying. Alone. Funerals aren't supposed to be lonely, but Covid made them that way. (If I recall correctly, my ex was on a work call and didn't join me. I don't remember if I even asked him to.)

After the funeral ended, I stayed at the kitchen table working. At some point during the day, my ex wandered over to the couch and turned on the TV to watch the live stream of the Congressional proceedings.

Later he said, "Becks. You might want to come over here and watch this." At first I brought my laptop to the couch and continued to email and message for work – whatever I was doing. As our American institutions were overtaken by racist, antidemocratic rioters, I closed my laptop and set it on the coffee table.

"Oh my god," was all I could muster to say as I watched a violent mob break into what were hallowed halls and chambers. My head in my hands, I started to sob.

Even today, I find myself physically shaking my head, trying to brush away the seared-in image of the man in the Viking helmet screaming in the senate. That's the repulsive image that stays in my mind.

I've always felt called to public service, called to do good for my community, my state, my country. I studied American history in college (among other things) with a focus on race and gender, and I still love my country. I've spent my career so far fighting for it to be better for our most vulnerable Americans and I think I'll keep doing that forever.

But in my grief a year ago, I was panicked that my country had failed me, had failed all of us…by having elected Donald Trump in the first place, leading to this violent and deadly riot out of disbelief in our fair election.

My grief for my great aunt is still here.

My grief for my country is still here.

I'm grieving for my great aunt today by planning a trip to England to visit my great aunt and grandmother's home, and where I'll sort through my great aunt's house – which has had to lay dormant since her death as I've waited to travel.

I'm grieving for my country today, a year after the Insurrection, by listening to and reading speeches and writings on America from great leaders and artists in our history, from JFK to MLK to Amanda Gorman.

Grieve on.



My grandmother with her sister in England in the 1930s

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