Covering Up by Alison Graham

The Keurig makes its raspy whir and the smell of hot coffee fills the kitchen.

Maybe it won’t be so bad, I think to myself, and force myself to take a long breath in. I do a quick pep-talk in my brain about being present right here and right now and feel guilt nudge at the fact that I have to work toward gratefulness at all.

My dog swipes her paw at the back storm door and the rasp startles me out of my thoughts. I let her in, and breathe again. I replay my schedule in my head- so I’ll go to church and go to the grocery store, what are we doing for lunch? I glance at the clock. If I hurry and shower now, I can make my list, get to the store and get back to unload in time before church. I double time it back upstairs and get ready in as quiet a flurry of activity as I can manage. I pause for a minute to listen to my husband’s soft snoring and the way it blends with my dog’s. I smile and stand for a minute- but the voice comes back- We’ve got to go now if we’re going to get this done.

Tears come up unexpectedly and some tender place inside me throbs- and I blink hard to send them back down. Just breathe. Keep moving. We don’t have time right now.

For the past several months, my daily life has been interrupted fairly often by unexpected waves of grief. Maybe “waves” is too strong a word all the time- the feelings range from twinges of sadness/empty feelings to full on doing the hard blink and swallow to fight back tears unexpectedly. I am a therapist, and yet, I am not someone who is comfortable with my own unexpected emotions. I know, I know.

My mother passed away in 2007 after a battle with lung cancer, and my father in 2014 due to cardiovascular issues. By the time I was 28, both of my beautiful parents were gone. My husband and I live in the house I grew up in, which is also, the house in which they both passed away.

The odd (and maybe not-so-odd) thing is that for some reason, years later, these feelings are harder to manage. Of course the “firsts” were hard- even the seconds, thirds, and so on. But it has been eleven years since Mama went to heaven and four for Daddy- why is all this coming up now? I catch myself trying to remember what my parents’ voices sound like. Guilt and frustration mix with sadness when I realize my clearest memory of the intonations of my mother’s voice are what her voicemail recording used to sound like. This is not fair- and who am I? What does that say about me that that’s the best way I remember her sound? What kind of daughter...and I pull into the parking space at the grocery store. Now is not the time, I tell myself. I check for my list, check that my car is in park, and head in.

The grocery store is quiet- bright fluorescent lights beam overhead. I feel conflicted between the urge to smile at people as I pass because you never know what they’re going through and the urge to keep my eyes firmly planted on the product isles because what if someone sees me and they want to talk to me? I rush on, eyes going from list to product, making check marks and changes as needed. I start to realize that maybe, for all these years, I have not actually really grieved my parents. My brain skips through the timeline as I look over my choice of onions- and I realize I have gone from Mama’s death to school, then to more school, then to work, when Dad’s medical issues began when I moved home, then helping care for him, then his passing, and then back to work. Where have these years gone? I wonder. It’s not as though I have been shut off fully, there have been true moments of joy and connection and happiness since then- but have I ever really grieved?

The checkout girl is kind and smiles, and we make small talk about the weather for today (hot/humid), the rest of the week (hot/humid), and the rest of summer (you guess). I load groceries, return home and smell coffee. I glance at the spot where I would always put out my Dad’s favorite coffee mug and a spoon, so that the could make his morning cup easily. Tears come back. Come on Ali, it’s almost time for church, and for Pete’s sake don’t put the eggs in the pantry. I breathe in, breathe out, and put on clothes. The words in my head shift gears now because, summer has been busy and my presence in church has been limited. I wonder what people will think to themselves when I walk in and realize the pants I wanted to wear are a little too...snug. I sigh exasperated, consider giving up going, and change pants. I breathe in, breathe out and put my shoes on.

I walk into the small, old church that is my home church. Wooden pews, wood floors and the huge, old organ are there. People smile and say hello, and my heart is touched for a moment by the genuine kindness I find in their eyes. You never know what someone is going through.

I take my seat, smile and say hello to others, and the service begins. I feel my mild self-consciousness melt away as we sing the first hymn. The offering plate comes and again, guilt comes in when I realize I have forgotten to make out my tithing check- again. The tears come back and I think back to four-year old me, sitting in the pew as close to my parents as I could get. The organ used to scare me. I smile a little at who I was, and then the second hymn begins.

It is not one I immediately recognize, but as the words flow and I listen to the music created by my church family singing, tears come back. But these are different than the others.

Just as I am, and waiting not

To rid my soul of one dark blot;

To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!..

I think of Jesus, watching me fight back tears, and placing his hand on that hurting place in my heart. The tears are there, but there is a different feeling- relief maybe…

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;

Sight, riches, healing of the mind;

Yes, all I need, in Thee to find,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Have you planned this specifically for me? I ask Jesus. I smile a little, though tears still linger, because I know in the truest part of me that He has.

Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,

Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;

Because Thy promise I believe,

O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

Receiving, cleansing, relieving...these words float over my soul like balm and suddenly it feels like I am seen, loved and healing is possible. As the service moves through, this hymn stays with me. “I come, I come” it states over and over again. I allow myself to wonder what coming to Jesus right here in my right here, right now life might look like. What would I have to face? What would I have to let go of, in order to really, truly come to Him?

I realize that in my “grieving” I have been actually “covering”. I realize that what I thought was “working” is actually “avoiding.” I realize that the places I thought were healed are actually still wounded. “What a surprise”  I say to Jesus with a smile, “I actually need a Savior.” Jesus smiles back at me, I imagine, because He knows me and all of my tricks pretty well by now.

I cook lunch, I clean up, I smile, real smiles, and hang out with my family. As the day draws to a close, I talk to Jesus more about this “covering.” I talk to Him and do my best to listen. I feel Him leading me to take the next scary step- and so I look up the number for the therapist that comes with trusted recommendations. I take a breath, let it out, and dial the number.

{Hymn lyrics by Charlotte Elliott, music by William Batchelder Bradbury}


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Hi! My name is Alison Graham. I currently live in South Carolina and battle humidity and its effect on my curly hair daily. I am happily, happily married to my husband who is the funniest, kindest person I know and I am more grateful for him than I can put into words. I have a stepdaughter who is brilliant and big-hearted, and I learn so much from her. I have an amazing network of family and friends who are family who are just the best. Period.

I have a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and work as a Licensed Professional Counselor currently. I am challenged and grateful for the privilege I have of being with people in hard and beautiful spaces.

I love being outside, and I think God speaks to me most through nature and writing. I believe that hope is a gift from God to sustain us and bring us back to Him in the hardest times. Laughing is my favorite and coffee is part of my blood stream.

I am seeking to learn how to find hope in the hard places and to learn how to balance that life is both brutal and incredible. I think we come most alive when we let go of certainties, and I am beginning to explore what that really means.