December 2, 2020

The Coffee Cups

'Moonlight Through My Window' photo (c) 2009, Sam Bald - license: night was long, his sleep restless. Two or three times he reached across the bed to feel her warmth. He reached and reached.

Once, her absence bothered him so much he got up, put on his robe and walked downstairs. He sat in his chair and listened to himself breathe. An occasional car drove by the house, sending a wave of light across the ceiling. The air was chill. He looked down at his wrinkled hands, blue in the midnight, and saw his wedding ring. Too tired to cry, he sighed, stood up and trudged to the kitchen.

He grabbed a small glass from a cupboard above the sink and filled it with water. Taking a small sip, he stared out the window on the clear, bright, windless night. Dew shimmered on the grassy lawn where the tree shadows did not reach. He alone saw it while the world slept. The night. The shadows. The glistening grass.

Not that he didn’t try to see more. But try as he might, he could not envision her face. Gone so soon? After fifty-five years of seeing each other every day! Every morning, he would arise and go to this very kitchen. He would fix the coffee, turn on the machine, and set out two coffee cups on the counter, one for him and one for her. After retrieving the newspaper, he would go to his chair and read it while the coffee brewed.

Soon, her soft footsteps would sound on the stairs, and he would look up to greet her, precede her into the kitchen, pour out two cups — black — and they would sit at the table together to start the day. As rituals go, it wasn’t complicated or profound. Still, he was glad they began most mornings face to face.

How was it then, that he could not picture her pretty face now? Less than a week after laying her in the ground? Pictures of her were everywhere throughout the house, but he couldn’t see them, couldn’t see into them. He picked them up often and held them in his hands. He leafed through the photo albums of their trips. He traced their life together through them: from the time she was a schoolgirl, to that sexy young mother standing in the yard with a baby on her hip; she who had been the life of so many parties, his dance partner, lover, Valentine, “mom” on all the Christmases and birthdays and vacations and outings through the years, until the day she became “grandma” and her hair turned white and she was the petite one with sparkling eyes, like dew in the moonlight, in the front row of the large family portrait. He gazed often and hard at this evidence, yet couldn’t make sense of it. His vision blurred, his mind fogged, his chest heaved.

Who knows how long he stood there in the night? Out the window, the shadows had shifted, and a wave of weariness crashed over him. He set the glass in the sink and made his way back upstairs. He crawled into bed, pulled the warm, heavy covers up to his chin, and slept for the few hours of darkness that remained.

'VICTOR INSULATOR diner, lunch counter, restaurant ware coffee mugs' photo (c) 2008, Cheryl - license: awoke as usual, swung his legs over the edge of the bed, put on his slippers, picked his robe off the chair, and tied the belt around his waist. He made his way to the bathroom and performed his morning toilet. He ran warm water over his glasses and rubbed them with soapy fingers, washing away the dust and smears. Drying them, he placed them on his nose and looked at the old man in the mirror. He had made it another day.

The morning shone brightly through the living room windows as he went downstairs. Going into the kitchen, he slid open a drawer and separated a new coffee filter from its box. He went to the freezer and retrieved the bag of coffee beans, dumped some into the grinder and then ground them up fine. Measuring out just the right amount, he scooped the fragrant coffee into the filter and placed it carefully in the basket of the pot. He poured the water into the reservoir and closed the top. Reaching up, he grabbed two coffee cups off the shelf and placed them on the counter.

Then he went to retrieve the morning paper.


  1. My husband and I begin our day in almost the same way. Thanks for reminding me to savor the moments and remember the others left behind

  2. Prodigal Daughter says

    Grief is proportionate to the love that was lost. This is a moving reminder.

  3. Precious story – thanks! Our loved ones are with us still – in our heart – so setting another cup is natural and may give great comfort as we grieve their parting! Besides, it’s very hard to break a fifty-five year habit!

  4. The Previous Dan says

    It is a scary thought that this day is coming for each of us who are married. I will lose her or she will lose me. And as Prodigal Daughter mentioned, the more we love the harder that day will be. What a paradox it is that the more we enjoy now, the more we will grieve later. What does God mean by giving us a world like this? God give us your grace.

    • Dan,

      As soon as I read your words, I thought of something. The grief, one I’ve yet to experience, of losing a spouse, and the sadness that deepens in our soul for the distance is too great. It must be but a sliver of the reality of our Heavenly Father and how it saddened Him to see His children so far away. And the lengths He went to bring us back. I think, although I don’t know and speak these words, err, type these words, with all due respect, He knows.

      I echo your final words brother – God, give us your grace!

      • The Previous Dan says

        I agree. I trust that God is big enough to take all the junk that is in this world and recycle it into something that causes us to know His heart better.

    • pilgrim_sojourner says

      “It is a scary thought that this day is coming for each of us who are married.”
      Actually…this day is coming for all those who LOVE….married or not. My wife of 22 yrs left over 6 years ago…and the pain for me….will be no less than for this gentleman in the story….if and when she ‘passes’. She was, is, and always will be the one ‘love of my life’….who is now fighting a waiting game for tests…and possibly surgery….to see if her heart holds out till she can actually get the medical treatment she needs.
      When one truly loves….one simply cannot avoid the commeasurate grief that accompanies/follows the incredible joy…of having loved.

  5. Thanks, CM, for a beautiful post. My dad committed suicide when I was 17, when my mom was still relatively young, in her late 40’s. She made a choice to never remarry, or even date, even though we kids gave her the green light to do so (as though she needed our permission…). She told me once, “Why would I want to mess up the memories I had with your dad? He was, and will always be, my husband.”

    Writings like this, and my own relationship with my wife make me understand where she was coming from.


  6. What a beautiful story. We just lost my aunt a few weeks ago, I imagine that after 52 years of marriage her husband is feeling very much like this.

    My husband worked as a social worker in nursing homes for a number of years, and has told of a woman with dementia who lost her spouse of 50+ years. She would sit in the dining room unable to eat until a male staff person would sit down at the table with her. There is something about that image of her sitting there, knowing that something was missing but not quite knowing, and then the ‘ah, here he is’ moment when all seemed once again as it should be.

  7. Thanks for depressing me, Chaplain Mike (no, not really).

    But you have brought back memories of the immediate aftermath of my mother’s death, when so many times I would walk out to the kitchen expecting to see her there, or think about something I’d heard/read “I must remember to tell Mam that” – and no. Not any more.

    May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

  8. Tears in the morning clear the eyes! I really like this post, it reminds me of my aging parents. I also like Prodigal Daughter’s remark, “Grief is proportionate to the love that was lost.” Is my life such that the people who know me best would have such grief?

  9. As a widow of twelve years, I can’t help but tear up reading this. Thanks.

  10. This very thing happened to my mother-in-law the morning after my father-in-law’s funeral in 1983. She took down two cups from the cabinet. It was a poignant moment. Thank you for a moving and beautifully written story.

  11. This was so well written, I was there. In that room with him. In his sadness, his grief. I could hear the traffic passing, see the shadows moving, hear his heaving chest breathing out sighs of confusion. I could even smell the coffee brewing. Thank you CM, painful but beautiful!

  12. Joseph (the original) says

    out all my aunts+uncles on both sides, only 2 frail aunts are left. i have seen the passing of my parents less than 2 months apart (unrelated events) & all others…

    my maternal grandparents died when i was in elementary school…

    my dad’s parents were already dead before i was born…

    his sisters all have passed away…

    being recently divorced has me wondering about those former in-laws that are now out-laws? and my ex-spouse…i wonder what i would do if she dies before me. i doubt i would attend her funeral. crazy consideration that…

    if i remarry, which i am very open to, i will face the inevitable death of my spouse, or she mine. i would hope it is far along enough in years where the interval between our passings will be relatively brief…

    i hate death. as much as i know it is a real part of our existence, the passing of loved ones is not without deep sorrow. it takes an emotional toll on those remaining. yes, i chose to love. i chose to have children that i hope outlive me. i chose to be touched by death, especially in proportion to the love i have for those gone before me. i hope there really is a welcoming committee of loved ones on the other side waiting for my arrival. what an incredible event that would be…

    • The Previous Dan says

      “i hope there really is a welcoming committee of loved ones on the other side waiting for my arrival. what an incredible event that would be…”


  13. **sniffle**

  14. What a beautiful story, beautifully written. With all the recent hoopla over politics, cultlike behavior in certain influential churches, gender wars, etc, it’s nice to put the spotlight on a single loving, respectful relationship. A relationship where obviously there was no battle over whose job it was to make the coffee and serve it.

  15. Been there, done that. You have no idea how hard that is until you live it. Thank the Lord, it does get easier in time.