When Chris first came to stay with us, he was shocked to learn that I drank instant coffee. He didn’t understand how I could drink something so terrible when I really enjoyed food and cooking. “It’s just so much easier,” I explained.
Of course, it was more complicated than that.
I started drinking instant coffee when Shawn died. I did it for a lot of reasons, but I told myself that I made this decision because it didn’t make any sense to make a full pot of coffee when I was the only one drinking it. I’d gotten used to crappy coffee as a teacher (teacher’s lounge coffee is universally horrible) and so a little instant coffee wasn’t going to kill me. I had a million things to do every morning – make lunches, find socks, prep lessons, change diapers, soothe anxieties – and instant coffee seemed like a good shortcut in those early days. And though many things changed over the years, my coffee routine stuck. Instant it was.
Chris took this problem seriously. Within a few weeks, he’d acquired a new coffee pot and a high-end grinder to match. When he made me the first cup, he asked, “tell me honestly, is it better than the instant coffee?” with a bit of a smile. He knew it was.
And so we started a new routine. Every morning, we would wake up before the sun and we would snuggle for a few minutes. And every morning, he’d sneak downstairs to make the coffee before I could even get on my robe.
Often in the early days of our relationship, as I laid in bed in those pre-dawn hours, I’d think about how lucky I was to have him. And sometimes, I’d think, “I don’t deserve him.”
I knew it was a silly thought. I don’t even believe in the idea that we “deserve” something like love. But as he’d make my coffee, I’d think, “Chris is such a better person than me.” Maybe that’s a silly thing to think, but it would cross my mind in the morning, and many times throughout the day.
Because what else could I think when I watched him throw the baseball to Austin over and over again in the yard last spring? What else could I think when I’d read him a blog post I wrote about Shawn and he would tell me it was great, even though I knew it would be hard for me to hear if the roles were reversed? What else could I think when he woke up every day and unloaded the dishwasher as he made me coffee? What else could I think when he continued to love me, even as I outwardly processed with him – and with all of you – what it meant to fall in love after loss?
Would I choose this life if I were him? This is the question I asked myself in the early days.
This is the question I sometimes still ask myself today.
I arrive in the kitchen every morning just about when he’s finishing up making me a cup of coffee. He’s ground the beans just so, and he smiles at me when I come up to him at the kitchen island. He likes to watch my face as I try the coffee and gage how much I like it. “Too strong?” he asks when my face tweaks even a little bit. I always smile back at him, amazed at how much he is paying attention.
I want to tell him every morning that he is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I want to tell him that I love him more than I thought was possible. I want to tell him that no matter what I write about on this blog or say with my widow friends, I want no one else besides him, not even for a moment. I want to convey to him, somehow, that I love him without any reservations.
But I never say that in the morning. Sometimes I whisper it to him at night, and sometimes I even write it on my blog. But in the morning, I just sip my coffee and we talk about where we want to go running and the way that Tommy came into our room at 3 am and the things that we’ll have for dinner.
I think often about how I don’t do enough, how I can’t truly convey how much I love him as we sit in the kitchen in the morning. I can tell him that I love him, of course, but I can’t figure out exactly how to show him that. I guess I simply want to do something for him like he does for me every morning with the coffee – an act of love that says so much more than, “I love you.”
You may think that making the coffee is a little thing, and that I do small acts of love for Chris all the time. Maybe that is true.
But in many ways, Chris is more flexible, more thoughtful, and more aware than I am. Maybe that’s because he’s just a more selfless person than I am. I don’t mean that as some sort of insult to myself. For so long, I had to be focused on my own survival and my own processing. Learning to let go of that – in life and in my relationship – has been a process.
And he has held on through it all.
Chris is not a saint, though he may sound that way on this blog, and I may feel that way sometimes when I watch him fold the laundry or hug Tommy after a fall or make a gin and tonic just like I like it. He is human, like all of us.
And yet. Sometimes his love for me feels superhuman. Yes, he makes the coffee. But here’s what you don’t know:
Chris doesn’t drink coffee. Never has.
He makes the coffee just for me.