Morning One: Denial & Isolation

“Hey girl, I’m just checking on ya. I haven’t heard from you in a while. Let’s go out for coffee when you’re feeling up to it, okay? Call me.”

She clicked the next message. “Hey… how are you? I mean… I know, but… just know I’m here for you if you need to talk. I know this must be without a doubt the worst thing you’ve ever had to go through. Please know you don’t have to go through it alone.”

She let the voicemail play the next couple messages before she hung up the phone. She felt bad that she’d been ignoring her friends, but not really. She didn’t want them to try and talk to her about what happened. Or ask her how she was doing. “Fine” would be her answer.

The cheap coffee coming out of the $10 Mr. Coffee maker would be fine. She mindlessly watched the last of it sputter out and into the pot. She poured it all into her oversized mug and took a sip. It stayed in her mouth longer than she wanted—she could barely bring herself to swallow it. It was the worst thing she’d ever tasted. Sure it was cheap coffee made with a cheap coffee maker, but it still didn’t explain the absolute filth she was tasting. She thought about pretending it was fine and taking another sip. She could practically hear her mom telling her, “You don’t have to be so strong.”

She reached for her phone to text her mom that she’d managed to make the worst coffee in the world before she remembered her mother’s phone had already been disconnected. Her mom wasn’t there. Even though she would swear she could feel her right next to her.

Morning Two: Anger

She slammed her phone down on the table. This was not what she wanted to wake up to. She stormed over to the pantry to grab her coffee and AeroPress. Maybe she could work out some of her frustration by pressing the heck out of her coffee. As she let the grounds brew in the little contraption, she replayed the voicemail she’d gotten this morning. She still wasn’t answering her phone, and messages like this were the reason why: “Hey, so, still haven’t heard from you. I know you’re going through it, but that’s why you need to call me. Or talk to someone. You know what the five stages of grief are? Denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. That’s a lot to work through on your own, girl. Call me.”

How is someone else going to tell her what she’s going through? And what she needs to do to cope? She didn’t need to talk to anyone. She just didn’t want to talk right now, that was all. At the same time, she was mad that she was alone. That the only person she really wanted to talk to wasn’t there to talk to.

She pulled the AeroPress towards her and pressed down, waiting for the sound of the first drops of coffee to hit her glass. The plunger didn’t move. She pressed again, harder. Nothing. It actually almost seemed to be pressing back against her hands. She was just starting to notice this when she felt a tug at the back of her shirt, forcing her to take a step back, and the plunger burst out of its chamber all at once. Brewed coffee and wet grounds splattered across the kitchen counter and wall. “What the what?” she could almost hear her mom say.

“Good grief,” she muttered to herself. What the heck was going on with her?

Morning Three: Bargaining

Sometimes the pain felt unbearable. Much like the scalding coffee she’d just taken a sip of. She jerked her head forward and spit the coffee out. Sucking in mouthfuls of air, she rushed to get water. Bewildered, she stared at the clock, trying to remember when she’d started brewing. That coffee had to have been cooling for five minutes! If she had overheated the water that much, she needed to re-brew anyway. She grabbed her French Press from the dish rack and set to re-making her coffee. After taking note of the time, she sat down while she waited and turned her thoughts back to her situation. She needed a way to ease the pain. What if she made two cups of coffee every day? One for her, one for Mom? But that seemed silly. And nowhere near good enough. She wanted to talk to her so badly. She’d give anything to see her again.

She glanced up at the time. Her coffee had been brewing in the French Press for 10 minutes. Halfway out of her seat, she froze. The coffee was boiling.

“What the—“ She rushed over only to stand by frozen once again. Despite the unbelievable searing temperature of the coffee, she felt a chill come over her. The lid of the coffee maker was now rattling. The brew was trying to force its way out of its confines. Coming to, she reached for a towel, grabbed the handle, and hurriedly dumped the contents into the sink. She stood watching her coffee gurgle down the drain. Somehow, she felt she’d lost a bargaining chip. Her shot at feeling like she could bring her mother back.

Morning Four: Depression

This morning, she was barely able to get herself out of bed. All she could think was, “Why? What’s the point?” She looked down in her cup and barely registered what she saw there. Sludge. She stared into the murky depths of the mud in her mug, unsure of how what looked more coffee than she had ground ended up in her cup but also not caring enough to investigate. She was worried, though. Had she completely lost her ability to make a decent cup of coffee? Was that possible? Was she completely worthless? Why was this happening? She looked back into her cuppa muck. It seemed to be bubbling, getting thicker. She was so tired, she wanted to put her face in the disgusting ooze and sleep forever. Instead, she dumped the stuff straight in the trash and went to her room to lie down. She thought she heard a noise coming from the trash can as she walked away, but she didn’t want to think about anything anymore.

Morning Five: Acceptance

Last night, she dreamt of her mom. She dreamt about the last time they had coffee together. They had talked about the flavors they tasted in the coffee, how it reminded them both of her grandmother. Nothing particularly special had happened, yet it had been a special moment. It was the first nice dream she’d had since her mom passed, though it was paired with the sadness of knowing she was gone. As her pour-over finished brewing, she closed her eyes and let images of the memory float through her brain. She smiled slightly.

She’d been scared to try making coffee after her most recent inexplicable debacles. But this morning, she felt a little braver. Her mind was a little more at peace. She’d gotten two coffee mugs out this time. The same mugs from her memory. As she poured coffee into both cups, the aroma hit her. It was the same smell of cherries and almonds that always reminded her of her grandmother and now, her mom. “Remarkable,” she thought. The flavor notes on the coffee bag were listed as milk chocolate and caramel.

She sat across from the second cup of coffee, sipping from her own. As she stared into the steam released from her mother’s favorite mug, she began to see her mother’s face in the steam. Suddenly, she could hear her voice, clear as day. “The is great coffee, sweetie! Perfect. Thank you, honey.” The face in the steam smiled before disappearing, remaining only in her mind. With tears in the corners of her eyes, she smiled back. “You’re welcome, Mom.”

Niki Tolch (@notcaffeinatedenough) is a coffee professional based in Chicago. Read more Niki Tolch on Sprudge.