“Let’s Get Coffee”, Regrets, and Barb Harlan

“Let’s get coffee!” How many times have you said this? If you’re my age and living in the United States, chances are pretty high that number is greater than your digits by a long shot. I’m not sure what people said in 1813 or 1913, but getting coffee has certainly become a part of our cultural norm in 2013. And right along with it comes that other cultural norm: the opportunity for regret.

There are so many rituals in making and drinking coffee (tea is just the same). This is true especially when you make coffee at home. The filling of the device, the smell of the beans, the sounds of the coffee becoming real, the first taste. For coffee drinkers, making and drinking a cup of coffee includes all sorts of emotions and experiences that change it from the mundane into an almost revered thing. So asking someone to join you in that pursuit is both a casual thing and potentially a memory-making event.

I thought about this as I made coffee last Monday. These days I usually make my coffee in a Keurig — I have those little refillable gizmos that I fill with my own ground beans. I found that making a full pot of coffee led to too much waste, so the Keurig option is a good one for me. But it means I wash those little baskets out several times a day.

Shaking the used grounds out, a quick tap to remove the stubborn ones. A wash under warm water, the remaining grounds swirling down my drain. The filling, the hissing of steam, the aroma wafting up my nose, the heat of the cup in my hands.


A few months ago, I stopped drinking my coffee the way I had for over 20 years. I am now a unadulterated coffee drinker and for the most part, I don’t miss the addition of cream and sugar. In early February, I was chatting with a friend from church about drinking my coffee black. She said she’d done the very same thing herself, but that on special occasions, when she was out for dinner with friends, she’d add the cream and sugar and it would “taste like a heaven I keep for those special moments.”

I decided to follow her tradition and when I gather with my friends these days, I add a bit of sugar and cream — sweetening a moment that is already a sweet gift of friendship.

That good woman died on Sunday morning. She mattered to me. In fact, she mattered to lots and lots of people. I miss her and I will for a long time. I’ll miss her smile, her penchant for hats and being silly, her ability to be true to herself and in doing so, bringing out the best truth in others. I’ll miss her encouragement of me as I learn how to be this version of myself.

And the last thing I said to her was “Let’s get coffee. But not next week, because the kids are home on Spring Break and it’ll be nuts.”

I really did want to be with her. To spend a few moments in our crazy days and connect with her. I wanted her to know that as she was facing more cancer, she had my love and prayers and strength. I wanted to have a cup of coffee with cream and sugar with her.

I know the chances she was bothered by my suggestion for coffee – but later –  are somewhere below slim and none. She was a smart woman and a mother and grandmother. She knew that moms with kids in tow are divided between parenting and being present for others. She, like me, probably didn’t spend much time right then thinking about my offer for coffee.

Oh, how I regret that missed cup of coffee. I am sad that I’ll never have a chance to hold a hot cup of coffee in my hands and smile at her over the rim. I’m sad that there will never be that coffee date for us. I’m sad that Barb is gone.

But Barb Harlan is not forgotten. And neither is the knowledge of what she would say if she was right here, right now:

“Go get a coffee. Gather your friends and enjoy your time with each other. Live this moment — not past ones and not future ones, but this one.”

So, let’s go get coffee. Let’s drink coffee and share our dreams and fears and daily mundanities. And let’s make it about anything but regret.

Because we only get this one chance here, to be in this place with these people. Let’s make it a ritual to share the best of ourselves as well as the not so best because it is our truth. Let’s have coffee dates, even when we can’t be fully present, because some of ourselves is better than none.

This morning, I’m getting a coffee. It may look like I’m sitting by myself. But you’ll know by the cream and sugar in my coffee, that I’m not alone. Barb will be with me, if only in my heart.

8 thoughts on ““Let’s Get Coffee”, Regrets, and Barb Harlan

  1. I ususally try to avoid sentimental stories/books/blogs, but for some reason I keep coming back to read what you have to say. It seems as though you not only write your stories beautifully, but that the things you share are genuine and completely sincere. It’s really a gift to be able to share real moments of life and death and pain and joy with others. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend, and I hope you enjoy your coffee while remembering her.

  2. I’m afraid I have a regret as well. I sat behind Barbara the last day she was at church. I was unaware her cancer had returned but I noticed that she wasn’t in the choir and was sitting through several hymns. I remember thinking, “oh, I wonder if her cancer is back” and knowing that that would not be good. After church, I didn’t get a chance to say hi to her and obviously no opportunity since. I regret that I noticed something was wrong, but didn’t put out the extra effort to seek her out and greet. I know she is aware now and absolving me (us), but a lesson none the less. Let’s absolve each other Kristina.

  3. Lynn, I feel the same as you. Regret that I did not seek her out, that I did not say a proper goodbye. In our defense though, she looked healthy, not sickly. Her positive attitude, what we loved about her, also made it seem that everything was okay.
    Beautiful sentiments, Kristina.

  4. OH Kristina, Again you touch on a subject (not about the coffee) but so true about living in this moment, place and time. IF we only knew how many opportunities we miss because we forget to or rush through every moment. Thank you for reminding me to stop, smell the flowers, call a friend, reach out but most of all to be present and appreciate every gift (whether it be coffee or friendship) that is graciously waiting for us.
    Blessings and love always to you and a huge thank you for reminding me to add the cream and sugar 🙂

  5. Thank you for a lovely post.

    My friend and neighbor of twenty-two years died two weeks ago. Of cancer (of course–it seems it’s always cancer, doesn’t it?). She was under hospice care for her last few weeks, at home and surrounded by family and friends, totally at peace. During our last talk together she told me it wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be, that she’d done everything in her life that she’d wanted to, and she was ready for the next adventure. And I could see the truth of what she was saying shining in her eyes. Pure grace.

    Maybe I’ll share a cup of coffee with her later. With a little sugar and cream.

    • I’m so sorry you are also missing someone. (Hate cancer!) If you are ever here, or I there, there shall be coffee with cream and sugar. Or martinis. {hug}

  6. What a great story about my Aunt Barb. These past months Ive cut back on caffeine but what you’ve written here has me longing for a cup and a conversation with her again.

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