The Power of Coffee and Routine Saved My Life

By Stephanie Spillmann 9/5/17

Coffee saved my life…literally.

That, and a huge dose of love from my then-fiance.

When my 21-year-old daughter died two summers ago, my fiance and I had to take the doorknobs off of her door to get to her. There is quite simply no way to describe what that does to a person — what it does as a bonding agent for a soon-to-be-married couple.

We were in that tragedy together from the first moment. It creates a permanent understanding that you are the only two who lived through that very experience. A primal drive ensues to do whatever it takes to protect the other from further harm.

The first days after a child’s death are a blur of not wanting to live or breathe and an overwhelming sense of responsibility to take care of the details and be ever-so-strong for your other three girls. Most of the time, not wanting to live or breathe threatens daily to take over.

Daniel (now my husband) stopped work for a bit to stay home with me, and my mom flew out. He did something extraordinary for me, in those first several days, as I woke every morning to the blow and repeated shattering of my world every time my brain came to full consciousness.

Trivial as it seems, every morning there was a cup of coffee placed on my bedside table so the smell and warmth of it would fill my just-waking outer senses. This external stimulation competed with the internal struggle to not care — to want to fade into nothing.

Never underestimate the power of routine, or a ritual as simple as coffee, in the midst of mind-numbing pain. There is grounding and familiarity there. It can serve as an anchor for your soul when everything else is spinning.

I’m not saying that coffee alone can save a life, or that routine makes it all better. I am saying that there is healing power to it — albeit very subtle. For me, the coffee spoke of a constant in my life. Mornings would continue to come, this dark and earthy smell would continue to waft and beckon my mind to entertain the possibilities of fully living again.

I’ve loved coffee since high school, and through the years, especially since visiting Italy, I’ve become very particular about what I would call truly good coffee. Most coffee lovers are that way, I guess. Italian espresso, and European coffee in general, sadly puts American coffee to shame.

My Swiss sister-in-law said it all when she joked about barely tasting the one bean with which Americans brew their coffee. I thought that was hilarious — until I tasted what she was used to. Oh man, she’s so right.

I brought some Italian espresso home with us after our honeymoon last summer. It’s almost gone now, and Daniel and I have burned through every blend at Starbucks in search of a replacement. We’ve come pretty close with the Kenya blend. Starbucks gift cards are now in the top spot for gift ideas.

The cohesive property of sharing a hot drink is nothing new. From ancient days, and throughout the world, coffee and tea rituals have been, and continue to be, a focal point of social bonding. Peace treaties and diplomatic meetings have been anchored for centuries by passing a cup and sharing this fruit of our earth in which we find commonality.

When I met my husband four years ago, I was overjoyed that he is a coffee lover. Seems silly, but being previously married to someone who hated coffee and tea, I felt lonely and disconnected. Brewing a two-cup pot, versus brewing a full one, is anticlimactic. There’s something really special, to me, about sharing that morning cup of coffee — either in silence or chatting over croissants in Italy.

The routine gurgling and clicking of our coffee maker at 5:30 am, and loud beep announcing its drinkable state, just makes my morning. Don’t get me started on the smell. Is there any smell on this earth that compares with coffee? I can’t think of any.

As for the power of routine, coffee has remained the starting point of each morning, of course. However, about five months after that horrible day, I found an online course that gave my mind something useful to do. I could see some possibilities taking shape over the weeks and months that I studied hard and learned a new and difficult skill.

One day, on a fluke, and feeling quite silly for entertaining such ideas, I perused work-at-home jobs and found Caitlin Pyle’s Proofread Anywhere course. It was advertised as a comprehensive theory and skills course to master the art of transcript proofreading. I was skeptical, but I needed a way to earn, and I needed to study on my own terms and my own timeline.

In short, I made some calls to local court reporting agencies and found that transcript proofreading is indeed a “thing” and can be quite lucrative. I signed up. That course, and the routine of plugging away at the 3,000-plus pages of practice transcripts, also saved me from giving up on life. I had a reason to get up — I had a job and goal to work towards.

By the following June, a year after that agonizing day, I launched my own business and website as a proofreader. I did well, but it has become so much more than just a course that led to a paying job. It confirmed to me that I can do things I never thought I could do, even before something tragic happened.

I have since springboarded into freelance writing (for pay) in the finance and health sectors. Those proofreading skills, and the intense grammar and English-usage concepts, daily add to the quality of my work. I’m forever grateful for routine and conquering the fear that life might be over. It is just beginning. I’m in business for myself, and I’m attending a huge finance convention in Dallas next month. Who knew I had it in me? I didn’t.

Love and coffee — and routine. Never underestimate them.

Originally published at on September 5, 2017.

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