A Visit to Hospice University

Terry Lieb Coping with Adversity, Judging Others, Living out your Faith 8 Comments

Rita and I had just arrived at our “new digs” in an over 55 community (we obviously had to fudge our ages) in central Florida. The condo we rented was beautiful, well-furnished, and overlooked a lake. The owners live there periodically so it had just about everything we needed. One thing it didn’t have was a coffee brewer.


Our condo’s coffeemaker-free kitchen

Since I try to avoid single-use plastics as much as possible, I decided to look for a used coffee maker so we didn’t need to use Keurig in the condo. Besides, it would be a good excuse to check out the local thrift stores, a favorite pastime of mine. It’s like a kind of year-round Easter egg hunt. You never know what treasure you might find!

Once our home base was established, I looked up the local second-hand shops and located a hospice thrift store nearby that sounded promising. When I got there, they had several coffee makers on the shelf. It seems that, like the owner of our condo, many folks were buying the quick-and-convenient Keurig and thus disposing of their old-fashioned brewers. As I started to examine the half dozen options, a volunteer—a smartly dressed woman I would guess was in her early 60s—approached me and asked if she could help.

She immediately pointed out that there was only one black unit and that had come in recently. Apparently, they had trouble keeping the black ones in stock even though in her opinion several of the white ones had more features and were much better quality. She asked if I knew why folks usually choose the black coffee makers first? I replied, “I have no idea.” Those were the last words I spoke for the next 25 minutes!

Several of you who know me well will surely be wondering how someone could possibly manage to stop me from asking questions for close to half an hour! Although I admit to more than my fair share of curiosity, I promise you what follows is not the result of any questioning on my part! I was just the lucky beneficiary of this exceptional woman’s willingness to share her story with a complete stranger.

Elizabeth (who I learned recently became comfortable going by the nickname Liz) explained her theory that people’s preference for the black coffee makers was because they didn’t show the coffee stains like the white ones did. “Sort of like how we do with people,” she mused. “It’s something that has struck me since I started working here a couple of months ago.”

She went on to tell me that she had begun volunteering not long after her husband died of lung cancer. “He smoked the most expensive cigars money could buy for years!” she explained. “Actually, he continued to smoke them even after he was diagnosed several years ago. He wouldn’t listen to the doctors; he never much valued the experience or opinions of other people as a general rule. He was a very stubborn man,” she said ruefully.

“Anyway, I decided to help out here because the hospice staff, nurses, and the chaplain made his final days much more peaceful than I ever imagined. They were the kindest and most sensitive folks I ever met!  Actually, the entire experience became a total life-changing event for me. I don’t call this the thrift store anymore but rather ‘Hospice University!’”

Thrift store“Take these coffee brewers here. I’ve come to realize that most of us judge others much the same as we do those machines. We judge people on what we see initially, on the surface, and never take a closer look at what they really are. If we see stains, we immediately write them off and go for the ones that seem to be spotless. In truth, they may have just as many flaws and imperfections, they are just hidden so you can’t see them. Only since I started volunteering here have I begun to appreciate how much I actually judged folks on superficial things.”

“For example, you know who mostly comes in here?” Without giving me a chance to respond, she went on, “It’s often people who are struggling, people I only saw from a distance, if at all. You see, my husband came from generations of wealth, a lot of money! Although not to quite the same extent, I came from much the same background and we mainly associated with people similar to ourselves. I had very few people of color in my life before, nobody who was homeless, nobody with visible tattoos except for our youngest daughter, who my husband basically disowned. Here I get the chance to actually talk to all sorts of people and in some cases help them out.”

“Now three days a week they are a part of my life. I have been able to establish a relationship with several who come in on a regular basis. One single mother who has three children stops in weekly and twice she has allowed me to buy her lunch. She gave me the sizes of her two oldest children and I kind of put some things aside that she needs. We aren’t supposed to do that but I have decided I am comfortable ‘bending the rules a little’ for the right reasons!”

“There’s another young man—a landscape worker covered in tattoos—who I probably would have had too many preconceived notions about before to even think about approaching. But as I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve discovered he’s a delightful person. He recently moved back in with his aging father to care for him since he became severely disabled. I’m finding myself far too interested in getting to know these new friends to have any time left to spend judging them!

Pull quote“To be honest, at times when more wealthy customers come in here to explore the jewelry or art hoping to find valuable pieces amongst the ‘junk’ and being very careful to avoid getting too close to other patrons, I can actually see my old self and it’s embarrassing to think I was like that once.”

“The other volunteers are exceptional people as well. Several of them I now see as my closest friends, after just a few months. See that lady working the cash register? She invited me to a special service at her church where the congregation was getting to meet the new refugee family they had voted to sponsor and support in their community. What I experienced that Sunday morning felt like what I had always thought church should be but I never really experienced before.”

“Now I attend her church—actually I guess it’s our church now—regularly. I’m even on the committee that’s working directly with the refugee family. Interestingly, I believe these people my husband always referred to as ‘free riders’ are the hardest-working family I have ever met. I feel guilty saying it, but I think in many ways my husband’s death freed me up to become the person I had buried deep inside myself.”

“A year ago I never imagined I would be on this amazing journey. I started out one day a week, wanting to pay back for what the hospice staff provided for my husband and me in the last few months of his life; now it’s up to three days a week and I honestly look forward to my time here much more than I ever did the superficial activities I was involved in before. Every day is like a new adventure; I wake up every morning excited to find out what the day will bring.”

I couldn’t agree more. I had come looking for a coffee maker and instead stumbled upon an awesome story of transformation and new life. Just goes to show, when you go to a thrift store, you never know what treasure you may find!



  1. Why do you think this woman shared her life story, warts and all, with a complete stranger? What do you think may have made this intimacy more likely or even possible? Do you think your presentation and demeanor invite confidences from others? Why or why not?
  2. Do you think there are “interesting” and “uninteresting” people or that everyone is interesting if you get to know them? Why do you feel this way? How does your belief affect your interactions?
  3. In what ways are you like the customers who prefer the seemingly-unstained black coffee makers to those whose stains are visible for all to see?
  4. What life lessons are you currently learning?
  5. Have you ever had to completely reinvent your life because of circumstances beyond your control? Did any positive outcomes result? What conscious changes did you make? Looking back at your “old self,” what have you learned and how have you grown?
  6. What habits, social constraints, and limiting beliefs do you have that may be keeping you boxed into a smaller world than necessary? Do you want to expand your world? If so, what could you do to facilitate this?
  7. Do you wake up every morning feeling excited about what this adventure of life will bring you today? Why or why not? How do you think you can cultivate even more of a sense of excitement in your life?


Banner photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash.com

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Anthony Bifulco
Anthony Bifulco
May 1, 2022 2:02 pm

It is so true on how we prejudge people by how they look. Another home run in my view.

Ron Wildasin
Ron Wildasin
May 1, 2022 6:36 pm

Great story Terry. If we all would open our ears and invite conversation, there is so much to learn for both parties. Thank you.

James Buskirk (Jim)
James Buskirk (Jim)
May 2, 2022 8:42 am

Thanks Terry. This will open me up to be a better listener. Keep em coming.

May 2, 2022 9:25 am

1st so glad you “fooled” everyone and were allowed into that 55+ community for some down time! Although I still have to fight the urge/temptation to always present “my” views within conversations, there is so much to learn just by listening. In fact, in some instances listening is the absolute best we can do even if we can’t provide any real answers. Just to listen can be such a comfort to the other person and many times an eye and heart opener on our end. Oh and the judgmental thing—still a major work in progress but the older I get,… Read more »

Elsa B Heintzelman
Elsa B Heintzelman
May 2, 2022 11:08 am

What an interesting day morning you had! Liz certainly enjoyed telling you her story, and is doing a wonderful job of ministry there in the thrift store. Everyone has a story, and getting to meet new folks and hear their stories is the best adventure. Good wishes for your new digs and life in Florida. Are you snow birds now?

Sue Barron
Sue Barron
May 2, 2022 2:37 pm

What an inspiring story.

Wanda A. Williams
Wanda A. Williams
May 3, 2022 6:06 pm

An interesting read. Certainly, life is all about transformation. I believe the lady who worked at Hospice University, as she named it, was like the blind man who was healed by Jesus,and couldn’t wait to share the story! I think of myself, how I’ve grown in many ways: doing for others when I’d rather not, learning something new that was difficult but has been mastered, keeping my mouth closed, when I’d rather speak sarcastically. In ways that I can become more caring, more loving, or kind – helps in good transformation.,

September 3, 2022 6:21 pm

I love it when women rise to become their better selves. Often for us, it is following our own attractions and intentions…no matter the age. There is grace at all ages and stages of life.