Love Showed Up: Guitar and Cupcakes

You are blessed today, because today you get to hear a word from my friend Esther Emery. I remember the first few times I came across Esther’s writing, the time her brave voice made me cry in a video, the time I stalked every picture on her blog about living off the grid in a  yurt, the time I realized this is friend who would encourage me, challenge me and make me feel like a braver woman by proxy and prose. Someday soon I will hug this woman in real life, but for today her beautiful words will do nicely.  

The best thing I ever did with grief was feel it. And I’ve done grief wrong. My mother died when I was 25. I don’t know whose fault it was, but the key just didn’t turn in the lock. Maybe it wasn’t anybody’s fault, not even my own. But I simply didn’t grieve. I didn’t feel at all. And that was a wrongness that hovered in my life for years afterward. Six years later, I still felt the numb place in myself like a disease.

But this story is a story of people who help. This is a story of people who do the right thing in a time when everything feels wrong. This story is about my husband’s family, and second chances.

It was six years after my mother’s death that my husband’s mother got her diagnosis. I still felt young. I was thirty-one years old and not done bearing children. My mother-in-law was the only mother figure I had left, and my oldest child was two years old. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like, to go on without her.

But this is a story about people who help. This is a story of moving forward, past what you can imagine is possible. And this is a story about my husband’s family.

What can you do?

Well. First, there was a welcome. The dying woman was taken in, not pushed out to the sterile places or to the experts, but taken in, right to the center of her son’s home. And we were welcomed, too. I can’t remember whose idea it was, for us to come. I think none of us were completely sure what were doing. But my husband and I packed up our two small children and flew from Boston to Boise, Idaho, at a moment’s notice and on a leave of undetermined length. The dying woman moved into the center of her son’s home, and we moved in with her. We all lived there for weeks.

First there was a welcome. Secondly, there was a party. In my memory (memories are not known for their accuracy) it was a nonstop party. We celebrated her birthday. We celebrated Mother’s Day. We celebrated my baby daughter’s birthday. (Two busy weeks in May…!) We blew up balloons and had the kids draw pictures. We ate a lot of cupcakes and played songs on the guitar.

My husband and I sat on the floor in the living room and played and sang Neil Young, with something less than skill and more than enthusiasm. The dying woman clapped her hands for us, with the extra energy one might have under the influence of heavy painkillers, and we laughed real laughter, and the whole world seemed sharp and in focus. My husband made cake after cake and learned to play his mother’s favorite song.

First there was a welcome. Secondly, there was a party. And thirdly, for me, there was the gift of grief, unleashed.

My grief became my prize – how deeply I had loved and had been loved. First I felt it in the simpler and less ambivalent relationship with my mother-in-law, but it travelled, too, gently and gradually, into the diseased place where I had failed to grieve my own mother. I began to heal.

None of this could have been forced. Or even encouraged. I’m sure someone said to me, after my mother died, “You have to take the time to grieve.” I’m sure someone said, “You need to feel what you are feeling.” But it doesn’t matter what was said. I couldn’t feel it then. I didn’t yet know how.

I was helped years later by the chance of being welcomed into a generous and open-hearted family. I was helped years later by a rabbit hole, a magic space and a celebration of another woman’s life.

First there was a welcome, then there was a party. For me, there was the gift of second chances: the chance to really feel a loss, and grieve it well.

estheremerywriter Esther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. These days she is pretty much a runaway, living off grid in a yurt and tending to three acres of near wilderness in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at, and is also the author of the free, inspirational ebook Unleash Your Wild. Connect with her on Twitter @EstherEmery.

If you’re interested in guest posting for the “Love Showed Up” series, I’d love to hear more.  Get in touch with me via email, I’m leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com.

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  • kelli woodford

    That’s one of the hardest things for me regarding grief: you just can’t feel it until it’s time. And as one who knows the relief of feeling all the feelings, I want that same balm to be applied to those around me who hurt, but shove it back. Or try to drown it. Or whatever. I JUST CAN’T MAKE THEM FEEL IT UNTIL IT’S TIME.

    What a beautiful story. A coming-of-age story in so many ways, dear Esther. Thank you.

    • Esther Emery

      Thank you for reading, Kelli. Being sisters with you makes me happy.

  • Mark Allman


    To be deeply loved and to love deeply is a blessing beyond compare. I still grieve for loved ones lost. I don’t wish it to ever end in the sense that my grief speaks of the love we had. I loved how you partied in the time you had. I told my son if I was dying and they were with me I would want him to dance. How well your family loved your mother in law. Awesome.

    I have a daughter named Esther.

    • Esther Emery

      Thanks for the note, Mark. It means so much to me to be seen, and for this special moment to be shared with others.

  • pastordt

    Beautifully done, Esther. Truly. I’m grateful for this story of good grief because, believe me, they are surprisingly rare. What a beautiful way to say good-bye!

    • Esther Emery

      I know too well that they are rare, Diana. I worked my way through college in a nursing home, so before I had turned 21 I had already seen my share of endings. This was a really special one. Thanks for reading!