Shawn Brimley kissing Claire just before he learned he had cancer
Family & Friends

The Guitar Lesson Guy

I’m sitting in the lobby of the place where my daughter takes guitar lessons. I can hear her (and a half dozen other kids) playing music in one of the many rooms behind me. This is a whole new experience for me because until a few weeks ago, I’d never been here.

Claire started guitar lessons in September. It was Shawn’s idea. He bought her and Austin guitars last Christmas and desperately hoped that they would both be interested enough to learn a bit with him. But he was a self-taught player and insisted that at some point they would need formal lessons. He decided that the time for Claire was the start of 3rd grade. I was overwhelmed, as usual, when he asked me to schedule a good day for the lessons, so I told him he could only do it if he was the one to take Claire. He happily agreed and it was their time together. Even when he was sick, he’d always take her.

Once he was in the hospital, my friends took Claire to her lessons. I only began taking her a few weeks ago, and when I first showed up, the guitar teacher asked me who I was. That’s how uninvolved I had been.

In any case, once a week I sit in this lobby and answer emails or text my friends or read the New York Times. The same kids and parents come at the same time every week, and one of them is this burly-looking guy who is quiet and usually reads books or looks at his phone much of the time. He’s never really said hello to me, but he sits with his daughter each week while his son takes a lesson. His daughter is quiet too, and she is about Claire’s age. He is patient and kind to her and she likes to read and ask him questions.

Right now they are sitting 10 feet from me and what they are doing is gutting me to the core.

She’s reading on a kindle and he is looking at his phone. She’s got her head in his lap and his arm is casually slung over her body. They aren’t really doing much except existing in the space together. And it is actually painful for me to sit and watch the obvious love they have for each other.

Because right here in this place just a few months ago, Shawn sat with Claire and did the same thing. I never witnessed it, but I’m sure they did, as the guitar teacher is often late and I know that’s the sort of thing they would do together. Shawn always loved to have his kids lying all over him, and he was particularly affectionate with Claire. He loved taking her to those lessons.

Oh, how much I want to go up to this dad and tell him to treasure every moment he has with his daughter. How much I want to remind him that he’s lucky to get these 30 minutes of boredom that they spend together each week. How much I want to say to his wife, who usually meets him at the end, that she should be thanking her lucky stars to have her family intact.

Obviously, I don’t say anything, because I don’t want people to think I’m crazy. I probably wouldn’t get through a speech like this because I’d start sobbing. And then Claire would come out of her lesson and would definitely be embarrassed that her mom was crying in public again.

So I just watch him with his daughter, perfectly bored and happy. Unaware of how happy he is, because when you’re truly happy, it’s hard to really see how wonderful your life is.

I don’t know his life. I don’t know if he has problems at work or issues with his health or any other bad thing that can happen to a person or a family. I don’t even know his name. But I do know some things. He is alive. He loves his daughter. And at least once a week, he has 30 minutes when he puts his arms around her.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.


  • Andrea

    Oh, Marjorie. I’m crying at my desk–this is so brutally beautiful. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for the reminder to notice those little everyday moments. I am certainly thanking my lucky stars for them and wish with all of my heart that you could have had more of them with Shawn.

  • Erika

    Such a poignant and powerful blog, Marjorie. Love that you are able to use your talent to connect and help others. Love you❤️

  • Rebecca

    Marjorie Clark Brimley – you give us the gift of perspective over and over again. I so appreciate it and wish desperately that it was not such an easy gift for you to give.

  • Joy

    I love that you shared this. You perfectly describe the moments we take for granted and the heartbreak over losing them. Love you.

    • Marjorie

      Yes – the heartbreak is real. So are the wonderful moments. Thanks so much for all the support and love.

  • Jerry

    I drive my 14 year old to school in the morning. She could ride the bus, it stops at the end of the road, but we like to drive together. Sometimes she talks about silly things, sometimes we are quiet, but always we are together, and I know that. When we get to school and she gets out, I roll down her window and yell “I love you” as she walks in. She is ALWAYS embarrassed, but I don’t care and I think she doesn’t really mind it either, because its true, and her dad drives her to school. With my oldest, it was playing catcher for her at pitching lessons and then later in whatever garage or enclosed building we could find. She had to do it as an athlete, but I always loved to catch for her because I loved watching her throw, it was a thing of beauty. I treasured every moment. Your post brought it all home to me, and I will guard my treasure more jealously because of what you have written.

  • Heather

    That was beautiful, and now I’m sobbing. Thank you for reminding us (again) of what’s really important Marjorie.

  • Kristin Garner

    Since my husband Gregg passed away 5 weeks ago, I’ve gotten in the routine of reading your blog in the early morning while it’s quiet and my daughter is still asleep. I’m not sure I can do this much longer for its feels like it’s ripping my heart out.

    So much of what you write seems to speak directly to me. While this helps me to feel less alone, it’s also a reminder of how much I have lost. I can relate to so many of your perspectives, thoughts and feelings and this piece is no exception.

    Gregg always cherished his time with our daughter. When he was home from work, he drove her to school every morning and walked her in. After his death so many people commented about that memory of him, always walking her to the school door, kissing her goodbye and wishing her a good day. Each spring semester, he drove her 30 minutes away for a special drama class that would not have fit into our busy schedule had he not gone out of his way to arrange his work schedule around it. He loved it; it was his time with her and he soaked it up. I loved they had that time together too. It was special, it was important.

    I always knew how lucky I was to have such a wonderful father and husband; I knew I had it good. I just hope I verbalized it enough to Gregg when he was alive. I’m hoping my occasional squeezing of his hand, the loving glance I’d send his way as he joke around with our daughter as I was busy cooking dinner, or when I’d place my hand on his leg as we all sat quietly in the car driving somewhere, was enough to let him know how much I loved and appreciated him everyday. If I had to do over, I would have verbally said it more.

    This hurts so bad. I appreciate your writings though; thank you so much. I just can’t get over how relatable they are.

    • Marjorie

      This post – the guitar lesson guy – is one of my most favorites ever. I wrote it in 20 minutes at the guitar center with tears streaming down my face. I still remember every moment of writing it….and the intense grief I felt. Now, two years later, I can tell you this….it will get easier, I promise.