When I first met Kim, her husband had just passed away. In the midst of her grief, she suffered a massive stroke that affected the muscles on the left side of her body and scrambled some of her mental faculties. She sought me out in the hopes that I could teach her ukulele as a form of music therapy.

It was slow, rewarding work, as both of us learned how hard to push and how to piece together the puzzle that her mind had become. In the beginning, there were tears of frustration as she reckoned with what she had lost and how to regain what she could. All the symbols looked like hieroglyphics in those first months, yet she never gave us, and line-by-line, week-by-week, she became stronger and more sure of herself.

And her body and mind began to heal.

For two years, we journeyed through her grief and physical pain, celebrating every small triumph along the way until we reached the other side where she found joy and confidence in her musical abilities. Our friendship turned into a familial bond. I met her grandson, found new favorite places, and took a road trip with her to the mountainous wilds of Washington State, to meet custom Uke makers. Our lessons stretched from forty-five minutes to two hours, and, eventually, I pushed her into the world of creators, and she started writing songs and creating her own arrangements.

She was thriving, and leaned further in, and made the leap to attend her first ukulele festival, and began to collaborate with other uke players—some older, some much younger—all who had gained something ineffable from their engagement with music. The community of musicians embraced her, and she left the life of isolation and widowhood behind to travel the Northwest and intertwine her life with friends and music.

There were many tears when we finally parted ways, and Kim gave me a card with two hand-written lines that I'll never forget:

Thank you for the music.
You gave me my life back.

Here’s to you, Kim. You will forever be one of the most inspiring women I’ll ever know.

Willa Grey