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When I Played My Guitar Again to Remember My Daughter Who Passed Away

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Tim Barnes is married to Marty and is the father to Casey. Casey was a daddy’s girl her entire life and had him wrapped around her finger since the first time he saw her. Music was a special bond that Casey shared with her dad. Casey passed away in March, and now Tim uses music to keep Casey close to his heart. He wrote the story below.

Our daughter, Casey, had a traumatic birth that caused a severe brain injury. Her doctors didn’t think she would ever go home, but she proved them wrong her whole life.

Once we got home, Marty and I had to handle not only the medical issues, but we also wanted to help Casey do the things she loved as often as she could. This was challenging as it was very difficult for Casey to show or tell us when she liked something. But it was amazing what she could tell us and the choices she could make with only small movements or sounds.

Casey’s doctors would say she was clinically deaf, but that was mostly because she didn’t have the physical control to pass a hearing test. Anyone who spent time with Casey knew she could hear you very well. She could tell the difference between people’s voices and would let you know if she liked or didn’t like something you were saying.

When Casey was very young, we discovered she really enjoyed music. She had so many toys that played music, and we would sit with her and watch how happy she was hearing all these new and different sounds. She had an Elmo toy with different buttons that played short songs with Elmo singing — one for country, hip-hop, rock and a couple others. Casey really liked the hip-hop button. She didn’t get that from her parents, but it made her happy so we listened to it as much as she wanted.

At the time Casey was born, I probably had owned a guitar for about eight years. I knew some chords and could play a few popular songs, but for the most part my guitar sat there by my desk gathering dust.

As Casey got older, we started having a music therapist come see her every couple weeks. Her therapist, Danielle, played guitar and also introduced Casey to drums, piano, maracas, ukulele and so many more instruments. Danielle also has a beautiful singing voice, and Casey loved to sing with her.

After seeing how much Casey loved music therapy, I gradually dusted off my guitar and started to play again with Casey. I wasn’t near as good as Danielle, and Casey could tell, but she didn’t give me too hard of a time. Danielle kept coming to see Casey every other week, and Casey and I would have our own “rockin’ out with Daddy” sessions.

man plays xylophone for his daughter

As the years rolled on, we went from playing every other week to every week to eventually every day. We played Spanish songs, country songs, rock and pop, blues and occasionally some (quietly played) metal if Marty let us. I even learned some My Little Pony’s songs for her, and she knew all the words to those.

Many days after work while Marty was cooking dinner, I would hang out with Casey on the couch with my guitar and her iPad. We would go through a bunch of songs, and she would tell me which ones she wanted to hear. It didn’t matter if the song wasn’t my style or too easy/hard to play. If Casey liked a song, then I would try to play it for her. And if she was feeling well enough, she would try to sing it to me. This was our special time, easily the highlight of my day, and I am thankful we did this so often the last couple years.

The night before Casey passed away, I sat with her and my guitar on the couch while Marty was taking a break. She was on her BiPAP machine and was too tired to sing along or pick her songs anymore, but I played a few of her favorites. I played my acoustic guitar so she could feel the songs, since her loud equipment made it harder to hear. It felt different than all the other times. I remember being scared that it could be the last time I played for her, and it turned out it was.

I didn’t know if I would ever pick up my guitar again because I thought it would be too painful or lonely to play without her next to me. But eventually, it became too painful not to play. I missed all the songs we shared and didn’t want to forget how to play them. I started slowly and stayed away from a few songs that were her absolute favorites because they would be too hard to get through. I do miss her when I play, but I find more comfort than sadness. I try to remember her beautiful eyes looking up at me and the way her hand felt on my lap and, of course, the sound of her voice singing.

I still play guitar every day, more than I ever did before. Marty bought some guitar picks made with Casey’s fingerprint on them, so now when I play it’s like we’re still holding hands. Every time I learn a new song, I think about whether it would be one of Casey’s new favorites and how many times we would play it together on the couch while Marty cooked dinner.

Follow this journey on Casey Barnes.

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Originally published: October 13, 2016
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