Following a spiritual prompting that came from the clear blue sky, Emily Farmer walked into a senior care facility in her neighborhood to play the piano. She became instant friends with one of the residents, a 99-year-old man called Mac, and discovered he played the harmonica. They played music together for the residents and were invited to events, and eventually recorded some songs for an album. Emily and Mac also supported each other through personal health challenges until Mac passed away in January 2020 at age 103.
How did you meet Mac at the beginning?
I’ve always loved fitness, and I was outside running one day and I had music playing in my ear. I heard this really loud voice tell me, “Go in and ask if you can play the piano.” What? I turned my head while I was still running, and I saw an assisted living center. I’d never even noticed that place before. I’ve played the piano my entire life and I’ve performed for so many different events and things, so when I heard that voice telling me to play the piano, it wasn’t anything out of the normal for me. I thought, “Oh, okay. I’ll go in tomorrow or something.”
As I started running again, the voice said, “Go in now and play the piano.” Okay. So I went in the care center and asked the front desk if I could play the piano sometime, and they said, “Why not right now?” I was still in my running clothes, but I sat at the piano bench and just started playing. This sweet gentleman walks in and comes over to me, “Hey, when does the show start?” I said, “What show? I’m just here to play.” I didn’t even know what I was doing there. He sat down with me and we just started talking and we were instant friends.
He was so hilarious and coherent for his age, so I asked how old he was. “Ninety-nine!” I was shocked because I’d never met someone that age so I asked when he turned 100. He blew it off – “Eh, in six months. I don’t even care.” But no way. So many people in this world can’t say they lived to be 100 years old. So I told him I was going to keep him alive by coming and playing the piano for him every week, until he was 100. He laughed but he was skeptical, so I made him a deal – which is funny because I’m not really someone who makes deals with people – so I made a deal with him and that’s what started it all.
I started going once a week and playing the piano for Mac and the other residents, and eventually, I ended up going every day. I’d be out on my run and I’d stop in and see him, chat with him, and then go back home. I learned that he played the harmonica, so we would play music together for the other residents. We’d gather other residents from their rooms, and we’d have ten to twenty residents depending on what they were doing with their day. They’d just sit and listen to us play music for them.
How long ago was that?
It was about five years ago that I started playing for Mac, then six months after I met him, he turned 100. I was so amazed that we made it! By that point, quite a few people had started asking us to play for events. My favorite was that we were asked to play at the funeral for one of the residents who would listen to us. That was really fun. Mac and I decided that our purpose was to bring people joy and make them happy with our music. So we loved sharing our music with people.
What were the health challenges that you supported each other through?
Shortly after I met Mac, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. A lot of people don’t even know they have it and it doesn’t affect them, but for whatever reason, it did to me. It is wild stuff. It affected my nervous system so badly that it was hard for me every day to get out of bed. I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. But I remembered my promise to Mac that I would keep him going to his 100th birthday. I pulled myself out of bed, it was all I could do to go and see him. I’d get him from his room and play the piano for him. He taught me so much during that time as I was sitting at the piano. Sometimes I could not feel my hands to play the songs so I’d just sit there. He was so sweet and patient, and just kept talking to me.
A lot of people didn’t know that Mac was blind. He taught me a lot, through that trial of having Lyme disease, to always be happy no matter what you’re going through. He never let being blind stop him. He never got into “woe is me.”
I didn’t realize this lesson would be a huge piece for me a few years later, when I got multiple traumatic brain injuries in a short amount of time. When I got those, they took me out. My life felt like it had come to an end. I hit rock bottom. I felt like I was at the bottom of the ocean, just in the dark, cold, lonely because of the amount of extreme pain I experienced, the emotional side effects. It messed up my brain really bad. I struggled with anxiety and depression, suicidal thoughts; and experienced memory loss, hearing loss, and the loss of a degree of my vision for a time.
Mac taught me so much from his experience of being blind that we can be happy, no matter what we’re going through. And then I had to learn to apply that principle to my daily life to keep going.
What caused the brain injuries?
I was in two different car wrecks within six months – people hit me on the freeway. They completely took me out. I was nonfunctioning. I had to move in with my parents because I couldn’t take care of myself. I didn’t know what was going on. I wasn’t able to drive anymore. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t even go to the grocery store. I didn’t know where I was or what was going on.
The emotional part, on top of the physical injuries, added a whole other part to the situation. It was unbelievable. I even lost my memory of how to play the piano, and that’s when I thought, “What in the world, my life is over. What is the purpose of this?” That was my faith crisis – that’s when I really came to: if God truly loves me, why did He take my piano, my love of piano, how could He take that from me? That’s when I had to really learn that if I was ever healed or not at all, could I still trust God?
Those are some pretty challenging things – Lyme disease, and two car accidents with brain injuries. Were you having a faith struggle before the car accidents, or is that what caused it?
No, I had never struggled with a faith crisis before the car accidents. After the car accidents, I had to move home because I couldn’t take care of myself. I couldn’t play the piano anymore, and that’s when I thought, “If God truly loves me, why did He allow this to happen?”
I never thought I would ever go through that kind of thing in my life. I’ve always been a member of the Church, always had a strong testimony. In that experience, I struggled a lot – I wondered where God was through this situation. I felt like I’d been left, and did He really care about me. I was mad at God – how can I trust Him if He allowed this thing to happen that’s so bad. At one point, my memory was gone – I couldn’t even remember how to play the piano. It was so hard because I lost the songs that Mac and I had been playing for the residents, the piano had been my whole life. To sit down at a piano and not know how to play was just so hard for me. I struggled for months with trusting God, until we were able to find a doctor that was able to figure things out.
I had to learn to truly trust God again and pray to Him and honor Him and accept that I may never be the same person that I was before those accidents. It’s so interesting in our lives that we have to trust God and trust that no matter the situation, He has a purpose in all this. And that’s when my brain was able to get some healing and the miracles started to come.
A lot of people have a faith crisis relating to the Church itself, but it sounds like yours was specifically about your relationship with God.
It was totally my relationship with God. If He loved me, why did He allow two car wrecks to happen and then I would lose my memory and I couldn’t even do something that I loved. That was at the time we didn’t know if I’d recover at all, if I’d be able to function independently again. Would I be able to play the piano again or live on my own again and take care of myself.
I ended up going through nine doctors before we found the one I call the miracle doctor who helped my brain recover and my memory of the piano music came back. During the time of trying to find medical help, that was a lot of my faith crisis – where are you, God; I need you; have you forgotten about me; do I even matter anymore; do I even have a purpose here; why am I still here today?
I learned a lot through that. If you are here, right now, today, there is a reason. God has a purpose for you. Not only for me, but for everyone. If you are here, there is a reason for it.
How did you get from “Where are you, God?” to “There is a purpose”? What was that middle part like?
Mac actually passed away during that time, at age 103. I remember feeling so lost after he passed because he really had become one of my best friends – someone I would talk to every day on the phone or I’d go visit him. But I remembered that Mac and I made this promise that we were going to bring people joy and make them happy through our music. I was able to be with Mac the day that he passed away – it was a really special experience. The last thing that Mac said to me was, “Remember our purpose. Remember the promise we’ve made.”
It was a few months later, when I’d gone through the depression, like I was at the bottom of the ocean – it was so lonely and dark and cold, my life’s over, there’s no purpose here. That’s when I was reminded – remember your purpose and your promise. Mac always said, “If you have a pulse, you have a purpose.”
That’s what helped pull me out of it and kept me going. I gotta keep doing this, I gotta do this for Mac, I gotta keep the promise.
It sounds like you are keeping that promise.
Yeah, in a way that I never thought would happen. A few years back, Mac and I had gone to recording studio to play the songs we did together, just to have as a keepsake of him and me because it was so special. I also recorded some of my own songs. I always have music playing in my head, all the time. I can just sit down at a piano and play a made-up song, all the time.
I knew from the time I was a teenager that my music was a gift that touched people, so making an album was something I always wanted to do. I didn’t know the extent that it would happen or how it would turn out, but there’s a particular song that came to me when I was playing for an event one time, and I just knew that arrangement needed to be shared with the world in a certain way. I wasn’t sure how or what it would be, and life went on.
When I was going through that moment of healing with my brain injuries, I remembered I still had all those songs. That’s when it all came together – I thought, I’ve gotta keep my promise to Mac to share our music. Even though he’s not here, he still would want me to do it. That’s how the album came together. The songs that he and I recorded are on there, and also songs that are my arrangements. When my memory finally came back with the piano, that’s when I really started working on my album. It’s called Journey and was released in April 2020.
That’s right when the pandemic started. How did an album release happen with those limitations?
You have to plan ahead when doing albums – we planned to release it in April and then the world was shut down during the pandemic. No one had any idea that was going to happen. That was quite a shock. But I ended up having the coolest experience, really special. When we were in the quarantine lockdown, I was able to go to so many people’s doorsteps and give them one. I ended up giving away more free ones than I ever sold, and it meant so much more to me. I felt like I was fulfilling that promise that I made to Mac, to see people smile during the pandemic because I was able to give them this album. I was able to take it to some of the friends that Mac and I had made at the care center, dropping it at the front desk. Just seeing people’s face light up – it was incredible, a really special experience that I’ll always remember.
2020’s just been a really different year for everyone. So it’s been really cool to see how this album has been sunshine for the world. Just to see the lives that it’s touched and the messages that I get – people say it’s brought a lot of peace to their lives, it’s brought a lot of joy, especially at this time.
There’s a song on the album called Embrace Your Journey – I just sat down at the piano and it just kind of came out. I really feel like it’s been the story of the album and Mac’s and my lives – embrace your journey, whatever it is. Mac was blind and I struggled with health challenges, brain injuries – yet we’re supposed to embrace it. The journey you’re on is the one God wants you to be on. Trust Him. There’s a purpose for you. The lessons that we learn from our challenges will help us to help others. We can be that light that we need to be for the world.
I like that phrase. How do you feel that you have embraced your journey now that you’re on the other side of these health challenges?
From embracing it, I’ve definitely learned to just accept the journey you’re on is the one God wants you to be on. Whether the healing comes or not, or the miracles and answers come now or a year from now, or if they don’t come at all in this life, God is with you. Mac always said to me, “If you have a pulse, you have a purpose.” Embrace every day and you are not alone.
Is there anything else you want to share?
We have the choice about a relationship with God. Choose to see God every day in your life. Look for those unexpected blessings. Look for those you can serve – we rise by serving others. For me, for my healing, it often does not come quickly. But when you look for the little things in your every-day life, or when you find someone you can serve, you can see Him in there and you can see those unexpected blessings.
What’s an unexpected blessing that you’ve seen recently?
I was able to share my music yesterday with someone who’s having a faith crisis experience in their life and going through a really intense health trial as well. It was so cool to be able to see that from my experiences, I was able to help someone. I’m able to have empathy for others in a way that I never would have before. And to be what Mac taught me – we can be happy no matter what, it’s okay, we can get through this no matter the outcome. So it was really a unique thing to be able to experience that with someone and help them, after I was helped in so many different ways by Mac. Now I’ve been able to be there for someone I didn’t even know, to share my talents and my gifts and help brighten their day.
At A Glance
Name: Emily Farmer
Martial History: Single
Occupation: Musician and public speaker
Convert to the Church: Born into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Education: Rigby High School
Languages Spoken at Home: English
Favorite Hymn: Where Can I Turn for Peace
Interview Produced By: Trina Caudle