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When a Child Dies #9 . . . The Healing Gift of Music

2012 February 17
by Mike

For other parents who’ve lost children: What songs, what pieces of art, what books, what poems, and what movies have spoken into your grief? Please take the time to drop a note in the comments.

Robert Plant with his son

So many songs spoke right into my grief: Led Zeppelin’s “All My Love” (written by Robert Plant as a tribute to his young son, Karac, who died in 1977 from an infection), Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” so many older hymns (“It Is Well With My Soul,” written by a grieving father, especially helped articulate my loss and hope), etc.

But perhaps no song spoke for me more than “Tears in Heaven.” Eric Clapton lost his four-year-old son, Conor, in 1991 when he fell out the window from a 53rd-floor apartment in NYC. Clapton later spoke about his sorrow in the following days: “It becomes like someone else’s life in a movie. I went into shock. It felt like I shut down . . . .”

Equally moving is Clapton’s “The Circus Left Town,” about his last day with Conor before his death:

For a long time after Megan died, movies just weren’t safe for us. Grieving parents are raw, tender. Our emotions can run from slight joy to sobbing quickly. In fact, it’s dangerous to be in any public place for a while. Some parents find they just can’t be at church for weeks or months. It’s not that their faith is weak (though it may well be shaken); it’s that they can’t control their emotions. One line of one song could send them over the line.

Still, a huge part of the healing process comes from the power of music, art, and literature. We find there expressions of true grief (not the formulaic kind of grief that gets doled out so often) and of hope.

We have survived by friends who supported us. But the healing community was much larger. So, my special thanks to those I’ll never get to meet: Wendell Berry, Henri Nouwen, Anne Lamott, Pat Conroy, C. S. Lewis, Handel, Eric Clapton, John O’Donohue, J. R. R. Tolkien, Horatio Spafford, Nicholas Wolterstorff, John Claypool, etc.

30 Responses leave one →
  1. February 17, 2012

    “Be Still, My Soul”…heard the hymn for the first time in chapel at Harding School of Theology at a point where I was most uncertain about our faith. Finally there was a song that spoke of both my grief and pain as well as the faith and hope I was trying to find again. I’ve also enjoyed listening to would be “Abide With Me,” “It Is Well, With My Soul,” and Mark Schultz’s song “Remember Me.”

    Perhaps another very healing help has been listening to the stories of others who are on this journey.

    Grace and Peace,


  2. February 17, 2012

    Rex – Yes, yes, “Be Still, My Soul” is one of my favorites. I’ve hung on these words many times:

    When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
    Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
    Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
    All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

  3. Rick Ross permalink
    February 17, 2012

    My daughter LOVED to sing, and so music has been huge to us. At her funeral, we played a CD of her singing “How Beautiful,” so there is a lot of emotion tied to that song.

    We met at the cemetery last Easter, and I played the CD “With Hope” by Steven Curtis Chapman. I haven’t found anything that expresses my emotions better. You can watch it at the following link. I have printed the lyrics below.

    This is not at all how
    We thought it was supposed to be
    We had so many plans for you
    We had so many dreams
    And now you’ve gone away
    And left us with the memories of your smile
    And nothing we can say
    And nothing we can do
    Can take away the pain
    The pain of losing you, but …

    We can cry with hope
    We can say goodbye with hope
    ‘Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
    And we can grieve with hope
    ‘Cause we believe with hope
    (There’s a place by God’s grace)
    There’s a place where we’ll see your face again
    We’ll see your face again

    And never have I known
    Anything so hard to understand
    And never have I questioned more
    The wisdom of God’s plan
    But through the cloud of tears
    I see the Father’s smile and say well done
    And I imagine you
    Where you wanted most to be
    Seeing all your dreams come true
    ‘Cause now you’re home
    And now you’re free, and …

    We have this hope as an anchor
    ‘Cause we believe that everything
    God promised us is true, so …

    So we can cry with hope
    And say goodbye with hope

    We wait with hope
    And we ache with hope
    We hold on with hope
    We let go with hope

  4. anna permalink
    February 17, 2012

    This piece of marble has saved my life:

  5. Steve Ridgell permalink
    February 17, 2012


  6. anna permalink
    February 17, 2012

    And I should have added this painting:

  7. Randy permalink
    February 17, 2012

    Being asked to do life without a child requires you to use muscles that you never knew existed. It took me several years to build up those muscles to the point where I embraced Ginny Owens’ If You Want Me To:

    “I’m not who I was when I took my first step – and I’m clinging to the promise you’re not through with me yet. So if all of these trials bring me closer to you, then I will walk through the fire if you want me to.

    “…You never said it would be easy, you only said I’d never go alone.”

  8. February 17, 2012

    There is a very beautiful song by Joe Walsh called “Song for Emma”. Mike, you might want to check that out. He wrote it after the death of his daughter Emma in 1974 as the result of a car accident while she was on her way to nursery school. Very touching.

  9. February 17, 2012

    Thanks for that reminder, gt. Here it is: Walsh said that the album it was on, his first after her death, was entitled “So What?” because nothing else now seemed important in light of that tragedy. I get that.

  10. Caarolyn Dycus permalink
    February 17, 2012

    Mike, I have just come to your blog this week and wanted to write, but finding fresh grief in the wanting. Our Lanny loved “How Beautiful” and Marti sang it lovingly, hauntingly at his memorial service. It will always be a tender thank-you song to me for the body of Christ. Driving home alone in the dark from my night classes at ACU in ’94 and ’95 listening to Dennis Jernigan’s “If I Could Just Sit with You Awhile” helped me to cry out my need to be held when no human touch could give the comfort I needed. A.M. and I both cried a lot, mostly individually, when “ambushed” with an unexpected wave of remembering “he’s gone,” However, my deepest, gut-wrenching, unrestrained sobbing , grief poured out of me in that car, protected by the dark, accompanied by Jernigan’s lament/prayer to GOD. I treasure that healing time of darkness alone with the Lord: God’s grace to me.

  11. February 18, 2012

    We had a church member who was in a band and had some recording equipment. One night Gary Boswell, youth minister for the summer Will Collins, and my son decided to record Beautiful One. We have listened to this song over and over and over again. I wish they had recorded a thousand songs so we could hear him singing once again. But we wouldn’t take a million for this one. I’ll share it with any who would like to hear it.

  12. February 18, 2012

    Thanks so much, Carolyn and John. Unfortunately, you both know way too much about this journey. And you’re both honest guides to others.

  13. Nan Deal permalink
    February 18, 2012

    Unredeemed by Selah. Just heard this one after I bought Selahs new album. You Deliver Me. Had no idea this brother and sister both are in the club. So powerful. It’s on you tube.

  14. Becky permalink
    February 18, 2012

    Thank you for this series. It has been helpful to read these posts.

    Our son, Benji, was stillborn at 38 weeks on Dec 20, 2011, due to Trisomy 18. We are working on finding our new normal and working through our grief. As a musician, music is a huge part of my life. Benji got to experience that up-close for 38 weeks. At his memorial service we had a playlist of music that included songs inspired by loss and other songs that were special to us. I won’t list all 16 songs, but here are a few that I really like: Homesick and I Can Only Imagine (MercyMe), I Will Carry You (Selah), Gone Too Soon (Daughtry), and Little Wing (Stevie Ray Vaughan).

    My husband is painting some pieces in water colors in memory of Benji. Once complete it will serve as a wonderful tribute to our precious son.

  15. February 19, 2012

    Rick and Bev,

    Thanks for the posts… we are approaching four years without Bradley!!!
    It’s a pretty bumpy road, isn’t it???
    In case you don’t remember, we know you guys from the LaMarque c of C!!!

  16. Patti Lockenbach permalink
    February 19, 2012

    Hello, Thanks for your blog. I found it today (on what would have been our sons 22nd birthday), and found some comfort reading through the posts.
    We are new to this “club”, but a song that I have found comforting is Praise You Through the Storm, by Casting Crowns.
    One of the lines is: my strength is almost gone, how can I carry on if I can’t find you.
    I barely hear your whisper in the wind “I’m with you”…………..
    I play this song alot, and find it to be comforting.
    Prayers and blessings to all of you who are going through this painful type of loss, Patti L.

  17. February 20, 2012

    Our Son Braden wrote a song for his Brother out of his grief. We all grieve so differently and being a musician, I think this was his way. Beautiful to me.

    Thanks for allowing us to all share.

  18. Sandi (Wright) Haustein permalink
    February 20, 2012

    Blessings by Laura Story
    Held by Natalie Grant
    I Will Carry You by Selah
    I Will Praise You In This Storm & Who Am I? by Casting Crowns

  19. Sandi (Wright) Haustein permalink
    February 21, 2012

    And books — One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

  20. Andrew Nicholls permalink
    February 23, 2012

    The songs that really got me through losing our Daughter Amy were:
    Homesick by Mercyme and also I sing in the worship band at church and the song that really has become my song is Keep singing by Mercyme, because people always used to ask me how I could still have faith and still sing after losing her. Homesick is about staying close to God and seeing them again one day and Keep singing is about still carrying on and still singing and praising God even through the bad times.

  21. March 6, 2012

    “The Silence of God” ( by Andrew Peterson is one of my favorite songs (which seems strange considering its theme). Andrew is, in my opinion, one of this generations greatest lyricists and has the rare ability to speak with hope to the those who know what it is to feel hopeless.

  22. March 26, 2012

    Our daughter Maggie died in May of 2011. Over the last year I’ve found that music has been my escape and my healer. Not traditional Christian music, but the complete emersion of being at a live show. (Living in Austin, TX helps. Live music whenever you want it.) The pure volume gives me anonymity and allows me to close my eyes any experience something beautiful. That’s important when beauty seems to have gone away.

    The hardest song for my wife and me has been “Blessed Be Your Name”. One major blessing of losing my daughter has been the honest relationship I’ve developed with God. I won’t pray or praise out of duty anymore. I can only do those things honestly now. But it sure is hard to be honest in singing the words to this song. “You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say Lord Blessed by Your Name.”

  23. March 26, 2012

    Stephen – Thanks so much for this note. I can identify with the healing power of music. And yes, for me it hasn’t been “Christian music,” either. And like you, I cringe a bit with “Blessed Be Your Name.” Like so many statements lifted out of scripture, it has to be nuanced. Some sing this with a picture of God as a kind of marionette. I don’t believe that at all.

  24. April 12, 2012

    My baby went home March 27th. He was 19 energetic, silly, precious months old. He loved music. He danced to anything that even resembled music. We used to joke that Damon’s mantra was “dance like everyone is watching.” I’m learning to dance in the rain.

  25. April 12, 2012

    Jodie – I love what you wrote here about your spirited Damon. I hope you seek ‘your’ music too. I also love what you wrote in your blog: “every breath hurts but I’m looking up. From now on, always looking up.” ~ Your strength is definitely found there! God bless you and your family.
    ~ blessings, Carmel

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