Today, as I stood at my son’s grave, I could hear the song “21 Years” by TobyMac rolling through my mind as the tears poured down my cheeks. I have listened to this song a variety of times these last days. This song is newly released, and I was almost immediately told about it upon it’s release by my dear friend Hannah and then as the day continued on by my sweet cousin Tara and other loving friends.
I did not realize that TobyMac lost his son until I heard about this song. For those of you who are unaware, TobyMac is a christian rapper. His oldest son, Truett Foster McKeehan died on October 23, 2019 in Nashville. Truett is the oldest of TobyMac’s five children and was an aspiring musician. I was not able to find a cause of death, but I did see where the Davidson County Medical Examiner’s Office was looking into the cause of death.
In releasing “21 Years”, TobyMac shared a note detailing his grief that followed his son’s death that he tweeted on January 10, 2020. It is as follows: “21 Years is a song I wrote about the recent passing of my firstborn son, Truett Foster McKeehan. I loved him with all my heart. Until something in life hits you this hard, you never know how you will handle it. I am thankful that I have been surrounded by love, starting with God’s and extending to community near and far that have walked with us and carried us every day. Writing this song felt like an honest confession of the questions, pain, anger, doubt, mercy, and promise that describes the journey I’m probably only beginning. The rest is yet to come. One thing I know is that I am not alone. God didn’t promise us a life of no pain or even tragic death, but He did promise He would never leave us or forsake us. And I’m holding dearly to that promise for my son as well as myself.”
His words continue to play over in my mind. For those of you who know me, then it will not surprise you to know that I love that this song is real. I love that he includes his questions, pain, anger, doubt, mercy and promise. When I watched the video, then I was amazed at how symbolic the scenery was. TobyMac is singing in darkness that is surrounding him. The rain is pouring down throughout the video. The darkness and storm are so symbolic of the feelings and battles that feel all consuming when you have to bury your own child. I deeply understand feeling that sense of darkness and storms surrounding me. When I had to bury my only son in June 2013 at the age of 18, I felt this darkness and the storm so strongly that it felt as if it extended to the core of my being. It was so hard to see the light. Somewhere in me, I knew the light was still there, but the darkness seemed so vast and all consuming. I was glad that he used this scenery to symbolize how it feels to a parent who has lost their child.
When you watch TobyMac in the song then his body language clearly depicts the struggle and heartwrenching pain that is felt as he looks off in the distance… looking up to heaven as he questions… hands on his head… shaking his head… looking down… questioning with his hands and arms… crossing his arms as if to hold himself… tears on his cheeks… clenched fists… walking through the darkness… as he sings “ohhhhhh” so loudly and powerfully then the pain on his face is so clear… flashes of his beautiful son are incorporated into the end of the video… it was so well done. It is honest. It is real. It is a true picture of a glimpse into the grief of a parent who had to bury his/her child.
As TobyMac shared in his statement, the lyrics are honest… The song begins with how his “heart was shattered in a thousand ways”… his questioning, “why would You give and then take him away… suddenly end could You not let it fade?” These words and questions are such honest images of how I feel without my boy…. I have often described it as my heart being broken or literally ripped out of my chest… the questioning of why, why was he not protected… how could he just be gone in an instant with no preparation and no time to have any kind of closure or anything with my son… those questions and thoughts are so strong in his line “suddenly end could You not let it fade?” From my understanding, TobyMac had no preparation or any kind of closure with his son either… he was on tour and his son was home and died sometime during the night or early morning…
TobyMac says, “I just can’t make sense of this. Everything is so dissonant. Somebody said he was meant for this But I’m just straight missing him.” That is one of the most heartbreaking parts of the journey of a parent burying a child… it is not being able to be make sense of why your child had to die. Your heart and mind scream for answers… just somehow wanting to make sense of it, and yet my heart and mind cannot make sense of it. I have had to continue to work hard to receive the peace that passes understanding that The Bible talks about. The questions and the wanting to understand are so real and felt with everything in me… yet I have to continue to go back to a place of acceptance that I will not understand the why of my son’s death… peace that passes understanding means acceptance of my not understanding. It is a huge battleground in my heart and mind and for those parents who have lost a child.
I love how he incorporates what he misses about his son… those are things that don’t leave you. When you bury your child, that is not the end of their life in your heart and mind if you are their parent… what I have had to do while I am missing all of the things that I miss about my son with all of my heart is somehow learn to carry him with me. My love for my boy is just as deep and real six and a half years after he has died as it was the day before he died.
In the chorus, TobyMac is wondering what it is like for his son now… “Is it just across the Jordan or a city in the stars? Are you singing with the angels? Are you happy where you are? Well until this show is over and you run into my arms, God has you in heaven But I have you in my heart.” That is where the hope of the promise comes in. Knowing that his son is in heaven with God gives him that everlasting hope that he will see his son again. That hope brings comfort to Christian parents who have had a child die, but it does not take away the pain of the struggle of being without them.
I am thankful that TobyMac is clinging to the promise that he is not alone… that God in His Word has promised to never leave him nor forsake him. It is so easy to feel so alone on this journey of child loss… I have had to be reminded countless times through this journey and battles that I am not alone. Even if I feel alone… even if it seems that no one is around… God has promised that He will never leave me nor forsake me… I cling to that promise. I cling to that hope. I will continue to do my best to plant my feet on that truth from God’s word… He is with me. He is my comforter. He loves me in my pain. He loves me in my questions. He is the strength of my heart.
In the end of the song, TobyMac sings, “21 years, what a beautiful loan. 21 years, I love everyone. Thank You, Lord, for my beautiful son.” What a beautiful way to end this song of such pain and heartbreak. In the midst of his deep pain, he still says thank you. Thank You Lord for the years that he had with his son. I am ever thankful that I can feel this gratitude deeply in the depths of my soul as well… 18 years, what a beautiful loan. Thank You Lord, for my beautiful son.
As I stood at my son’s grave today, in the midst of my heartache and pain as I continue to love and miss my only son, I am so thankful that I can have that gratitude… 18 years, what a beautiful loan. Thank You Lord, for my beautiful son.
I have put the link to the video at the bottom of this blog so that you may listen to and watch TobyMac’s beautiful, heart-wrenching video. Please continue to pray for him and his entire family. My heart and prayers are with him and his beautiful, hurting family.
Thank you to each one of you that has and continues to pray for the girls and I. Thank you to each one that has and continues to surround us in love… most of all our loving heavenly Father who comforts us deeply and puts that eternal hope in our hearts and minds. Thank you to each one who has and continues to walk with us and carry us. Thank You Father God that you will never leave us or forsake us. Thank You that we are never alone.
If you are grieving or in pain, then I pray that you know that you are not alone either. I pray that you will find others who will be with you in your pain. Someone told me to listen to this song when I was alone… I knew their intention was good; however, that continues to send the cultural message that I needed to grieve alone. Please know that you do not have to grieve or be alone in your pain. Our email is on this website if you ever want to talk or reach out. You are not alone. Please know that the girls and I care about each of you and want to be an encouragement to you. Please reach out if you need someone. Please know that you do not have to be alone in your grief and pain. We pray that God in His great love will reach out to your hurting heart and mind and fill you with His love and hope. We send our love and prayers.