"Ronan" may be the saddest song I've ever heard.
In it, Taylor Swift borrows the words of a real-life Phoenix mother who lost her son, Ronan, three days before his fourth birthday in May 2011.
Swift had been following Maya Thompson's blog, rockstarronan.com, as she chronicled her son's fight against a form of brain cancer called neuroblastoma. In the end, Ronan succumbed. And Swift's spare lullaby achingly sets to music a mother's beautiful feelings for her son as they mingle with gut-wrenching grief.
"I remember your bare feet down the hallway," the song begins lovingly, "I remember your little laugh/Race cars on the kitchen floor, plastic dinosaurs/I love you to the moon and back."
I was in tears by the end of that first verse, thinking about my own three small children, and the LEGOs and dinosaurs and baby toys scattered about our own floor at home. More of mom's memories flood the second verse: "I remember your blue eyes looking into mine/Like we had our own secret club/I remember you dancing before bedtime/Then jumping on me, waking me up."
Then, the diagnosis: "And even the moment I knew/You fought it hard like an Army guy/ … Come on, baby, we're gonna fly away from here/Out of this curtained room and this hospital gray/We'll just disappear."
And grief: "I remember the drive home/When the blind hope turned to crying and screaming 'Why?'/Flowers pile up in the worst way, no one knows what to say/About a beautiful boy who had died."
Perhaps the most overwhelming verse comes next as a broken mother imagines what might have been: "And it's about to be Halloween/You could be anything you wanted if you were still here/I remember the last day when I kissed your face/I whispered in your ear/ … You were my best four years."
Swift debuted the emotional song—with a co-writing credit going to Maya Thompson, from whose blog the words were taken—at the Stand Up 2 Cancer charity telethon on Sept. 7, 2012. Two days later, "Ronan" debuted on iTunes, where it immediately shot to No. 1. All proceeds from the song, Swift has noted, will go to cancer-related charities.
Writing in her blog to her deceased son, Thompson (who has nine-year-old twins and is pregnant), told Ronan about the day Taylor called to say she'd written a song for him, and that the country star would be premiering it at an internationally televised telethon:
"It's been 5 days since I got the Taylor call. I'm having to keep this hush hush for now which I totally understand. I am still in complete and utter shock at this point. … If you had to die Ronan, and I have to live on this earth without you… you can be d‑‑n sure, I am going to make something amazing come out of it. This is by far, the most amazing thing that I could ever have imagined… times 1,000,000,0000. I could not have dreamed up any of this happening, in my head. How that girl, with the most sparkling blue eyes, that remind me so much of you… is about to finally give a face and a voice to childhood cancer that it needs so desperately. Now, people will want to pay attention. Now, maybe childhood cancer will get the awareness/funding/and attention that it deserves. Now, maybe less children will die in the future due to somebody huge, stepping up and caring. Taylor Swift, just changed the face of this disease and all I can do is sit here and sob about it. But I am sobbing in a way that I never sob anymore. Because I am so unbelievably happy, Ronan. This is all because of you and our love story. One that will live on forever and do such good things in this world. All with the help of an amazing girl who just happens to be named, Taylor Swift."