The death of a child is the most devastating loss a person can experience. Many people never recover completely from the overwhelming sense of loss and grief. Marriages crumble; relationships fall apart; despair becomes a part of the fabric of daily life.
Yet most parents who have lost a child do manage to carry on. Somehow, they move through the intense grief and find a place where memories comfort rather than torment them. For Eric Clapton, music was the catalyst that helped him find that place.
Soon after the death of his son Conor in a tragic fall, Clapton wrote a trio of songs that expressed many of the conflicting emotions he felt at the time. The best known of these is the Grammy award-winning ballad “Tears in Heaven,” in which Clapton asks the question every grieving person asks at some point: “Will I ever see my loved one again? And if I do, will they remember me?”
The song begins:
“Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you be the same
If I saw you in heaven? “
Clapton later explained in an interview with the online magazine Mojo that he wrote the lyrics “because I don’t really know…I have a belief in a higher power, but I don’t really know whether – most of those old religious things say, ‘See you over there.’ And you think, ‘Really? How do you know?’”
Of course, he doesn’t know. No one does. Many people take great comfort in the belief that they will be reunited with their loved ones in the afterlife. Yet death is by its nature unknowable, and what happens after we die will always be a mystery to those left behind. This is almost certainly the sentiment behind the lines that follow:
“I must be strong, and carry on,
‘Cause I know I don’t belong here in heaven.”
Clapton later talked about his life unraveling after Conor died. In 2005, 14 years later, he said, “I think it won’t make sense to me for maybe another 10 years.” Such is the nature of profound grief.
“Tears in Heaven” is about not knowing and carrying on anyway. It’s about trusting that somehow things will fall into place even though we cannot even begin to fathom how. And it is, in the end, about faith — faith that death is not something we should fear.
In the last lines before the refrain, Clapton sings:
Beyond the door there’s peace I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven.
Clapton believed his son was at peace, even if there were no answers for the questions that haunted him. And isn’t that what we all really want to believe about death? That it is a peaceful transition and, perhaps, even a beautiful release?
Watch a video of Eric Clapton singing “Tears in Heaven” below.