play it sweet in heaven


Do not judge a song by its duration
Nor by the number of its notes
Judge it by the way it touches and lifts the soul
Sometimes those unfinished are among the most beautiful…
And when something has enriched your life
And when it’s melody lingers on in your heart.
Is it unfinished?
Or is it endless?

~ Author unknown


For those of you who have not yet heard the awful news, I’m so sorry to have to share that Tucker Gowen passed away yesterday morning. He passed peacefully, surrounded by family, and held in the love and prayers of those far and wide whose lives he had indelibly changed simply by the way that he lived his.

This isn’t the way the story was supposed to go. It just wasn’t.

My heart is shattered. For Jeni, for Truck, for Aisling, Lochlan, Finnian and Tristan. For all of us.

This wasn’t the way the story was supposed to go.

Telling Katie was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. “But I really believed that he was going to get well, Mama,” she said. “I really believed that.”

I wiped tears from her cheeks again and again, but they wouldn’t stop coming.

“He’s happy now,” she said. “I know he’s happy now. So why am I so sad?”

I told her that it was okay to be sad. That even when we know that someone is in a better place, we mourn their loss. We mourn the time that we could have had together and we mourn for those who will feel it the most.

“I’m so sad for Mrs. Gowen,” she said. “And Mr. Gowen. And all of Tuck’s siblings …”

She dissolved into tears.

We talked about Heaven. About what it must feel like there. I said that I was sure that there was no time in Heaven. That Tuck wouldn’t miss his family because it would feel like just a second of being alone. She said, “No, they’re with him there, Mama. Even though they’re not, they are. Heaven is like that.”

We decided that it must be filled with music. That Tuck could play whatever he wanted and jam with all the other musicians up there. For the first time she smiled. “Mama, he doesn’t need the keyboard now. They’ve got one that’s WAY cooler than anything on earth. And it doesn’t need to plug into his laptop. Heck, it doesn’t need to plug into anything. He can play the clouds!”

She asked what we would do about the bake sale now. I told her that we will do what we planned to do all along. We will bake and send the cookies and brownies to everyone who ordered them. We will talk to Child Life – and Jeni when she’s ready – about the best way to use the money for the Oncology floor and / or the ICU. And whatever we do will be in Tuck’s name. I told her that when Jeni is ready we will talk to her about the $800 that was set aside for the keyboard. That we’ll figure it all out when the time is right. But that no matter what, we will find the best way to use it all to honor and remember Tuck.

She tried to smile, but the tears wouldn’t stop. “It feels so wrong to be sad,” she said. “I know he’s happy now. I just can’t help feeling so sad.”

I held my sweet girl as she cried. “It’s okay to feel sad, baby. It’s okay to feel anything that you feel.”

Finally, she looked at me and said, “Mama, do you remember that song? The one that goes, ‘I’m not crying cause I feel sorry for you, I’m crying for me’?”

“I sure do, baby,” I said. And together we pieced together the lyrics from Wayman’s song that we remembered.

I’m gonna miss that smile
I’m gonna miss you my friend
Even though it hurts the way it ended up
I’d do it all again
So play it sweet in Heaven
‘Cause that’s right where you wanna be
I’m not crying ’cause I feel so sorry for you
I’m crying for me

To Jeni, Truck, Aisling, Lochlan, Finnian and Tristan … I hope to God you can feel even a fraction of the love that we are sending. I cannot fathom your grief. It is beyond comprehension. But please know that we hold you close in our hearts and our prayers as you make your way through the days ahead.

To Tuck … You will be desperately missed. But please know this .. You changed us all. You brought us together, and that ain’t no small thing. Play it sweet in Heaven, kid.


33 thoughts on “play it sweet in heaven

  1. This is beautiful! I love how you put into words how I feel. There is such a heaviness in my heart- I truly hoped that Jeni’s wish for a miracle was on its way.

  2. Beautifully said. His family has been in my thoughts since I read the news yesterday. And I also thought about Katie — and what a blow this would be to her. Hugs and prayers all around.

  3. My love, support, and prayers go out to Tucker’s family. We were all praying he would pull through this. No words can take away the enormous pain for them right now. I just hope they know we are all holding them up with prayer.
    I had a sister, who died of cancer. It was 2 years before I was born, but I have seen the life long effect it’s had on my parents, brother, and sister. In turn, it changed my life too.
    Tucker’s strength and love touched so many people. Your family’s story reached far and wide. He will live on in all of our memories. I hope you all feel the love and support we are sending you. And I hope that it’s some small comfort during this incredibly difficult time.

  4. Beautifully written. This is so devastating – even for those of us who never knew Tuck. No child should ever have to suffer through what he did, and no mother should ever have to bury her child. It’s just unnatural. My heart goes out to his family. Thank you for allowing us to get to know Tuck through your blog.

  5. You introduced this lovely family to me. I so feared this outcome as I read the most recent postings about his declining health. I hoped for a miracle. I pray for peace and healing for this family.

    I also would like to say to Katie that she is so sweet, wise, and thoughtful for a person of any age. I admit to thinking of her feelings after hearing the news and hoped she would not be too heartbroken. I imagine that Katie will accomplish many great things and perform many kind deeds in the future.

  6. My heart goes out to Tuck’s family, and also to his many friends. Wishing you all healing and peace in good time.

    Such beautiful words Jess.

  7. There is so much I would like to say…but finding the words through the tears is proving a challenge. Praying for all who are grieving the Loss.

    To Katie, I need to say this though,,,Precious girl You are an amazing Young Lady and It’s Ok to cry. We are walking this out with my youngest as well…Her Best friend Lost His fight with Cancer in August. The tears fall frequently, but she said ” I don’t cry for Him, I know He is not in pain anymore. I Cry for me, because I miss Him so much it hurts.”

    To Katie, and to my own Daughter, It’s OK to Cry and It’s OK to Hurt. I Truly wish that this was not a path you have to walk out so Young, But You are BOTH amazing Young Ladies, BOTH wonderful siblings to precious children on the spectrum, and BOTH have hearts big enough to take this world and make it a better place.

    Praying for Peace and Comfort. and Tuck and Barrett…Play it sweet in Heaven Boys.

  8. Oh… I am so very sorry for that sweet family. No words can ever express their loss. Hugs, Prayers, and comfort to them all and to you and yours.

  9. Tears fall freely as I read this…tears for the family, for all of the friends, for sweet Katie and all she has done and her insight. I am one that deals with tragedy by trying to find a positive…a connection that may add to the beauty and mystery of the world we all share…it is a survival instinct for me.
    May the entire family find peace when they are ready…may we all forever hold onto the lessons that Tuck and his family taught us…may we always remember all of the strangers that donated time, cells, or love.
    Thank you for introducing us all to Tuck…may we all grieve together…once again, we are not alone.

  10. I only learned of Tucks story today, because of a postponed football game. I am reading this blog with tears streaming. I am so sorry for your loss. There are just no words. Please know that all of us, from Stratford, are thinking of you all and keeping you in our prayers. I think that I can speak for us all, we will be keeping our children a little closer and appreciating the time we do have. This makes us all realize that there is never enough. I can only hope that our thoughts and prayers are a bit of comfort.

  11. Beautiful writing- beautiful sentiment. An old friend of Jeni’s who reconnected through this, I imagine your postings have carried her through some rough days. You are a great example to us all. Thanks for your words that hit the core.

  12. This is so lovely… and I am so moved by your thoughts about heaven because I have always believed it to be the very same way… no tears, no missing, so pain…just love and laughter. Thanks to you and Katie for helping to articulate the enormity of this loss (even for those who never met any of the Gowens in person) and for offering hope, as well…that seems appropriate given the example Tucker and his family have set for us all.

  13. that was absolutely beautiful. I only just heard about this incredible young man and I am so sorry to hear of his passing. No family should have to mourn this loss. My condolences to them and all who knew him. May he rest in peace and indeed, play it sweet in heaven.

  14. Following this journey has been incredible! In many ways…
    Thoughts and memories of my BFF who died at 41years young from cancer.. leaving behind a 5 year old and a 9 year old… The affects on the children are intense.. The 5 year old has been my “5th” child for the last ten years.. Each year on the anniversary of her death and again afew months later on her birthday, my daughter , her daughter and I get / bake a cake and the three of us eat and celebrate her life at the gravesite and plant flowers . It has been our tradition and now that our girls are 16…. It has become soo special! Of course we all wish that it was 4 of us eating cake… But we are able to keep Theresa in our memories and for her daughter we have an unbroken bond.. The two girls have already begun planning this years.. Oct 25 and Feb 4…
    So … The bake sale should become the celebration of Tucker…

  15. I am Tucker’s Aunt Karen and I just have to say that this is the loveliest piece I have read since we lost our angel boy and am touched beyond words. Thank you to you and your daughter for sharing. I know that when Jeni, Truck and the kids are able to take the time to read this they will cherish each and every word. We certainly have been blessed to have Tucker in our lives and I am certain that he is already “playing the clouds!’
    Now I must remember to stop and listen for those tunes! Thank you again!

  16. so poetic, brought tears to my eyes. Not only is the family mourning the loss but a community that came together. he truly touched so many people in a short amount of time.

  17. when my friends grandma had Leukemia the hardest part was saying our farewells, some reason I took it harder then when my own grandmother had past away maybe I didn’t grieve at that time course seeing the hurt in the families eyes is beyond baring. We’re only here for a short time make the best be the best, love like there is no tomorrow,
    Prayers to all the family

  18. That was the most beautiful passage. Tears flowed down my face as I continued to read every word. It is never easy. There is never enough words to express the sympathy we feel for those whom love someone they love greater and deeper than they’ve ever loved themselves.

    We are lucky creatures to be given the gift of loving our children more than ourselves or anything in this universe.

    We are lucky to experience the most beautiful and fulfilling gift to give birth to children and share every step they make as they walk through their own paths in life.

    Sometimes, for unknown reasons, their paths get interrupted and their paths go in a different direction. I will never understand why nor will I ever like the idea.

    My son too lost his battle to Leukemia and I hate every second of it.

    I will never understand why it had to be so hard for my baby to suffer like that just to be taken in the end anyway but, now, after almost 6 years, I understand that he must be lucky to be in a place of divinity and paradise and it was self-indulgent of me to assume that paradise with only being here with me.

    May Tuck and Kyle be fly together in paradise. I can only hope that Kyle greeted your son and and Tuck teaches him to ride his bike now without training wheels or swim without wings. Please let them share beauty and joy together and laugh endlessly.

    My Kyle LOVED to laugh before Leukemia and I know that they are laughing and playing music together!

    May the pain and grief ease up day by day and know that people do understand and can empathize and suffer silently or alone by their laptops along with you during this time.

    With the Deepest Sympathy,
    Donna Fischthal
    Kyle’s Mom

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