A tragically universal human emotion is loss. Grief takes so many forms throughout life, often leaving us loss for words.
Country music provides some of the most soulful, moving pieces of art that depict and explore the inner workings of a grieving soul. Here are some country songs about losing someone and death.
“The Dance” by Garth Brooks
Song Year: 1989
This iconic hit by Garth Brooks was inspired by a film. After Brooks saw Peggy Sue Got Married, he was struck with inspiration to write a song about how trying to change the past just leads to ruin.
While many interpret The Dance as being a love song, Brooks asserts that it represents those who have died for their dream. Martyrdom can also be incredibly personal, pinning the totality of an individual’s existence on a single ideal.
“Five More Minutes” by Scotty McCreery
Song Year: 2017
This emotional song from American Idol breakout Scotty McCreery mourns the passing of his grandfather. He begs for, as the title suggests, five more minutes with a loved one – somehting many people relate to as they reminisce for their loved ones.
Given his performances on American Idol as a teenager, many fans of the industry were surprised to experience this new, mature sound. However, it paid off in a major way. This single made music history for being the first country song to chart without the help of a record label.
“If I Had Only Known” by Reba McEntire
Song Year: 1991
In this moving piece, Reba McEntire expressed how she would’ve cherished the lingering moments she could have shared with someone who has departed. Of course, in this case, her ability to savor those moments was prevented by her ignorance in not realizing how little time they had left together.
This song serves as a potent reminder of the fleeting nature of time. Only the youngest children are unaware of death and its certainty. Yet, the passing of a loved one is almost universally a horrible surprise. McEntire encourages her audience to act on the knowledge at our disposal, lest we regret leaning into our ignorance.
“Go Rest High on That Mountain” by Vince Gill
Song Year: 1994
This song won Vince Gill a Country Music Award, but that attention didn’t make it any easier for him to discuss the inspiration behind the song.
A deeply personal piece of music, “Go Rest High on That Mountain,” is inspired by the the deaths of two people close to Gill. The passing of fellow musician Keith Whitley inspired Gill to try his hand at writing a song about Whitley’s killer, alcoholism.
However, it wasn’t until Gill’s half-brother Bob Coen passed in a tragic accident that Gill was able to write Go Rest High on That Mountain.
“Over You” by Miranda Lambert
Song Year: 2011
This song was co-written by Miranda Lambert’s then-husband Blake Shelton about a horrific tragedy he suffered as a teenager. Shelton’s older brother died in a car accident, an event still too difficult to discuss decades later.
With Lambert’s help and voice, Shelton was able to express his grief at last. The refrain of the song is an assertion that the singer will never ‘get over the lost loved one. The song and the music video center heavily on the image of a headstone marking a grave.
“Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw
Song Year: 2004
Live Like You’re Dying is an inspirational song despite its dark origins. Tim McGraw based this famous single on the experiences of loved ones diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment for their disease. McGraw’s father passed within days of the song being recorded.
While both the inspiration for and the tone of the song reflect are tragic, the message is much brighter. Listeners are encouraged to carpe diem, seize the day and live life to its fullest.
“You Should Be Here” by Cole Swindell
Song Year: 2015
Cole Swindell wrote this emotional song about the passing of his father. Not only did Swindell lose his father, but it seemed to occur at an especially tragic time. Swindell’s father lived to see Cole sign with a record label but not to see the success Swindell enjoyed afterward.
Swindell laments how things are amazing but marred by the lack of his father getting to experience them. He notes how his father would document these moments and proudly display and share them.
“Blood On My Name” by The Brothers Bright
Song Year: 2012
Much mourning is done for others, but this entry takes a moment to meditate on the imminent loss that awaits all.
In this fiery tune, the speaker tries to grapple with what death will mean to them, a flawed soul. They often reference Lazarus, a biblical character raised from the dead, as a miracle done by Jesus Christ. The speaker wonders what debts were incurred by this resurrection and how one can afford a gift as precious as life.
“Cryin’ For Me” by Toby Keith
Song Year: 2009
The title of this song references the speaker, Toby Keith, weeping not for the departed but for himself, the living who is left to do the grieving. The departed, in this case, was Wayman Tisdale. Keith intended to perform Cryin’ For Me at Tisdale’s funeral but found that he was unable to do so due to emotion. He instead played a Willie Nelson song.
“If I Die Young” by The Band Perry
Song Year: 2010
Singer-songwriter Kimberly Perry brings us this emotional song on the tragedy of dying before one’s time. “If I Die Young” depicts the heartbreaking theoretical of a young woman passing away. Perry ponders how those who may feel silenced in life have their voices amplified in death.
The song is overflowing with imagery that grounds the often overwhelming topic.
The singer describes a coffin lined in satin and laid to rest on flowers. An emotional line mentions the singer’s mother, her hair yet to gray, mourning her lost child. The last verse admonishes the listener to save their tears for when they are needed. The song will hit home hard for anyone who has lost a child.
“Holes in the Floor of Heaven” by Steve Wariner
Song Year: 1998
Holes in the Floor of Heaven is a song that reflects on not one loss but two. This song is often emotional for older listeners who have undergone many periods of grief in their lives.
Whenever the speaker experiences rain, he surmises that it must come from heaven. Rain is the tears shed by his departed loved ones, mourning their separation. Even so, these tears are meant to comfort as well. This is supposed to remind the speaker that they are being watched and cherished at the most vital moments.
The song ends with a vivid description of the speaker’s daughter’s wedding. It rains at the wedding, usually a bad omen, moving the speaker to great grief. However, his daughter reminds him that it is their lost loved ones wanting to watch the wedding as well.
“Love, Me” by Collin Raye
Song Year: 1991
This emotional song depicts the love story of the speaker’s grandparents. Grandmother’s father was no fan of the future Grandfather, meaning that their meetings must have been conducted in secret. Thus instead of signing his name, Grandfather would sign his notes ‘Love, Me’.
On one such rendezvous, Grandmother left a note saying that she wasn’t sure when she’d be able to meet with Grandfather, but she would do her best to meet with him once her work was complete. Regardless, she assured him that they would be together.
Decades later, at Grandmother’s funeral, the speaker witnesses his Grandfather cry for the first time in fifteen years. He reads the note once given to him, saying that he isn’t sure when he’ll see her again, but once his work is finished, he trusts that they’ll be reunited.
“I Drive Your Truck” by Lee Brice
Song Year: 2012
This song was inspired by an interview Brice saw of a father mourning the death of his son. This father would drive in his late son’s truck to feel close to his memory of him. Brice then wrote a song of a similar concept, where the speaker drives the truck that belonged to his departed brother.
More than the truck itself, the beginning of the song describes the detritus left in the car by the departed. The narrator never changes the station that his brother had left it on, and he never cleans the trash out of the car. The change in the cupholder goes unpocketed – even when grief is no longer fresh, those last effects have great power.
“Goodbye Earl” by the Chicks
Song Year: 1999
This early hit from The Chicks tells the story of an abused woman making the difficult choice to try to escape her husband. Unfortunately, this escape is unsuccessful. The husband increases in physical violence, and local law enforcement lends little aid. In the hospital, a dear friend comes to console the wife as they try to grapple with how to defeat a monster.
This song is often seen as comedic, but the undertones carry much deeper grief. The feeling of being trapped by a man who has become much more than that is absolutely real for many in abusive partnerships. The choice that the two women eventually make is not one done lightheartedly.
They decide to turn the tables on Earl, poisoning him and hiding the body. It is only with his death that the two of them can live full lives, tragic though the loss be.
“See You Again” by Carrie Underwood
Song Year: 2012
See You Again was originally intended to be included in the Chronicles of Narnia franchise. Carrie Underwood wrote the song of farewell for the installment, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. However, she and her team also pitched two other tracks. Disney instead chose the song “There’s a Place For Us.”
Still, this single found a home on Underwood’s fourth studio album. The official music video snagged a Country Music Award, and the song was nominated.
The music video features multiple emotional reunions, including, controversially, parents reuniting with their children after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting.
“Why” by Rascal Flatts
Song Year: 2009
This challenging song tackles the grief felt by those who have had a loved one take their own life. Missing the departed becomes much more complicated and emotional in difficult circumstances. All members of the band have said that the track “Why” challenged them due to all three of them having personal connections with the subject matter.
The speaker finds themselves asking why as a refrain throughout the piece. They blame themselves for not noticing the pain their friend was in, wondering what they would have done differently had they understood the magnitude of the pain their loved one was experiencing.
They find themselves unable to enjoy the life around them, so preoccupied are they with the notion that their loved one is no longer present to share in the experience. In the end, the speaker demands to know who told the departed that their life wasn’t worth living and calls that person a liar for managing to deceive the departed.
“There You’ll Be” by Faith Hill
Song Year: 2001
This song by Faith Hill describes the speaker dealing with grief by reminding themselves of all the ways the memory of the departed manifests in the world around her. She says that in her dreams and in her heart that memory still flourishes and beats.
The song is part of the Pearl Harbor (2001) soundtrack. The film is romantic and tragic. The attack on Pearl Harbor comes late in the movie, after the establishment of a love story. The movie tries to humanize those lost in the attack, deeply fictionalized though the depiction be.
“If Tomorrow Never Comes” by Garth Brooks
Song Year: 1989
This power ballad by Garth Brooks is a tender look into his private life and how love and grief are intertwined.
At the time of writing, Brooks’ then-wife was alive and well. However, his anxiety and knowledge of death make him fret over the eventuality that awaits us all and how he would possibly cope with losing someone so dear to him.
He wonders whether if he passed whether his wife would understand how much he cared for her. The devoted husband whether he's provided for her, whether she will be ready to face the world without him at her side. He expressed his regret for failing to communicate to those who have already gone how deep his care for them runs.
“Little Lion Man” by Mumford and Sons
Song Year: 2009
While this song does not use the word death, it is about the loss of a loved one. The singer blames themself, over and over, for the things they should have done to make the relationship work.
The singer asserts that the one the song is directed to is young, naive, yet repeating their mistakes without learning from them. The singer designates this person to be anxious, and their fretting leads to their downside. While this song may seem like a cautionary tale, it winds up a scream of mourning for what should have been done in the past. A lesson for others to take heart to and avoid similiar mistakes.
Popular Country Songs About Losing Someone, Final Thoughts
Whether old age, accidents, or even self-destruction takes a loved one from us, some people understand that pain and found those impossible words to describe the shape of it. From the scions of the old country to the stars of today, themes of loss permeate the industry and still shape the soul of the country music of tomorrow.