Taylor Swift inspired by Phoenix mother's grief

Ed Masley, The Arizona Republic
Maya Thompson's son Ronan died of cancer at age 4. She blogged about losing her son, and singer Taylor Swift wrote a heartrending song inspired by the mother's anguish.

Maya Thompson didn't know she was writing the words to a chart-topping hit for Taylor Swift when she was working through the sadness of losing her child to cancer.

Thompson hadn't even heard the song, in fact, until Swift premiered Ronan, a heartbreaking ballad with lyrics based entirely on Thompson's blog, on Friday night during the Stand Up to Cancer telethon.

"It was pretty emotional," Thompson says in her Phoenix living room three days after the telethon.

Thompson is the mother of 9-year-old twins, Quinn and Liam. She and her husband, Woody, have a baby due in April."I don't think there was a dry eye in the house. I'm surprised I wasn't on the floor bawling."

Her son Ronan died in May 2011, three days before he would have turned 4. She worked through her grief, in part, by writing a blog called Rockstar Ronan,

Losing a child, Thompson says, is "the worst thing that could happen to a family," and hearing the words from her blog set to music "was kind of like reliving it again, but it's something I'll probably always relive."

It's hard to imagine anyone not having an emotional reaction to the song, as a clearly shaken Swift performed it at the telethon.

A richly detailed portrait of a mother's love, heartbreak and loss, it sets the tone with an aching, understated vocal, accompanied only by a finger-picked guitar, on the opening line: "I remember your bare feet down the hallway/I remember your little laugh/Race cars on the kitchen floor/Plastic dinosaurs/I love you to the moon and back."

As the song goes on, it addresses Ronan's fight against neuroblastoma through the eyes of a clearly devastated mother.

"You fought it hard like an Army guy," Swift sings, a tremble in her voice. "Remember I leaned in and whispered to you, 'Come on, baby, with me, we're gonna fly away from here.' You were my best four years."

And it somehow only gets increasingly emotional from there, with Swift singing, "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 died/And it's about to be Halloween/You could be anything you wanted if you were still here."

Tears welling in the corners of her eyes, Thompson says, "She took my words and tweaked them in the most beautiful way."

The two met in October 2011, when Swift invited Thompson to her concert at Arena.

"She had been reading my blog for a while and heard that Ronan had passed away," Thompson says. "And she was just devastated by it."

The Swift song is available on iTunes, where by Sunday morning, it had topped the charts, replacing another Swift hit, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.

Proceeds from those sales will go to cancer-related charities.

Even before the Swift song, Ronan's death had inspired the creation of the Ronan Thompson Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to finding a cure for neuroblastoma and funding research, both traditional and non-traditional, to reduce the number of children affected by the disease and its mortality threshold.

Carolyn Oberholtzer, president of the foundation, says, "First, you want awareness for your cause. Then, you need resources. And the fact that 100 percent of the proceeds are going to cancer-related charities has far-reaching implications for children with cancer. There's a dedicated revenue stream. It's incredible."

Asked how it felt to see a song based on her blog hit No.1 on iTunes' sales chart, Thompson smiles.

"I've been pinching myself ever since," she says.

"It's ... putting a face to childhood cancer that we didn't have before. Nobody wants to talk about childhood cancer. It's too sad. But the sad thing is there are 46 kids diagnosed a day and seven of those kids will die a day.

"It's sad that no one wants to pay attention to that. And I think now that she's taken this stand, it's just going to do incredible things for the awareness."

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