The day his niece died, David Dunn’s world imploded.
On September 18, 2015, David Dunn, who moved to Nashville when his music career gained momentum, was on a rare stop in his hometown of Midland, Texas. But what should have been a joyful and giggle-filled visit with his sister and two young nieces took a tragic turn when they couldn’t awaken two-year-old Moriah from her nap.
“I still get choked up talking about Mo’s death,” Dunn says. “It was completely unexpected and leaves us with heartache and so many questions. She was always healthy. It just seems unreal.”
Searching for Hope
Finding God’s faithfulness after his niece’s death wasn’t easy for David. In fact, it was hard for David to see how God could have been there at all.
“She was just beginning to recognize us as her people— to discover the world around her—when her life came to an abrupt end. There’s no way to wrap my mind around that. It doesn’t make sense,” he says.
At Mo’s memorial service, the family released yellow balloons in honor and remembrance of Mo’s short life.
“Yellow is such a happy color, bright and full of hope. That image stuck with me—the color of those balloons. It was like a search for hope set against grief floating up to the sky,” Dunn says.
When he returned to songwriting, David Dunn wanted to capture his niece’s exuberance, while still telling the story of his grief at her loss—and his subsequent searching.
Grappling with God
“My music is always about a period of my life—a working through of things,” the 32-year-old songwriter says. “And my heart kept returning to my niece and the tragedy my family experienced.”
For David, it’s usually only a matter of hours to write a song, but this time it was different. The struggle was deeper and the stakes were higher.
David Dunn says he wanted to write a song with a happy ending, but he couldn’t. “I wanted to tell the world that everything was okay because God’s still in control even when bad—really bad—things happen. But, I couldn’t write that song,” Dunn recalls.
David tried for more than eight months to pen lyrics as he grappled with God. He couldn’t quite understand why a good God would allow terrible things to happen.
Trusting in the Midst of Questions
David flew back to his hometown to see his sister, Mo’s mom.
“As an uncle, my grief was different than my sister’s, but we shared this heartache. I hoped we could find our way to a shared comfort as well.”
He wasn’t expecting a joyful visit. But what he discovered there began the healing process and deepened his ability to trust God even in the midst of questions. His sister’s attitude had a huge impact on him, David says.
“Her take on the tragedy was this: ‘I don’t know why this happened, but I do know if God isn’t with us, then it’s going to be a mountain we can’t scale. We won’t get through it,’” Dunn remembers. “That’s a faith I could live out, and the lyrics just flowed.
Together, David and his sister wrote “Yellow Balloons,” and it became the title track for his album.
“We grieved, we questioned, we mourned and we found words for expressing those things to each other. ‘Yellow Balloons’ is more than a song for me. It’s a way to question loss without saying God isn’t in control.”
David Dunn says the dark and deeply emotional song might not be considered comforting in a traditional sense. He says it’s a ballad about the refining process of tragedy, and he believes his faith has been refined after experiencing heart-wrenching loss first-hand.
“God has been with me through every step of grief over this precious little girl’s death. And He’s okay with my not being okay with this.
Beauty from Ashes
Now, David’s family is beginning to see the first remnants of God’s faithfulness after this tragedy.
“My sister and brother-in-law recently had a baby, who was conceived shortly before Mo’s death. So now we have another beautiful little girl here with us. She’s starting to learn who her people are and to discover the world around her,” Dunn says. “God’s the Master Builder, continually bringing beauty from ashes.”