Publicly, Loretta Lynn was a country music superstar, though privately she shouldered many professional and personal burdens during her life. But when she unexpectedly lost her eldest son, it led to what Lynn described as divine intervention.

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Loretta Lynn went from cleaning houses to selling over 45 million records worldwide while being a wife and mother to 6 kids. The road was long, and one she referred to as turning “from misery to happiness—and sometimes back to misery,” a sentiment understood when looking at her life.

Even though Loretta reached great success through her music, it’s a path she felt she had to take for the sake of her family. It was a double-edged sword since her family properly being provided for depended on her success in music. But at the same time, it took her away from them for long periods, until death sadly took not one, but two family members out of her life permanently.

Loretta Lynn attends the 47th Annual Grammy Awards | Source: Getty Images

Loretta Lynn attends the 47th Annual Grammy Awards | Source: Getty Images

Making Ends Meet

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Loretta mourned the loss of two children, a daughter through sickness, and a son who died unexpectedly as a result of a tragic turn of events. She became a mother to six children in total, with the first four already born by the time she cut her first record, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl,” in 1960.

It was a make-or-break time for Loretta. She’d already been married to Oliver “Mooney” Lynn for 12 years. And on his meager salary as a mechanic, along with her earnings from cleaning houses and their expanding family, they were not getting by.

Loretta Lynn and her husband Oliver "Mooney" Lynn, at the Country & Western Music Awards, Hollywood, California, February 27, 1975 | Source: Getty Images

Loretta Lynn and her husband Oliver “Mooney” Lynn, at the Country & Western Music Awards, Hollywood, California, February 27, 1975 | Source: Getty Images

The Cost of Reaching for Fame

At Oliver’s encouragement, the family up and moved from Washington state to Nashville so Loretta could pursue a singing career, which he also controlled, in earnest. It paid off. Loretta made her first appearance at Music City’s Grand Ole Opry on October 15, 1960, but her quickly mounting success came at a cost.

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Her career skyrocketing meant Loretta spent a lot of time away from her young family, but the price she paid had a permanence Loretta found hard to look back at. “You never catch up the lost time. That time’s gone,” she said.

Loretta Lynn poses for a portrait holding a guitar circa 1961 in Nashville, Tennessee | Source: Getty Images

Loretta Lynn poses for a portrait holding a guitar circa 1961 in Nashville, Tennessee | Source: Getty Images

It wasn’t unusual for Loretta to miss special occasions, holidays, or normal family time, which made touring “rough” for her. Loretta’s first four kids, Betty Sue, Jack Benny, Clara Marie, and Ernest Ray, all came into the world before Loretta reached fame, so she went from spending hours with them a day to hardly any time with them at all, and it took a toll on her.

“I was working clubs, and I was doing like three and four shows a night,” Loretta recalled. Even while pregnant with twins Patsy Eileen and Peggy Jean (born in 1964) the country singer didn’t let up on her busy schedule. “I’d play shows right up until the babies was born and that guitar around my neck just about killed me. I don’t advise it to any mother,” she added.

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Divine Intervention

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Everything Loretta did, was for her family. “Family means everything to me,” she said. And it’s because of Loretta’s love for, and devotion to her family and their well-being that the unexpected loss of her eldest son had enough of an impact on her that she said it led to an intervention by God.

At the time of his death, Loretta came down with an illness the media labeled as exhaustion, but she reportedly set the record straight by clarifying later on that she had suffered a seizure. “I think the seizure was God’s way of saying he’s helping me. He’s really not letting my mind cope with it yet,” she said.

Loretta Lynn in Los Angeles, California on October 21, 1989 | Source: Getty Images

Loretta Lynn in Los Angeles, California on October 21, 1989 | Source: Getty Images

The Death of Loretta’s Son

In July 1984, Jack Benny, the child Loretta said in her autobiography she felt “most sentimental about,” died from a tragic drowning incident.

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Loretta and Jack Benny shared a close bond, as Loretta’s one daughter recalled, “They were very close. It was probably because he took after my dad.”

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Jack Benny was riding his quarter horse, Black Jack, on the family’s 5,000-acre ranch, Hurricane Mills, in Tennessee, when he drowned about 4 miles from where he lived with his wife, Barbara.

The 34-year-old was trying to ford the treacherous Duck River on horseback when the incident occurred, and Black Jack was later found unharmed but trapped along the river bank. Even though Loretta wasn’t immediately informed, she initially took the devastating news better than expected, but that soon crumbled.

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How Loretta Handled Her Son’s Death

According to the singer’s daughter Patsy, “she tore all to pieces” before they put her on a chartered flight to Nashville, where she would stay in a hospital until Jack Benny’s funeral.

Jack Benny Lynn on July 25, 1984, in Waverly, Tennessee | Source: Getty Images

Jack Benny Lynn on July 25, 1984, in Waverly, Tennessee | Source: Getty Images

When the day came, over 300 mourners gathered at the Luff-Bowen funeral home in Waverly while a tape played Willie Nelson’s “Uncloudy Day” and “Amazing Grace.” While Loretta wept during the service and the ride to their family burial plot at Hurricane Mills, she lost all composure as the casket was about to be lowered into the ground.

Loretta started sobbing uncontrollably and had to be supported and helped back to the car after her knees buckled. “It’s finally started to hit her,” her manager, David Skepner, noted.

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Country music queen Loretta Lynn, center, is assisted by her husband, Mooney, on July 27, 1984, in Waverly, Tennesseeas, as they leave the funeral of their son | Source: Getty Images

Country music queen Loretta Lynn, center, is assisted by her husband, Mooney, on July 27, 1984, in Waverly, Tennesseeas, as they leave the funeral of their son | Source: Getty Images

Loretta Faced the Death of Another Child

While Loretta’s first-born daughter, Betty Sue, acknowledged that life wouldn’t be the same without her brother, the family would have to deal with also losing her in 2013.

A few months before Loretta’s death in October 2022, she paid tribute to Betty Sue and Jack Benny in separate posts on social media.

Loretta Lynn's daughter Betty Sue | Source: Instagram/lorettalynnofficial

Loretta Lynn’s daughter Betty Sue | Source: Instagram/lorettalynnofficial

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Loretta’s Tributes to Her Lost Children Shortly before Her Death

Alongside a carousel of images featuring Betty Sue, Loretta took a trip down memory lane.”We talked on the phone every day and saw each other a lot when I was home off the road. It felt like part of my heart died when she left us. I hated seeing her sick, but I didn’t want to let her go. She was more than a daughter; she was a best friend,” she wrote.

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While Betty Sue was 63 when she passed, it didn’t lessen the grief it caused Loretta. “Young or old, no parent should ever have to bury a child. I’ve buried two of mine and there’s no pain like it,” she lamented.

Loretta’s tribute to Jack Benny a few days earlier consisted of throwback images and a short caption, “Today is 38 years without my Jack.” Three months after Loretta’s posts, she passed away as well.

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In a statement, her family shared that she had died at her Hurricane Mills home in her sleep. She was 90.

While Loretta Lynn will always be remembered for her illustrious career, including the story about her life, “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” her devotion to family and community also left an indelible mark on her legacy. Though she had a life filled with major gains and losses, she never stopped giving, and she never gave up.

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