Music for the Grieving

Music is a powerful thing. It makes us want to sing, it makes us want to dance, it takes us back to where we once were, and it touches deep in our souls when we grieve. Music has a way of speaking to us in ways that plain words on a page cannot, and conveying emotion that otherwise might not be able to be understood. Music can speak to us at a subconscious level, and it can speak to us in different ways at different times of our lives.

Back in the 80’s, it was all about the mix-tape. Young adolescents like myself could record anything they heard on the radio on a cassette tape with just the press of two buttons. Capturing a perfect recording, one where you didn’t miss the beginning and the radio DJ didn’t talk all over it, was something you might spend a whole summer afternoon trying to do. Today we use playlists, but to me they are just fancy mix-tapes that are way easier to setup.

During my wife’s struggles with cancer, she built a playlist entitled Rachel’s chill-out playlist. It was something we would put on during hard times. This was a curated set of songs intended to help relieve the stress and anxiety that comes with intense struggle. Right after she passed, I shared this list of songs with my friends on Facebook, with the simple request that folks jam out to it as they processed her loss. I’ve since made it a YouTube playlist for easier sharing:

Similarly, music has played a significant role in my grieving process – to help calm me through extreme anxiety. Trying to go to a grocery store in the pit of grief can be incredibly hard. That may be something that is hard to understand if you haven’t been there, but if you have, then you know what I’m talking about. Thankfully, I got the bright idea to find some headphones I could wear anytime and anywhere. These headphones are something I still carry with me everywhere I go today. Anytime I feel stressed, or I’m about to walk into a crowded place, I’ll slip one in my ear and put on some music – it helps calm me.

My appreciation for music has grown several fold now having been a grieving widower. Outside of potentially movies, which can combine both music and imagery, there is simply nothing else that can convey the raw emotion of life quite as well as music. Over the last 18 months, I’ve heard new songs which I now cherish, I’ve discovered old songs I’d never heard, and I’ve heard songs I already knew in a totally new context – songs which I’ve heard for years, but never the way I hear them now today.

For example, I discovered this song about five months ago by Lee Fields & The Expressions:

What I love about this video is how it conveys his passion, his anger, and his hurt, but alongside still existing today. Before starting, he yells “king of the world!” as he gets set to perform on top of The Park Shelton in Midtown Detroit. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to the song he is about to belt out from his soul. Here are some of the words:

Seems like only yesterday, you were here smiling
Now you’ve gone away, but I know you in a better place

So I’m living life without you
And yes, it’s hard to go
‘Cause your memory means so much to me
And I need to stay strong
Bad as I want you here, it’s a shame to know
You’re not coming back
I’ll wait a hundred years, I’ll cry a million tears
Till you’re back, till you’re back, come back now

Time heals all wounds, gotta get myself up
Miss you again, over again
Love will not die
Walking the road, I see your eyes
I know you’re here, right by my side
I wish you were here

Wish You Were Here, Lee Fields & The Expressions

Another song, which I think most folks know, is Let it Be by The Beatles. What I didn’t know, was that the song was written by Paul McCartney about his mother that passed away from cancer when he was 14, and how his mother’s presence gave him those words in a dream.

So, I’ve been building my own playlist of music for the grieving as a YouTube playlist:

Warning, some songs have profanity

What I’ve found is that grief is not genre specific. There are amazing songs about grief in every single genre. While the songs sound drastically different, the emotions they convey speak the same universal language of loss.

One song in particular, holds a very special place in my heart – it’s where the name of this blog comes from, and it was released 45 days after my wife passed away. The song is ‘I Want You To Be Happier’ by Marshmello:

I give this song credit for helping me recall the last conversation I had with my wife before she passed – a conversation I could not recall for the first 6 months after her passing. This song I would hear in passing tapped into my subconscious, and helped unlock our final conversation together, so that I could recall it again and find peace. Music can be incredibly powerful, especially for the grieving.

Lately, I’ve been thinking
I want you to be happier

I want to raise your spirits
I want to see you smile
Know that means I’ll have to leave

I Want You To Be Happier, Marshmello

So, what I’m trying to do now is collect more songs for my playlist – to be exposed to more songs like these I’ve found already. If you have a favorite song for the grieving, won’t you share it with me in the comments? I hope some of these songs might help others in dealing with their grief one day – I want you to be happier.

8 thoughts on “Music for the Grieving”

  1. As always your blog touches my heart and speaks to my soul.

    Thank you for sharing these powerful thoughts with us.

    Bless you and William.

  2. Roger – I find symphonic music more soothing/healing than songs with lyrics. I will put together a list of my favorites.

  3. Schubert’s 9th Symphony : Schubert wrote this as he was dying – only 32 years old. The work is so uplifting and beautiful.

  4. After my brother died it was hard being back in Chicago with my family and his girlfriend back in NY. For the first year I felt like all I did was send his girlfriend songs that we ultimately turned into a playlist to run a race together to. If the song would come on the radio it was a reminder for us to connect. Mom or Michael would text me if they heard Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ because that just reminded us of him. And now it’s become their banner song as Michael joined Andy in the sky this year. Some songs felt like the only friends I had during that time trying to force myself to go to work after life felt like it stopped but the world kept moving. Sometimes it felt like he’d pushed them right into my radio to say hello, or other times like when escaping to Australia and near having a meltdown I stumble across a little toe headed boy singing a song I’d never heard called “brother” on the beach felt like his way of giving me comfort.

    Here’s some that were my go to’s. It’s amazing to me how clear it was I couldn’t do anything really loud or fast or in your face. They’re very slow builds and it allowed me to be where I was when everything else in my life was trying to force me forward. After a good long while of that I did turn to songs that tried to bring me up versus letting me stay where I was. I saw “ella” the musical about Ella Fitzgerald and learned that the song “blue sky” was originally for her sister and ultimately she sang it when her sister passed to try to remember her sister and bring her up.

    Jimmy Eat World – Hear you me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcmFH5OvdtA
    Alexi Murdoch – Orange Sky: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOBWSb14wrU
    Toby Lightman – Better (for my mom) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S23lo4aCeA
    Matt Nathanson – Come on Get Higher: (This one was for Lisa) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHx4BlF6V2o
    Joni Mitchell – River: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GpFudDAYqxY
    Phillip Phillips – Gone, Gone, Gone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oozQ4yV__Vw
    Sarah McLachlan – Wintersong https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuTWA6SBupY
    Deb Talan – Unraveling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7QxDQOor_8
    Deb Talan – Comfort https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TolHm9GLL4k
    Susie Suh – Light on my shoulder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CFTVVdrbOI
    Toby Lightman – Better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S23lo4aCeA
    Marc Cohen – One Safe Place: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4FT-JihkUA
    REM – Man on the Moon: (My brother was named Andy) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLxpNiF0YKs
    Randell Bramblett – It’s Alright

  5. We are still processing our friend’s suicide. These songs hit a very raw emotional spot

    When the night is over – Lord Huron
    You said you’d grow old with me – Michael Schulte
    You should be here – Cole Swindell
    All I Want – Kodaline
    Fire and Rain – James Taylor

  6. Wagner Götterdämmerung Finale. Okay, it’s the last music at the end of four very long operas, so the uplifting part may simply be gratitude that the operas are finally over. The music accompanies the main characters journey to heaven (Valhalla). Glorious!

  7. Thank you, Roger. Music evokes emotion and response. One of my go-tos is You’re Gonna Be Okay (Lyric Video) – Brian & Jenn Johnson | After All These Years

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