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Music after loss: What is the soundtrack for your grieving?

In a time of grieving, we need all the help and comfort we can gather in. A phone call from the right person, a passage from a loved book, an unexpected note from a friend can plunge us into gratitude – that someone knows, someone cares, someone has survived this and thought to tell us so.

But we don’t need to wait for that to happen. We can also produce special comforts for ourselves. Many grievers find their way to a few songs that help, kind of a soundtrack that takes us back to shared times. A song may contain a phrase that hits the very emotion that we need to express, or may plant a new idea about surviving loss or inspiration to remember small moments that we’d forgotten. The melody, the vocals, the associated memories can all flip a switch to produce comfort in the midst of sorrow.

This is not just about nostalgia. As neuroscientist Alan Harvey says, “Music has extraordinary power to stimulate our emotions and evoke memories.”

There is an additional benefit that music offers. It never disappears. Because it remains behind after the singer has left the building, the band has packed up, the era has passed, it will still be there when we need it, just the way memories of a loved one linger with us for the rest of our lives. Sometimes music even sticks around when we don’t especially want it too, becoming what’s called an “earworm,” staying stuck in our heads for days. Memories do that too, sometimes bombarding us when we don’t want them to, but proving that our connection still lives on..

If you want proof that music can matter, sample some songs from one of the many lists you’ll find by googling “grief songs.” Listen to a few and then read the comments that people have left below. You’ll find a wealth of stories about a mom, spouse, grandparent, or friend who is still missed, and how a song can bring back times with them, or provide strength to keep going, and I guarantee you, you’ll find more song suggestions.

Gather your favorites and remember that they are always there, waiting for you. Someone wrote this song, someone sang it, someone shared it. Think of them and the fact that we all survive, with help of many kinds. As Bruce Springsteen says, “The best music…is essentially there to provide you something to face the world with.”

What are the songs that you turn to?

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