GRIEVING THROUGH MUSIC
Loss and grief are inevitable parts of life and all over the world throughout time people have used music at times of loss to come to terms with their losses, grieve, remember and heal.
Grief through music appears in some of humanity’s earliest stories, such as Orpheus in Greek myth or David’s laments in the Bible, and continues to this day.
In popular culture, examples include Sufjan Steven’s Carrie and Lowell or Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree, which explore a very personal grief, not to mention Elton John's Candle in the Wind which provided solace for millions on the death of Princess Diana.
Orpheus plays such beautiful music that he almost manages to bring his departed wife back from the dead
"Music is one of the most powerful tools we have in times of loss"
In classical music, we find the requiem while folk music gives us innumerable tales of death and grief. Meanwhile, there are countless traditional practices from around the world including, to name but a few, the weeping songs of Yolngu Australian Aboriginals, Shi’a laments and Shona mbira spirit ceremonies.
HOW CAN MUSIC HELP YOU GRIEVE?
Nick Cave's Skeleton Key was recorded after Nick's son tragically passed away
Grief can often unleash scary, unknown and uncontrollable emotions. It can leave you feeling out of control or lost at sea.
Music can access our deepest emotions. It can help us discover these emotions, experience fully and accept them. Music creates a legitimate space to grieve especially when words may be impossible and it can also allow you to connect and feel with others in grief. Giving such space to our emotions allows us to process them and eventually tame what’s initially overwhelming.
But more than that, you can use music to navigate grief, and to consciously influence, channel and give direction to your raw emotions. Music can help you to create your story, define your relationship to grief and even turn your grief into something beautiful.
Music speaks simultaneously to both body and mind. It somehow sits on the border between what we can articulate and what we can only feel. We can speak of how we feel and tell our stories, but putting those stories into the right music makes the meaning and emotions resonate right through us.
Music also lets us remember. Through listening to or playing meaningful music, it can allow you to connect to the indelible part in you that a loved one leaves in you and allows that part to live on though music.
Music speaks to the soul, or to our subconscious and to our bodily experience. Music can give us a window to that other side of ourselves. It can even help us discover ourselves, grow as people and become stronger through grief, little consolation as that may be.
Music is one of the most powerful tools we have in times of loss and many traditional practices and modern forms of art implicitly know this. Music is, however, a tool that we can all “rediscover” and use to help us navigate grief and grieve well.
IN WHAT WAYS CAN MUSIC HELP?
Music is not some miracle quick fix. You might have heard people talking about grief “work” and music is no different: it requires time, effort and active engagement. You will, however, find many ideas on this website to help you explore how communities, individuals and artists have used music to help them in times of grief. Hopefully, this can help you discover your own way to use music. In the meantime, here are some of the basic ways music can help:
Music can help you feel an emotion fully and feeling fully is often said to be a key factor in grieving well
Discovering hidden feelings
Writing or listening to music that we’re drawn to can help us discover suppressed emotions
Music can influence our emotional state. We can use it to direct raw emotion in a certain direction
Music can also give you a break from grief and help take you to another place for some time
Music has been forever used to mark rites of passage, including the final one helping us accept and say goodbye
We can remember people through music we shared with them or music that helps us to connect with them in their absence
Creating space for grief
Music can be the space where we put our grief, express it and even share it if we so wish. Music can overcome taboos on grief
Transforming you grief
This might be the root of all art, the transformation of pain into beauty. For some, this is what makes suffering bearable
Connecting body and mind
We don’t just live in our heads and grief can be a full body experience. Music speaks to the whole body
Connecting with others
Making music with others can help bring people together in their grief