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ASD's Public Relations Specialist Shares Her Grief Playlist

May 16, 2017

The Role of Music in the Grief Process

Father’s Day. The anniversary of his death. His birthday. These are the dates when I grieve most consciously for my father. I use the word ‘consciously’ because I believe that grief is one of those things that exists at all times on subconscious level – even when you are not thinking about a person, the loss you feel is always there, just waiting to be brought to the surface by some sort of trigger or thought. But on those dates, grief doesn’t sneak up on me – I seek it out. I want to think about my father, who I lost more than 11 years ago this year. I want to cry and give myself an opportunity to feel that pain.

It is a strange thing to describe to people who are uninitiated with grief. Why would you want to be sad? Why would you want to relive that time in your life? I can’t fully explain the motivation, except to say that it feels cathartic to give myself to permission to let all of that emotion in. Those who have been grieving a loss for a long time know that the pain of their loved one’s absence never goes away. Over time, you just become more skilled at shutting the door on it except for that small crack. But every now and then, you need to fling it wide open.

There are times when I just need to hit pause on my life and let myself grieve for my father. And it is at that precise time that I need to hit the play button. I need to hear a song that will help me open the door into my emotions. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the songs I like to listen to when I want to feel less alone in my grief. For me, there is a difference between the songs that honor and memorialize a person, and the songs that help you grieve a loss for years after someone has passed. Those special, rare songs that make you feel as though somewhere out there, someone understands exactly what you are going through. As a recent Seven Ponds blog affirmed, “That is the therapy that music provides — moments of introspection and reflection that are so necessary while we’re grieving a loss.”

I’ve always believed in the cathartic, healing power of music. It has shaped my grieving process. As ASD’s Public Relations Specialist, I’ve read countless articles about the best songs to play during funerals, but I’ve rarely seen someone compile a list of songs that can help grievers after a funeral is over, so I decided to put one together myself.

6 Songs That Help Me Grieve

1. “How to Save A Life” by The Fray

This song was released the year before my father died from a drug overdose. Although my dad’s issues with addiction did not define who he was as a person or my entire relationship with him, it did impact how I grieved for him. Losing someone to addiction leaves you with the unanswerable question, ‘could I have done more?’ In recent years, families have actually used their loved one’s obituaries to raise awareness about addiction and to share how helpless they felt watching their loved one succumb to it, but when I lost my father it was a subject that was largely under the radar still on the fringe of public consciousness.

I felt very isolated in my grief, as did the rest of my family. But this song gave us an anthem. It wasn’t the anthem we wanted or would have asked for, but it gave a voice to families like ours who lost a loved one to addiction. In my opinion, ‘How to Save a Life’ is the most powerful description of how it feels to be utterly powerless in the face of a loved one’s addiction. Having a song like to listen to and know you are not alone provided such a release for our emotions. I can’t say I am ever glad to hear it come on the radio when I am out in public, but during my private moments of grief it is a great comfort.

Most impactful lyrics:

“And where did I go wrong? I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
And I would have stayed up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life.”

2. Poe – If You Were Here

This song is a true example of music being used as a form of therapy. The artist, Poe, released her self-produced album ‘Haunted’ in 2000. The album was created in tribute to her deceased father and features audio recordings of her father’s voice on nearly ever track. Each song flows into the next with a type of artistry that is now missing from most albums released in today’s ‘shuffle all’ age. In this song, which concludes the album, it sounds as though Poe is having a conversation with her father about every thing she realized after his death. You can hear the sorrow she feels over his loss in the delivery of every lyric.

Although a lot of the music I listen to comes from indie artists, Poe is probably the least known singer on my list. Her album was a critical success, but a commercial failure due to lack of radio play, which is a shame because I really think more people might find comfort in hearing how Poe channeled her grief into such a moving passion project. Those who have lost a father are likely to find this tender ballad especially affecting. During those times when I just want to feel closer to my father and speak to him, I will turn on this song and sing along through my tears. Poe’s emotive voice resonates with me more every time I listen to it.

Most impactful lyrics:

“If you were here I know that you would truly be amazed
At what's become of what you made
If you were here you would know how I treasured every day
How every single word you spoke
Echo's in me like a memory of hope”

3. Linkin Park – Leave Out All The Rest

I don’t think my dad would have been thrilled to see a Linkin Park song on this list, considering he would literally be crawling in his skin whenever I played the song Crawling as a teenager. But I think he might have liked this song from one of their more recent albums, or at least appreciated the lyrics. When I listen to it, it sometimes feels like my father is speaking to me from beyond the grave. So many of the lyrics sound reminiscent of the last letter he wrote to me when he was in rehab before his death.

The song is a written from the perspective of someone close to passing. It is a heartfelt plea to a loved one to help them “leave behind some reason to be missed.” The reason I listen to it when I want to feel close to my father is because more than anything what he wanted before his death was for me to forgive him. We were on very bad terms when he died, and for the rest of life I will be regretful of this. It took losing him for me to realize that the demons he struggled with were caused by personal traumas he had endured and that his actions were not meant to hurt me. This song reminds me not to focus on all of that conflict when I remember him now. When I listen to it, I always find myself thinking, “I understand now, Dad”

Most impactful lyrics:

“When my time comes, forget the wrong that I’ve done
Help me leave behind some reasons to be missed
And don’t resent me, and when you’re feeling empty
Keep me in your memory
Leave out all the rest.”

4. Within Temptation – Forgiven

So much bittersweet emotion is captured within the lyrics of this song and the way it is sung by Dutch singer, Sharon den Adel. Sharon’s voice has an almost operatic quality. She has one of the most emotive voices you will ever hear. When we created the memorial video for my father’s funeral and I was asked to pick a song, I didn’t hesitate to choose Within Temptation’s Our Farewell – a hauntingly beautiful ballad about the disbelief of losing a loved one. A few years later, a new album delivered this song about losing someone you couldn’t save.

I think that anyone who has ever lost someone to addiction, suicide or violence will take comfort from this powerful melody. Sharon’s expressive vocals capture the agony of being left alone with so many regrets and unanswered questions. There is hope in the final lyric of the chorus: ‘all that’s done is forgiven.’ This simple line gives the song a powerful message about finding closure after a loss despite so many unresolved feelings.

Most impactful lyrics:

“I know it was destined to go wrong
You were looking for the great escape
To chase your demons away
Oh, for so long I’ve tried to shield you from the world
Oh, you couldn’t face the freedom on your own
Here I am left in silence
You gave up the fight
You left me behind
All that’s done is forgiven.”

5. Liz Phair – Table For One

I will never forget the first time I heard this song. I had Liz Phair’s album on my iPod for over a year but hadn’t had time to listen to every track on it, so this song was just hiding on there, waiting for me. Then about a month or so after my father’s passing, I was riding on the trolley home from college listening to my iPod on shuffle when it came on. All at once, it was like everything—the streets whirling past my window, the conversations people were having around me, the sound of the stop cord being pulled—all of that faded away and I was alone in a dark room listening to this song. I was alone in the dark room my father had died in.

This song is written from the perspective of an addict who has resigned himself to death. More than any other song on this list, it is the hardest one for me to listen to it and to this day I cannot hear it without completely breaking down. And yet, there are times when I want to hear it, when I want to imagine how my father might have been feeling in his final days. The repeated line, “I want to die alone” hits me so hard every time I hear it, because he did die alone. And yet, hearing this song gives me a strange sort of catharsis because it reminds me that my dad wasn’t alone, that others struggled with the same demons he did.

Most impactful lyrics:

“Oh, I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to bring back all those moments they stole from me
In my reverie
Darkening days end

Oh I want to die alone
With my sympathy beside me
I want to live that life where I can say
People had faith in me
I still see that guy in my memory.”

6. Green Day – Wake Me Up When September Ends

Many people who have experienced the death of a loved one at a young age can pinpoint this moment as the end of their childhood. For better and for worse, it is no longer possible to look at the world with as much idealization and optimism after losing someone close to you. Green Day’s ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ captures this emotion so poetically. That feeling of losing not only a person you loved, but a piece of yourself, and trying to find your way back is expressed so eloquently in the lyrics of this song. I was 19 when I lost my father and it forever altered me as a person. In many ways, my grief has made me both a stronger and more empathetic person, but I can’t help but also mourn the pieces of my former self that were forever lost.

Most impactful lyrics:

“As my memory rests
But never forgets what I lost
Wake me up when September ends
Summer has come and passed
The innocence can never last
Wake me up when September ends
Like my father’s come to pass
Twenty years has gone so fast
Wake me up when September ends.”


I’m sure I’m not the only person out there with a grief playlist. I’m curious, what songs have helped you grieve the loss of a loved one? Please share in the comments below.



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About The Author

Jess Fowler

Jess Fowler is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD's company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess.Fowler@myASD.com


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