The experience of grief varies from person to person, as well as case to case, and it is impossible to make a statement that there is a universal process or product that helps everyone in a difficult time; that being said, there has been significant studies, first-hand stories, and agreement that music can possess a therapeutic effect. It may not be for everyone, but if you or someone you know is undergoing a time of great sadness, consider learning more about dealing with grief through music.
Although we have certain perspectives when it comes to music, whether it be that music is meant for celebratory times in one’s life or that it will only increase sadness, we want to share with you how music could help you in a time of grief. To help you better understand music for grief therapy, here is an in-depth article about music and coping.
Grief is a universal part of the human experience, and almost no one will go through life without encountering a period or situation of intense sadness; nobody is immune to grief. Although grief manifests itself differently in everybody, it does show up in some form and it affects people of all ages, from everywhere in the world, and it will continue to be a part of life forever.
As we mentioned, grief does not spare anyone; it can come suddenly or can accumulate over time, especially if it is repressed or denied. No matter what age you are, what your financial or social situation is, or where you are from, grief can affect you.
What causes one person distress may not impact another person, but we are all emotionally influenced or damaged by some things. It is unavoidable, but it can be understood and dealt with in healthy or unhealthy ways.
Any individual or group who is undergoing a difficult time or has experienced a loss can be impacted by grief. Sometimes emotional reactions are delayed or show up in other areas of the grieving person’s life. If you or someone you know is in a particularly tough circumstance or has a disordered mental state, grief is likely at play.
Despite common misunderstandings, people who have healed from loss or trauma—or people who have appeared to get better—can still experience grief, even if it is after a lot of time has passed since the initial incident.
Humans are complex creatures, and we are triggered by memories, emotions, dreams, and so on; this means that sometimes, even when we believe we have healed from something, emotions can arise again and bring about grief or other unpleasant feelings. This does not mean all hope or progress is lost as it is a natural human experience.
Just as grief differs from person to person, it also does not strike in the same way for each unfortunate scenario. There are so many situations that can elicit grief in someone, some from childhood that an adult does not even recall, or some that a person may believe will not affect them at all.
We have examined a few different circumstances that commonly bring about grief, but keep in mind it is valid for you to experience these emotions in whatever form and for whatever reasons. Music has the possibility of helping with all types of grief, depending on how each person responds to it.
The most common and most devastating cause of grief that music can help you with is the loss of a loved one. This grief can often be the hardest to cope with, so if you or someone close to you is struggling, suggest using music as a method to deal with the sadness.
While you are going through this difficult time, we understand that you miss your loved one and want to keep them in your hearts. We explain how the concept and process of music can be helpful, but we also understand that sometimes you want something simple and easy to remember and honor your loved one.
Here on Everlasting Memories, we provide an expansive selection of affordable cremation jewelry that helps with grief; we provide a guide to choosing the perfect piece of memorial jewelry as well.
Losing a pet can sometimes be just as or more heartbreaking than losing a person who was close to you, and so we may need help dealing with this loss. This is another situation where experimenting with music and its healing properties may be valuable to you or a friend.
Although we tend to think of grief in terms of death, we neglect the fact that sometimes things can be lost emotionally or figuratively in life; just because the physical world did not change because of this change, we have changed, and it can cause unpleasant emotions to arise.
When we go through a breakup, a friendship fallout, or any scenario where a relationship that was important to us has been changed or lost, there is something to be grieved; where there once was something special and meaningful, there is now a void. Music can also help deal with this emotional loss.
For many of us, our careers or jobs are significant parts of our lives, which means that work-related situations can cause intense emotions. For example, if you lose a job that you loved or that supported you and the people you loved, you may grieve that sudden change.
Also, you may have worked hard or expected a certain promotion and it passed you by. These are valid reasons for sadness, and music may be what you need to help you recover and move on.
Grief can occur during any momentous time in your life because you feel as if you are losing something or leaving people, a place, or a part of you behind; this could happen if you are moving houses, if there is a change in family dynamics, or if you a learning a new job.
Children and adolescents can often have many periods of grief because so much of their lives shift so quickly: multiple graduations, social circles changing, moving away from home, and so on. These milestones can become even more difficult when they are dealing with grief from other past events and losses.
If you have never heard of using music to help with grief, then you may be confused or skeptical about this method; however, there is evidence, both scientifically and emotionally, that music has healing abilities and often helps people cope with grief.
Healing through artforms is not all that uncommon, mainly because of its universality and the benefits it provides to the user. It can help you during a time of grief, but its effects can also outlive this period and influence you as you continue through your life; music has been seen to assist in improving areas of mental health, specifically emotional regulation (Semenza). These abilities that music possesses are valuable for someone going through a difficult time. We outline some of the many ways that music can help you in your grief.
When we experience grief, a major component is the memories that we have; they either make us sad about what we lost, or they remind us of the many wonderful times we had. Music can help retrieve these memories, both good and bad; it is important to address all of the emotions that come with grief.
A particular song or type of music may signify what you lost, and in some ways, this may be what you need to hear to grieve and move on. Music can give recognition to positive experiences you had with a loved one (Viper et al.); this could help you feel better about a loss, even just for a moment.
Memories are important in a time like this; they keep us connected to what is gone, and they allow us to continue to reach for that person or thing whenever we need it. Music can help cherish and reinvite these significant memories.
As is the case with most art forms, music creates a safe space for you to feel, move, cry, yell, sing, or sleep. It is simply there to comfort you in whatever you need; there is no judgment, and it often evokes a sense of liberation and inhibition because of how freeing it can become.
While you grieve, it can seem like people are watching how you deal with things or you may feel immense pressure to help others; with music, there are no expectations or limitations.
One way people commonly deal with grief is denial or suppression, and although we know this is not beneficial or healthy, it is a natural human reaction. If you have pushed your emotions deep down because they are unpleasant to feel, it is understandable, but you should try to reach for those feelings and deal with them; music can help with this.
Using music to cope increases your chances of reflecting on your emotions, which is important in regulating your emotions and improving your mental health (Semenza); these are ultimately the goals of dealing with your grief.
Now that the music has drawn up some emotions that perhaps you did not want to feel or did not know you were holding in, music can also help you channel and express these emotions. Often people encounter problems in their grief because they are experiencing heavy emotions, but they are not allowing themselves to express them; music gives you this opportunity in whatever form you like, whether that is crying, screaming, singing, dancing, or simply listening.
One of the major therapeutic aspects of art and music is its ability to free you from whatever is holding on to you or whatever you cannot let go of. Sometimes the emotional and physical experience that comes from music allows you to loosen your grip on your grief so you are able to let go and move on.
Another of the many ways that music helps with grief is through its ability to connect you to a lost loved one. Music often elicits a feeling of spirituality or a sense of heightened emotions; especially when we associate certain music or songs with a loved one, these can forever feel linked with that person. If your loved one is part of the funeral planning process, deciding on music with them can also be a positive experience; choosing the music can be hopeful, comforting, and consoling whether it is before, during, or after the bereavement (Viper et al.).
A meaningful way to stay connected to your lost loved one is by getting something specifically made to suit them and you that you can have forever; one idea that we sell on our website is gifts that hold ash or ash jewelry. They are pieces of affordable remembrance jewelry that have many options and will allow you to always stay connected to your lost loved one.
If you or the person you lost was religious, music can help you reach out or feel a connection to a higher power that you believe in; perhaps you feel that by listening to certain music or by meditating to music you can communicate with that force or even the person you lost.
Music can also sometimes elicit a divine feeling or a sense of something greater than us. In a time of grief, you can use music to work on self-development and the maintenance of your spirituality (Semenza).
Often people turn to music because they feel they are not equipped with the words they need or want to express themselves; they cannot find the words to say, so they find music that says them instead. This can then help you formulate your own thoughts and emotions, or it can allow you to focus on feeling them rather than trying to define everything that is happening within you.
Music becomes so important during a time of loss because we want to make sure we are sending the right message of that we are saying what our loved one would’ve wished to say or hear. It can be difficult choosing the music that suits the person and emotions best, but it is a way that music can help you cope and move on.
Certain types of music are therapeutic in the sense that they calm you mentally and physically because the emotions you experience during a time of grief do not allow you to relax or enjoy any peace; music can do this for you.
While listening to music you can both perceive the music’s emotion and experience emotion (Warrenburg); therefore, if you listen to calming music, you can match up the feelings you gage from the music with how you intend to feel.
During a time of grief, we can often feel lost and confused because such a major change has occurred. Losing a loved one can shift our sense of identity; our role in life can look different if we are no longer a sibling, friend, parent, or child (Fellows). Finding music that reminds us of who we are, music that truly speaks to our soul can help repair a part of us that was damaged in our time of grief.
Although we do not recommend avoiding your feelings or constantly distracting yourself from your grief, sometimes it is healthy to give your mind and heart a break from all of the thinking and hurting. Listening to music can allow you that time to simply be present and drown out the unpleasantness for a little bit while you prepare to continue your healing journey.
Music has a communal effect; it unites people and brings them into the same rhythms, patterns, and pitches. It allows everyone to harmonize, sing and dance together, create memories, and experience emotions as a group. Specifically, by choosing farewell music with relatives, you can actively participate in the grieving process, as does the rest of the group (Viper et al.).
Music is contagious; it has a way of making you feel how it wants you to feel. We know this is true because after listening to happy music people were shown a neutral face and they would most often interpret the face as happy, whereas people listening to sad music reported the face as expressing sadness (Williams).
This means that, if you experience a strong wave of sadness, try listening to joyful or upbeat music, and this may cheer you up or inspire you to start healing.
One of the amazing things about music is how beautiful is; when we express grief through music or we incorporate music into our healing processes, we turn something devastating, ugly, and unpleasant into something moving and wonderful. It can show the beauty in the cycles of life and the human experience.
Another way that we believe you can capture something lovely out of such a heartbreaking circumstance is through memorial gifts. We offer a collection of personalized memorial gifts on our site because we believe that you can have something delightful to cherish forever, despite the pain and suffering. You can find gifts that help with grief due to their customizability and suitability to many different tastes and lifestyles.
Music is so helpful because of its diversity; there are so many different genres, forms, and activities that come from music. Each of these different aspects of music can provide the necessary benefits that we explain in this article. Some of the impacts of music include promoting wellness, managing stress, expressing feelings, improving communication, enhancing memory, easing pain, and reducing anxiety (Stuck); this is why we strongly urge you to examine these methods and consider which ones would best suit you on your healing process.
The easiest and most common way for you to experience the helpful effects of music is by listening to it; this could be on a phone, a computer, a radio, in your car, on a record player, or live at a concert. Whichever way you like to listen to music best, do it that way and use music’s abilities as often as you want or need.
Another fairly common way people experience music, and one that is more interactive, is singing or playing an instrument. There are so many types of instruments and genres of music to learn that you likely will find something that appeals to you. These methods give you a personal experience with music that you can have with you forever and that you can continue to cultivate.
Similar to singing or playing an instrument, writing your own songs or music adds an interactive feature to the music experience—even more so—which can enhance the positive effects you receive. This gives you a chance to learn a new skill and to express your emotions during a time of grief; there was a study done that exhibited that, for twelve- to eighteen-year-old children, songwriting as part of therapy improved their grief processing scores (Williams).
Humans have been known to dance for a long time, both because it is natural and because it has effects that impact us positively. Dancing is a great way to use music in a time of grief; you physically and mentally engage yourself and allow things to flow through you, which will help you feel the things you need to in order to move on.
Movement is beneficial for us in so many ways; our physical bodies are important, and exercise also improves our mental states. Music often motivates us while exercising, and exercising is a healthy way to boost moods; therefore, music can take part in making you feel a little bit better while you are undergoing a difficult period of grief (Williams).
Now that you understand how music can help you with your grief and you know how to use music for that effect, we want to give you some ideas and resources to find these musical opportunities. Some are individual and some require socialization; both of these aspects are healthy when it comes to healing. You may not be able to find or have time for all of these, but hopefully, some speak to you and you prioritize your health and healing.
In today’s age, it is easy, quick, and inexpensive to get access to music all the time and everywhere you go. By acquiring music on your devices or purchasing CDs or records for your home and car, you can ensure that you have the healing properties of music no matter where you go. You never know when a wave of emotion may hit you, so having music with you could prove valuable, especially if you already understand the positive effects music has on you.
Picking up an instrument or attempting to write your own music can be a great way to use music for so many reasons. The emotional rewards you receive from learning a new skill or from pouring your heart into music can help overturn some of the unpleasantness you are going through.
You may find a newfound passion and it can forever help you cope during hard times. Also, the time and effort you spend while working on learning an instrument or writing music could perhaps distract you from some of your unrelenting negative emotions.
Gathering with others and experiencing music is one of the most moving experiences you could have. By involving yourself with other people who are interested or have skills in music, and by surrounding yourself with the therapeutic effect of music regularly, you could give yourself a chance to heal and find something to put your heart into it. The social aspect may also have a positive effect on your healing process.
As we discussed earlier, using music as a means to dance and move your body has so many benefits. Joining a class holds you accountable for the commitment and ensures that you are prioritizing yourself while you are trying to feel better. It is something that could take your mind off of hurting and you may physically express what you are emotionally finding it hard to deal with.
Since music therapy is beneficial, some people specialize in it. If you find that music has truly helped you so far and you want more of it, or you have a hard time understanding the way that music helps people heal, consider hiring a music therapist. You can find one in your area or online, and they will guide you through the process of healing with music.
Finding a grief support group that uses music as part of their program is a great way to incorporate music into your healing; a grief support group is beneficial regardless, but having that extra method of art may be what you need to push through on your healing journey.
Music allows people to feel energized, comforted, and relaxed, and can encourage people to consider their worries (Warrenburg); these outcomes are similar to what occurs in a support group, so having the two methods together works wonderfully.
Going to a concert or some sort of event or location where live music that you like is playing is one way you could experience music during your time of grief; you can get out of the house, create a new memory, and gather with others.
Sometimes watching and listening to music live can touch you in a different way than listening on a phone or in the car; it can feel more real and like more of an experience rather than background noise; if you think you struggle with connecting to music when you just listen to a soundtrack, consider searching in your area for a good live show.
If you are religious, going to your place of worship and listening to any of the music they play may be where you need to experience the music, especially if the loss you grieve for was also religious; you may feel more connected to them this way.
Also, you could see if your institution has some sort of choir or band that you could join. You can become a part of that community and experience music in a spiritual way to help heal you.
Grief is understood to occur in five stages. The amount of time spent in each stage differs for everyone, but people tend to cycle through these phases in a period of distress. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. To learn more about grief itself, check out the information article on our website called “Grief and Grieving: Healing After Loss Through the Grieving Process”.
We have examined music throughout this article and the ways it can help us in a time of grief. Music can help people in many different things and ways; ultimately, it aids people in tapping into their emotions and trying to rearrange those feelings in a way that could improve the outcome regarding their emotional state or the way they deal with those emotions (Semenza).
The type of music you listen to when you are grieving depends on many factors:
Answering these questions could help you better understand which type of music is best for you at this time; however, the most important thing is to listen to your feelings and try your best to understand what you need at that moment.
Everything about grief and healing is individualistic, so, unfortunately, it is impossible to say how long it would take for music to help you or even if music will help you. Using music to deal with grief is simply another potential method you could use in a time of difficulty. There is not a universal timeline for grief, and sometimes you are in the healing process forever.
Music is art, and therefore it is subjectivity, meaning it influences everyone differently. If you have discovered that sad music does not have any benefit for you and makes your emotions more unpleasant, then try a different style. Some people do appreciate the reflective nature of sad music, and it can be helpful to people who have a difficult time tapping into emotions on their own. Research shows that sad music gives rise to both positive and negative experiences (Warrenburg); so, it is up to you to decide what is best for your healing.
A common misconception is that music therapy will only truly speak to people who are interested or who have experience in the music realm. The case is the opposite of this idea; in order to benefit from music therapy, you do not require any musical ability (Stuck). That being said, music therapy—just like any therapy or healing method—is not guaranteed to work for anyone; it is worth trying when you need to work through grief, but since everyone is so complex, some people may not be impacted by music.
Similar to all other aspects of healing and the art of music, the answer to this question is within you; whatever you feel compelled to do with your music or the way music heals you is up to you. You may want to keep these intimate pieces of your grief and healing to yourself, you may want to destroy them as a way to conquer your hurt, or you may feel inspired to share your journey and methods with others to help them through difficult times. Do what feels right.
Grief is such an ugly part of our existence, and the art of music is one of the most beautiful and freeing aspects of human life. It may seem paradoxical to combine them, but it also seems to make a great deal of sense. The versatility of music allows it to adapt to each person and each intention: to boost a mood or to access deep, repressed feelings.
If you or someone close to you is grieving and healing seems like a lost cause, consider some of the advice and methods we explored in this article, and see what happens when you give music a chance to help you heal.
August 9, 2022 by Frances Kay
Fellows, Heather. “Six Ways Music Helps with Grief.” University of Utah: Huntsman Cancer Institute, 8 December, 2020, https://healthcare.utah.edu/huntsmancancerinstitute/news/2020/12/six-ways-music-helps with grief.php#:~:text=Music%20calms%20the%20body%20and,emotion%20and%20calm 20our%20senses.
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Williams, Litsa. “The Brain, Grief and Music.” What’s Your Grief, 7 November 2014, https://whatsyourgrief.com/brain-grief-and-music/.