Music & Grief: “I Got A List Of Songs I Can’t Listen To”.

My family suffered a bereavement in the past year, and it has been a strange, multi-faceted eight months since.

I won’t be going into the intricacies of the event. But, one thing I have found over the past year, is that grief feels insurmountably isolating sometimes. This is not a new fact or feeling. In lots of popular and ancient culture, authors, musicians and various humans have described grief as isolating. John Green aptly summarises this in his podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed. To sum up, he says that pain (and consequentially, grief) are so profoundly challenging to put into words, that it feels largely impossible to communicate them so others can truly understand.

Throughout the past few months, I have felt many emotions that have been challenging to put into words. They have been jarring, nostalgic, sad, happy, guilty. I have replayed the day in my head. I have accepted the reality. I have completed the 7 stages what feels like countless times. And, most of the time, I have felt I have no right to grieve this person. No right to feel let down and excluded from the rites of grief.

As a musician, I have got very used to finding songs that communicate how I feel better than I could myself. Sometimes these are pop songs, sometimes they are classical, sometimes they are pieces I’ve learnt in my cello lessons, sometimes they are some obscure lo-fi playlist in the depths of my YouTube history. There haven’t been many events in my life where I haven’t had a carefully curated Spotify Soundtrack to accompany it.

So, this time, it feels inexplicably jarring that instead of having songs which reflect my emotions, I have a list of songs I avoid listening to.

I was at a concert (!!!) the other day, and the performer sang “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” in dedication to his parents, both of whom he lost over the past year. It was such an overwhelming experience for me, as I cried for those who have lost family, those who fear losing family and those still ricocheting in the aftermath of losing someone they love. I don’t know if I will be able to listen to that song again now, without associating it with those feelings.

The thing about these songs, is they are a medium through which grief is less isolating. Perhaps everyone who has grieved has a list of songs they can’t listen to. Maybe the heartbroken can’t listen to love songs, or the ones losing faith can’t listen to worship songs. Somehow, in the absence these songs reflect, there is a presence of others who know exactly how you feel. Maybe there is someone who’s list of songs is the same as mine.

Whatever the case, these lists of songs serve to show the profound and emotive effect music has. It heightens every emotion, not just the nice ones. It puts grief into words when we can’t.

And so, to everyone else who can’t listen to “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”. I know how you feel.

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