Music Can be a Balm for Grief

Music can be soothing during our low points in grief.  It may resonate with our soul even when there is not personal meaning in it.  The tempo, rhythm, melody, harmony—all can bring healing as the music makes connection with our emotional core.

It may or may not have lyrics.  But sometimes the lyrics say things that we cannot normally say—-allowing us to express a wide range of emotions—even singing or screaming out our pain and sorrow.

For each of us, this is a highly individual experience.  What works for you—blues, jazz, spiritual, blue grass, classical, hip-hop—-may not work for someone else.  What is soothing to you may be like scratching fingernails across the blackboard for someone else.  So, each of us discovers music that uniquely fits our needs.

Along with the ability to heal, music brings to mind powerful memories.  Meaningful music, that is, music that has a special meaning for you in relationship with the person who died can touch all your senses—-bringing back sights, smells, sounds, tastes—powerful reminders of times together.

In the early part of grief, hearing meaningful music may be painful.  It may intensify the missing or longing for the other; it may be a reminder of difficult times; it may bring back thoughts of your loved one’s suffering.

Yet, as the process of grief progresses, shared music may keep you connected with the memory of the other person.  It may bring comfort; it may bring a feeling of the person being present; it may bring laughter over a forgotten experience; it may bring joyful reminders of past times together such as weddings, graduations, birth of children, vacations, or just being together.  You may play it over and over again as it brings you a deep sense of peace.

Jane Williams

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I am a recently retired clinical psychologist who worked for over 25 years with individuals who had experienced trauma, life threatening illness, and grief. After completing a Ph.D. at the University of Memphis, I completed postdoctoral fellowships at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute and Harvard Medical School. At Harvard, I trained in medical crisis counseling and later developed the Medical Crisis and Loss Clinic at Arkansas Children's Hospital. I helped plan and participated in the "Good Mourning" Program at ACH, made national presentations at grief conferences (ADEC), and published peer-reviewed articles on grief. In addition to my work in grief, I published over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles, 3 book chapters, and one test manual on various psychological topics. After retirement from the Wake Forest Medical School as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics, I wrote and recently published a book, Mysterious Moments: Thoughts That Transform Grief. In retirement, I spend most of my time with my hands in clay and writing. Apart from my academic description, I would have to describe my work in grief as providing the most meaningful experiences that I have had in my life. When someone allows you to walk down their path of suffering and loss, it is an unbelievable journey that results in a bonded relationship and teaches about the resilience of the human spirit. Although I am no longer engaged in active therapy, I would like to contribute articles that would be helpful to grieving individuals. I am the author of Mysterious Moments: Thoughts That Transform Grief, available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/161846034X/

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