Making Grief and Memorial Playlists

Lit candle in the foreground with sparkling lights on a dark background

Grief and mourning are two different experiences that accompany loss or change. While grief is a personal, internal experience, mourning involves the things we do to recognize a loss or express our grief.

What is grief?

Grief is the collection of thoughts and feelings we have internally when we experience loss. These feelings vary over time and for each of us individually and may include anxiety, anger, despair, and sadness. 

We experience grief when loved ones die, but we can also experience grief over other life changes: 

  • Moving away from a home
  • Having loved ones move away
  • Losing a job
  • Ending a relationship
  • Missing out on the opportunity to have an experience, such as a high school graduation or a once-in-a-lifetime vacation

The Covid-19 pandemic has led many people to experience more loss and grief than in other years.

What is mourning?

We respond to feelings of grief by mourning. Mourning is when you show the grief you are experiencing in an outward expression, whether privately or with other people. Many of our mourning rituals are defined by our cultural groups. Some examples include: 

  • Crying (alone or with others)
  • Wailing (alone or with others)
  • Funerals or memorial services
  • Wakes
  • Burials
  • Cremation and spreading ashes
  • Family gatherings
  • Sharing food with the bereaved

Unfortunately, Covid-19 has disrupted our ability to mourn our losses together in the ways we may have had in pre-pandemic times. Still, we can mourn in different ways, with private or shared memorials.

We all grieve and mourn differently.

Please know that there is no wrong way to grieve, and what may be helpful for others may or may not work best for you and your loved ones. 

You may find it particularly challenging to experience grief or practice mourning right now, in the midst of a global pandemic. That is okay. Everyone experiences grief and mourns in their own time. 

At the same time, going through both grieving and mourning processes can help you to integrate the loss into your life, and help you access courage and resilience. Feeling the big feelings and honoring your losses can provide a release and even bring you to a place of comfort.

Music can help

Music can be a helpful tool to support you through your grieving and mourning process. Songs can be containers for the big feelings of grief that can sometimes feel overwhelming, and music can be an important part of mourning, as it is in many cultural traditions.

Below, we will explore two different options for using music to support you in your grief and mourning: creating a memorial playlist or a grieving playlist. You can make one, or both, or just find key songs that help support you through your journey.

Making a memorial playlist

Starting with a memorial playlist may be the easiest and most familiar choice. This can be an important part of mourning, and it involves pulling together songs that remind you of the person, place, or experience that you lost.

Just as there is no right or wrong way to grieve or mourn, there is no right or wrong way to make a memorial playlist. Your playlist can be a private project or one that you share with others. You may also experience a wide range of emotions and choose to pause your project at any time.

You have many options for songs to include in your playlist. Here are some ideas:

  • The individual’s favorite song
  • A favorite song you shared with the person you have lost
  • A song that reminds you of a person, place, or experience 
  • Songs of comfort, for yourself or others who are mourning with you
  • Religious or spiritual songs

You can use your playlist in a number of ways as well:

  • Play the music in the background as you move through your day
  • Listen together with those supporting you or mourning with you
  • Light a candle while listening, for a simple remembrance ceremony
  • Pair the music with pictures or other tangible meaningful objects in a video slideshow
  • Integrate the songs into a grief ritual, such as an online memorial service

Don’t forget: You can’t do this wrong. Your playlist does not have to be full of sad songs, nor does it need to be full of religious songs. 

Check out our starter playlist on YouTube or Spotify.

Making a grief playlist

Grief can bring waves of emotions that are overwhelming at times, and music can provide a container for those big feelings you are experiencing. Songs that match what you are feeling in the moment can provide validation while helping to prevent you from getting stuck in debilitating sadness, anger, or confusion. 

Your grief and memorial/mourning playlists may be the same. Or, you might find that you choose songs for your grief playlist that match your preferences and feelings more closely, especially if you resonate with different music than you would associate with your loved one. 

We suggest these kinds of songs for your grief playlist, in this order:

  • Songs that match your current emotion
  • Songs that make you feel supported or comforted
  • A transitional song to close an experience of deep emotion
  • Songs that match the emotion you would like to carry into the rest of your day

You don’t have to sit still while listening to your grief playlist. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Move or stretch
  • Cry
  • Smile
  • Reminisce 
  • Sing
  • Draw

Again, you cannot do this wrong. Feel free to skip songs, add and subtract from your list, or move on to another coping technique as needed.

Check out our starter playlist on YouTube or Spotify.

One final note: Music carries big emotions, and some people who are grieving find that music of any kind is just too much for their hearts to handle. If that’s true for you, please remember that you can’t grieve wrong, and it’s okay to set music to the side and find another way to cope. 

May you find comfort and peace during this time of life.

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