Using Music to Cope with Grief During the Holidays

Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, I can probably assume that we are all hearing Christmas tunes from one source or another throughout each and every day. For someone who is experiencing the first holiday season after losing a loved one, hearing those familiar, cheery Christmas tunes can feel like a noisy assault, or a personal insult. Those songs might be serving as a reminder of the person you are missing from your family gatherings this year, and that can hurt very deeply, even if your loved one died months or years ago. Below, I share six ideas for using music to cope with grief during the holidays. Music can help you cope during this season, but no matter whether you choose music or not, do keep these thoughts in mind: 

  • Give yourself permission to feel what you’re feeling. Feelings of sadness and grief can come back strongly during the holidays. That’s okay – there is no timeline for grief, and no matter what you are feeling, it is okay. Feelings may also be especially strong during musical experiences this season. That’s okay, too.
  • Allow yourself silence when you need it. The holiday season is often a noisy one, from all the concerts and events and parties and TV commercials. If it’s too much for you, it’s okay to take a step back from that. Honor your need for silence.
  • Let other people in. The folks around you might not recognize the grief that you are feeling unless you tell them. They will understand, though, if you need something different than the usual holiday festivities. Allow others to care for you by letting them know what you need (or don’t want.)
If you’re looking for ways to cope with your grief through music, some of the ideas below might help. Feel free to pick and choose and adapt any of the ideas below to match your own needs and desires.
  • Create a musical ritual to honor your loved one. Sing or play a song as you light a candle for them or hang their favorite ornament on the tree. Your ritual can be as deliberate or spontaneous as you like. (For more ideas on creating grief rituals with music, check out this post.)
  • Write a song (or poem) to your loved one. Put it in an envelope or gift box under the Christmas tree.
  • Record yourself or your family singing a favorite holiday song. Wrap it up and put it under the Christmas tree.
  • Listen to a song that you enjoyed with your loved one. If you want, you can journal or create art about what you’re feeling while listening.
  • Go to a musical event that you used to share with your loved one (e.g. “The Nutcracker” by the Kansas City Ballet, or the Kansas City Symphony’s holiday concert) in honor of your loved one. Or, choose to stay home.
  • Share your loved one’s musical legacy with your family and friends. You could share their old sheet music as a gift or make a musical family history.  (This has become a meaningful way for my husband’s family to remember his grandmother.)
It is my sincere hope for whoever may be reading this post that you will find peace this holiday season, even in the midst of your grief and pain.  Of course, as always, please share your own story in the comments section below. I’d love to hear about meaningful ways you’ve used music to cope with grief, during the holidays or any time of year.]]>


  1. JoAnn Jordan on December 1, 2011 at 9:20 pm

    Such a wealth of great ideas in this post, Rachelle. I always feel a little torn in groups when one person requests to sing a particular carol while another person requests not to sing it. We generally end up having a conversation about the memories and emotions tied to the song. The group then determines what to do. But, I try to keep the kleenex nearby. How do you handle these situations?

    • soundscapemusictherapy on December 8, 2011 at 10:27 pm

      I completely agree with the way you handle a situation like that, JoAnn. It’s much easier to leave songs out in a 1:1 session than in a group, especially when one is requested specially. I think it’s a good idea to let the group decide – they are the ones who can support their peer, too.

  2. Anne on December 5, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Thanks for this post! May I share some of your ideas with my “Life Goes On” bereavement group next week? I think the group members would really benefit ~

    • soundscapemusictherapy on December 6, 2011 at 9:58 pm

      You’re welcome, Anne! Yes, please share these ideas with your bereavement group. I’d love to know how it goes, too!

  3. Lauren on December 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    Wonderful ideas Rachelle–and great blog (I just stumbled onto it)!. I lead an ongoing music therapy bereavement group and I think some of my clients would really resonate with some of your suggestions. Do you mind if I use some these?

    • soundscapemusictherapy on December 11, 2011 at 10:13 pm

      Hi Lauren! I’m glad you liked this post. Yes, please use these ideas with your group and/or direct them to this post. I’d love to hear how it goes, too!

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