Music Can Ease the Pain of Grief


Music and lyrics can be a powerful tool to calm anxious thoughts and bodies, to remember special moments along life’s journey and to ease grief after loss.  

The following are the words of the refrain to an African American spiritual called, A Balm in Gilead. The words are meant to soothe an aching heart…..

“There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole…”

There has been much research in recent years about music and how it is processed by the brain.  Listening to music can stimulate areas in the brain that affect both memory and emotion. Think about hearing a song that was popular during high school and how it brings you back to memories of that time in your life. There is a physiological reason why. The neural pathways in your brain are stimulated and activate these stored memories, and not only memories, but emotions that might be attached to them – both positive and negative emotions.  

When a loss/death occurs and grief ensues, consider music for easing the pain. Why?

  1. Music can help you feel “not alone” as there are many songs written about loss that may reflect a shared experience you can relate to.  
  2. Music is often used at a service of remembrance or funeral/ritual to reflect, remember, and share together as a community or family.  
  3. Music as relaxation can be a source of personal comfort in helping with anxiety. 

Silence can be golden.

Knowing that music can trigger emotions, be aware that certain songs may be too painful to listen to in the season following the death of a loved one. Perhaps you lost a spouse and had a special song together that is difficult to listen to now. There might even be songs listened to while your loved one was declining or dying, and now those songs bring back those tender moments in a way that you’re not ready to revisit. Unplugging from music for a time might be alright. Walking outdoors and hearing the birds sing and the sounds of nature might be a good alternative.  

Music can help “contain” your grief. 

If you’re feeling particularly sad or overcome by grief, you could intentionally choose a song that will help you to express your grief by crying, containing your emotion it to the length of the song. This will help contain the intensity of the feelings by putting boundaries around it. Do this as often as you need to. The sadness can still be there, but the intensity of the emotion will have lessened.  

You may also find that over time, songs that used to trigger the emotion of grief no longer have the same power to do so. In times of loss and grief, this can be a time to explore different