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Grief & Music

Contributed by: Stephanie An 

While I cannot speak on other experiences, I am writing to you about my journey and personal experiences. 

In the midst of a pandemic and media coverage of many innocent lives being lost, many of us may be experiencing an overwhelming amount of emotions. 

Although many will never truly be prepared for the loss of a loved one, it is not something we can always control throughout life. Losing someone dear to us is never easy and can affect us in many ways throughout our everyday lives. As the loss may reveal many emotions and thoughts that overtake us, many call this process grieving. While others refer to “grief” as an emotion (Gustafson, 1989), others classify it as a response to said emotions. 

As life goes on, most people will experience grief at least once in their life. It is important to note that grief doesn’t have to come from the loss of a loved one only. The loss of an inspirational figure/idol can be just as detrimental to someone. Although you may have not known them personally, you were able to connect to them in some way. This bond could have been built through their craft/art, allowing you to feel that attachment. Losing someone also does not have to mean death (American Brain Society, 2019). 

As we approach our second wave of COVID-19, some of us have experienced the loss of normalcy, loss of work, or loss of social connection, leaving us feeling a little lost, unmotivated or unsure of how we feel in general. 

The loss of something or someone significant will affect everyone differently. There is no rule book on how to mourn the loss of someone nor is there a set timeline. It is important to know that there is no “right way” to grieve. It may take someone months or even years. 

When losing someone significant to us, it may affect us mentally, emotionally and or physically. According to the Harvard School of Medicine, symptoms caused by chronic stress from grief can be “depression, insomnia/hypersomnia, feelings of rage/anger, loss of appetite, and physical pains/aches” (Harvard Health Publishing, 2018). 

While time is truly what helps us heal, tools such as music can be a great aid to those who are coping. 

Since one’s stress levels tend to be heightened during the process of grieving, there is a higher level of cortisol being produced. As mentioned earlier, this can affect one’s appetite, sleep schedule, amongst many more. With the use of music, whether it be actually playing an instrument, studies have shown that music has the ability to decrease stress levels. According to a study done within the department of psychology at Brandeis University, while coping, “music is an interventive tool that is non-invasive, and highly accepted” (Thoma, La Marca, Brönnimann,  Finkel, Ehlert, Nater, 2013). 

The beautiful thing about music is that it does not require an individual to physically play music to feel this effect. Many studies have shown that listening to music in itself can evoke emotions that we may not be able to express on our own. With music being as diverse as it is, music can become a very personal experience. Certain songs can bring up certain memories or emotions for some people and could mean absolutely nothing to others. 

“Where words fail, music speaks”, is a popular quote that only recently made sense to me. As a musician, music has always been a big part of my life. However, it was a part of my life in the sense that it became something I had to do. I played music to receive grades and for others at events. There was a brief time in my life where music became something I had to do, rather than for fun. Listening to music became background noise or something that I had to analyse and study. I had forgotten what music could do for an individual. 

It was not until recently that with the world shutting down due to COVID-19, I was able to step back and enjoy music again as just music. I was able to listen to the lyrics of a song again and relate to them, and I was able to play my instrument for fun. 

Within media, we hear songs all the time that are used to advocate or fight for something, songs about love, death, loss, and so much more. As mentioned earlier, people can associate certain songs to a memory or feeling. Sometimes songs can help us express our emotions or words better than we can. “Where words fail, music speaks”. The connection we build between music and lyrics to a song is a personal journey that happens in everyday life. 

While we are all trying to get through this hard time, I want to encourage you to create a playlist of songs that you connect to on a personal level. These songs don’t have to be happy or sad songs, but anything and everything in between. Although there is no “right” way to deal with grief, music may be something that will help aid us in the healing process. 



References 

Gustafson, D. (1989). Grief. Noûs, 23(4), 457-479. doi:10.2307/2215878 https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/grieving-dont-overlook-potential-side-effects-2019010415722

Thoma, M. V., La Marca, R., Brönnimann, R., Finkel, L., Ehlert, U., & Nater, U. M. (2013). The effect of music on the human stress response. PloS one, 8(8), e70156. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0070156

https://americanbrainsociety.org/grieving-the-loss-of-a-person-still-living/

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