If you’ve been following my grief-riddled blogs in the last couple of months, you’ll have probably seen me mention my Grief Playlist. If it’s not that obvious, it’s a playlist I put together in the early days of losing my dad, and it’s a whole bunch of songs that essentially sum up how utterly shite this all is. Curated through songs with sad lyrics that I already felt slightly emotional over and also a late-night prosecco fuelled search of phrases such as “songs about death” in a bid to desperately try and find something that “got me,” this is a collection of songs that I’ve been listening to while I’ve been grieving my face off. If you’re in the throes of a bereavement yourself, I hope the songs in this post give you some comfort, and my heart goes out to you.
Visiting Hours – Ed Sheeran
“I will close the door but I will open up my heart, and everyone I love will know exactly who you are”
It wasn’t until I encountered grief myself that I realised just how much you long for the message of this song to be true. My dad always said to me “Come over anytime, I’ll be here,” and it physically hurts to know that I can’t do that anymore. We all know what a songwriting genius Ed is, and in this song, he perfectly captures the fact that we all long for the chance to just pop and visit our lost loved ones when we need to.
Joanne – Lady Gaga
“Heaven’s not ready for you; every part of my aching heart needs you more than the angels do”
Joanne was inspired by Gaga’s late aunt, Joanne Germanotta, who died as a result of complications caused by lupus. While Gaga never actually met her, Joanne had a profound effect on her career, and writing the song helped her deal with her father’s pain from losing his sister. While the song has a specific relevance to Gaga’s family, she stated that she wanted it to appeal to anyone who has lost a loved one – and that, it does. Joanne wasn’t a song I’d listened to until I lost Dad, and it was one that I came across during one of my late-night wine sessions. Those first lines especially hit hard – the idea of not being ready for that person to leave you yet is something that was all too true.
Marjorie – Taylor Swift
“Should have kept every grocery store receipt, cause every scrap of you would be taken from me”
Obviously, I will do anything to get Taylor Swift into any post I write. Marjorie is one of the most beautiful songs on Taylor’s Evermore album. A tribute to her late grandmother, Marjorie Finlay, Marjorie celebrates the advice she gave to Taylor (“never be so kind you forget to be clever, never be so clever you forget to be kind”/ “never be so polite you forget your power, never wield such power you forget to be polite”), and expresses Taylor’s longing for wanting to know her better. This is something I completely relate to, as there were things I only found out about my dad after his death, and a lot of the time I feel guilt and regret that I didn’t know all that much about him. The line about keeping even the miniscule things like grocery receipts also rang true – upon losing Dad I just wanted as much as I could to hold onto him, and thankfully, I now hold a few of his things – one of his fleeces hangs in my wardrobe, the other keeps me warm, his spitfire pin rests proudly on my jacket, one of his model planes stands on my bookcase, and two of his bonsai trees sit outside my front door. I’m not sure I buy the whole thing about grief stages, but I certainly buy the view that having little things of theirs can make a huge difference.
Slipped Away – Avril Lavinge
“I miss you. I miss you so bad. I don’t forget you. Oh, it’s so sad. I hope you can hear me, I remember it clearly. The day you slipped away was the day I found it won’t be the same”
A lot of the songs about loss I’ve listed here sum up how I feel in a few lines, but when it comes to the Slipped Away lyrics, virtually every single word sums up how I feel – the exception being the line about “I never got to kiss you goodbye on the hand…” From her album Let Go, Slipped Away is a tribute to Avril’s grandfather and how she never got to say goodbye to him when she was on tour at the time of his death. What I especially love about this song is that it’s simple and to the point – there’s no fancy metaphors, there’s no over-the-top declarations or elaborate verses, it just sums up the pure pain and longing that comes with grief.
In my case, I am incredibly grateful that I got to say goodbye to my dad. As hard and as painful as it was to watch, I remember every single detail, and I don’t think it’s ever going to be something I’ll forget. The most relatable thing about this song is how in those moments of saying goodbye, everything changes. I remember walking out of the hospital genuinely thinking “that’s it. Nothing’s ever going to be the same,” but at the same time, I was doing things that I’d done days before – I was putting a face mask on as I walked through the corridors, I was sanitising my hands as I left (okay fine, I was doing that anyway – it’s me), I was walking to my car, I was driving home – it was such a strange thing.
Monsters – James Blunt
“No need to forgive, no need to forget, I know your mistakes and you know mine. And while you’re sleeping, I’ll try to make you proud, so Daddy, won’t you just close your eyes. Don’t be afraid, it’s my turn to chase the monsters away”
I first heard Monsters by James Blunt in late 2019. I was working in a job where Radio 2 was on constantly, and he was doing a live performance of his new single. Shortly after, he performed this, and I had to pop out to the toilet because I genuinely didn’t want to cry in front of my boss. For those who don’t know the background of the song, James’ father, Charles, was diagnosed with late stage kidney disease, and Monsters sums up his feelings towards him and his illness in the form of a heart-breaking tribute.
The reason the song sucker-punched me so hard is because it deals with coming face to face with your parents’ mortality. For me in particular, that was in early 2019, when my dad had a heart attack. At the time, I remember being petrified of losing him. Then I remember seeing him in the hospital, cracking jokes and talking about winding up the student nurses by telling them my step-mum (who had been a nurse for over 50 years) was on her way in, and despite still being petrified, hearing him joking gave me hope that he was going to be okay.
Since losing Dad, this song has hit twice as hard, and the ‘farewell’ letter style of lyrics is even more powerful – in particular “I know your mistakes and you know mine.” I just love the simplicity of how in those moments of saying goodbye, nothing matters. Everything is forgiven, everything is forgotten, you just want to let that person know that you’re there and that they’re safe.
Sidelines – Phoebe Bridgers
“Watching the world from the sidelines, had nothing to lose, till you came into my life, gave me something to lose”
While Sidelines doesn’t necessarily come under the category of songs about grief, it’s certainly one that reminds me of those early weeks of grieving. Any Sally Rooney fans will know that this song features in the TV adaptation of Conversations With Friends, which was released in May this year. Guess what show I turned to for comfort during those weeks where Dad was sick. Yes, I have only myself to blame. While I can honestly say it was nowhere near as good as Normal People, my personal circumstances at the time meant that the whole show hit me emotionally harder than any other show I’ve watched this year.
I’ve been thinking about the lyrics to the song over the last few months, and for me it has connotations of life post-bereavement. The idea that you’re sitting and watching the world go by while you’re wallowing in your grief and the realisation that life is just too freakin’ short.
And yes, for all those wondering (no one’s wondering), Crazy Lady Watches Conversations With Friends will be a series soon. Just give me time.
Home to You – Sigrid
“When I don’t know what to say, when I don’t know what to do, would it be okay if I came home to you?”
This is one of those “right place, right time” songs. There’s a bit of a back-story to this one. Back in late 2021, my mum and I lost someone special to pancreatic cancer. T was a treasured friend to both of us and a huge part of my childhood. I remember the day he died, I (stupidly) sat down to watch Stand Up to Cancer, where Sigrid performed this song. It was the first time I’d ever heard it, and it brought up all those fun memories we had together and how he signified some of the happiest times in my childhood. I didn’t hear that song again until the day of his funeral (my first ever funeral at the ripe age of 29). It came on shuffle as I was driving home, and it was almost like his sign, telling me that it was okay to cry and let it out.
Cut to the months since Dad’s death, and Home to You has even more of a powerful meaning to me. Not only does it remind me of T and all of those special times we had together when I was a kid, but it also reminds me of Dad. Like I said at the start of this post, it reminds me of him always saying “Come over anytime, I’ll be here” and “I’m always pleased to see you, my love.” The feeling that no matter what’s happening everywhere else, you open his living room door, and there he is, sitting in that armchair with his slippers on. I still remember seeing that empty armchair in the days after he died, and it still hurts.
Ronan (Taylor’s Version) – Taylor Swift
“Flowers pile up in the worst way, no one knows what to say”
When it comes to songs about the loss of a loved one, Taylor Swift’s Ronan is a heart-breaking masterpiece. Three year old Ronan Thompson died in 2011 from neuroblastoma, and this song is a tribute written by Taylor, using snippets from his mother, Maya’s blog, which documents his journey. The song in itself is beautiful and one of my favourites on the Red (Taylor’s Version) album, but there are a few lines in it specifically that sum up my own grief experiences. The line “flowers pile up in the worst way, no one knows what to say” is one in particular, as well as “what if I’m standing in your closet trying to talk to you.” To this day, five months on, no one knows what to say (and I mean that in the nicest way possible), and every time I go outside to water his trees, I try to talk to him, as though the little bonsai trees will suddenly talk back. It’s silly little things, but I’m betting I’m not the only one who does them.
Bigger Than the Whole Sky – Taylor Swift
“Did some force take you because I didn’t pray? Every single thing to come has turned into ashes, cause it’s all over, it’s not meant to be, so I’ll say words I don’t believe”
This is a VERY fresh entry into my grief playlist, and of course, it’s a Taylor Swift song. Coming straight from her Midnights (3am Edition) album, Bigger Than the Whole Sky is this unexpected emotional gut-punch. We know that Taylor has an amazing ability to write songs that aren’t necessarily about her own experiences, which has led fans to speculate that the song talks about pregnancy loss. For others, including myself, it draws up feelings of loss and the idea that the time you have with someone will never be enough. In particular, for me, the first time I listened to it, I immediately thought of Dad and how I wish I’d spent more time with him. Goddammit, Taylor, you’ve got me crying into my washing basket again.
Blackbird – The Beatles
“Take these broken wings and learn to fly”
Finally, we have Blackbird. I’m ashamed that I never knew what a huge fan of The Beatles my dad was until after he died. Upon discussion with my brothers and my sister, we decided that this and In My Life would feature in his funeral. Both songs, not surprisingly, hit hard and resulted in tears, but for me, it was Blackbird that really got me. Literally any Beatles song these days will get me thinking of him, but as soon as I hear those opening chords of Blackbird, I’m a goner. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to it without crying.
You can listen to my full Grief Playlist over on Spotify. Are there any songs that have helped you through grief and loss? Let me know in the comments.