Helpful and Unhelpful Messages About Grief Within Music

Posted on
August 30, 2019 by

Music is a part of our everyday lives. We hear music on our drive to work, when we exercise, while sitting in the waiting room at a doctor’s office, and even in our favorite stores while shopping. Sometimes when we are going through a difficult time in our lives, we can rely on music for healing and inspiration. Catherine Ulbricht is a pharmacist and shares that music is linked to our moods and also has therapeutic effects. Additionally she explains that music can have an impact on a person’s mood and well-being. Music can play an instrumental role as we can relate to the lyrics, form a connection, and feel like we are not alone through our difficult times. When it comes to songs, there are some lyrics that have misinformation and myths pertaining to grief and then there are some others that send a good healing message. This blog dissects current songs that provide misinformation and alternative songs that deliver helpful information. 

Songs with Myths and Misinformation

Be Alright by Dean Lewis

“It’ll be okay
It’s gonna hurt for a bit of time
So bottoms up, let’s forget tonight
You’ll find another and you’ll be just fine
Let her go”

Currently, this is a popular song on the radio and has many myths and misinformation about how to heal after a break-up. One of the myths of grief is time heals all wounds, which implies if we just wait for time to heal, then our pain and grief may diminish. Further, when we grieve we use short term energy relieving behaviors (STERBs) which portray the idea that we are attending to our feelings but we are actually suppressing them. The second and third line suggests to give it time and use alcohol, which is a STERB, to forget about the pain. Another myth of grief is to replace the loss which the final two lines imply that there are plenty of people to choose from who can replace the partner. 

Numb by Jaira Burns

“Oh, I’ve been drinking for reasons other than fun
And I’m feeling numb-numb-numb-numb, numb-numb-numb-numb
I’ve been smoking this sadness into my lungs
And I’m feeling numb-numb-numb-numb, numb-numb-numb-numb”

Numb by Jaira Burns addresses the use of STERBs and the actual effects it has when we use them. When we participate in these behaviors we only experience a temporary sense of relief. The problem with STERBS is when we use these behaviors it gives us an illusion that we are healing but we are actually burying and numbing the pain. In this song she uses drinking and smoking as a way to numb her pain and sadness. It is important that when we are grieving we are attuned to our feelings and move through the pain rather than avoid it or replace it with substances. 

The Show must go on by Queen

“The show must go on
The show must go on (yeah yeah)
Ooh, inside my heart is breaking
My make-up may be flaking
But my smile still stays on”

This song was one of the last songs written by Queen and was to show Freddie Mercury’s drive to want to continue singing through his battle with AIDS. Although there is inspirational meaning behind this song it is a good example about how we may put our emotions on hold instead of feeling and acknowledging them. John James and Russell Friedman of The Grief Recovery Institute created a term called “Academy Award Recovery” which is when we put on an act or façade that we are doing okay, but instead we are experiencing heartache and sadness. Within these lyrics we can see that Freddie Mercury is suffering and full of heartache but he still tries to keep a smile on his face. The misinformation in this song is we do not have to put on a fake smile when we are grieving. If we are open, honest, and intentional with our feelings we can work through our grief and start our journey toward moving beyond the pain. 

Songs with Helpful Information and Inspiration

Must have never met you by Luke Combs

“I guess whoever said the grass is greener 
Must have never seen the other side
What don’t kill you makes you stronger 
Sure sounds like a lie
And whoever said that time heals everything 
And everything will be alright?
Whoever said it ain’t the end of the world
You can find somebody new
Must’ve never met you”

Luke Combs challenges and addresses three myths in his song including, Be Strong, Time Heals Everything and Replace the Loss. He questions the societal norm and what he has heard from others and realizes these beliefs do not match his grieving process.  Additionally, he acknowledges an intellectual comment that is commonly heard after a break up which is “the grass is greener on the other side.” We know that intellectual comments are not helpful because they do not focus on the emotion or what the person is going through. When we suggest that the grass is greener on the other side, we are implying that what you had is replaceable and to move on because there is something better or more out there. He responds in his second line by saying the other side is not what he wants as he is grieving his current relationship and not ready to move forward.  

Cry Pretty by Carrie Underwood

“And falling apart is as human as it gets
You can’t hide it, you can’t fight what the truth is

You can pretty lie and say it’s okay
You can pretty smile and just walk away
Pretty much fake your way through anything
But you can’t cry pretty”

Carrie Underwood’s song Cry Pretty implies that you cannot hide from your emotions and eventually will have to embrace and feel your emotional pain. The line “falling apart is as human as it gets” is a powerful and inspiring message that holds truth. In our lives we are given the gift to feel love and give love. When we can feel love this also means we will experience loss and sadness when we lose people who are close to us. It is in our human nature to “fall apart” and feel sadness and despair just like we feel happiness and love. True strength comes out when we allow ourselves to grieve and feel instead of trying to hide behind a smile or a lie. 

This Ain’t my Momma’s Broken Heart by Miranda Lambert

“Go and fix your make up girl it’s, just a break up run an’
Hide your crazy and start actin’ like a lady ’cause I
Raised you better, gotta keep it together even when you fall apart,
But this ain’t my mama’s broken heart”

In this song by Miranda Lambert shares messages that are learned through our lives that do not help with the grieving process. In these short lyrics, the myth of being strong is used by suggesting that you have to be strong and pull yourself together to act like a lady. She further sings about how we have been taught to keep it together even when we feel like falling apart. The concluding lyric in this verse sends a message that everyone will grieve differently and grieve in their own unique way. What may have “worked” for the mom is not helping the broken heart in this story. This song teaches us that even though we may have been told myths and misinformation we still have the opportunity to grieve in our own way. It also teaches us that we will all grieve individually and will have unique experiences with our losses. 

If you are seeking support to move through the pain of loss in your life, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team at The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. We can be reached at 780-288-8011 or info@healmyheart.ca.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist®, and edited by Ashley Mielke, Owner and Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

Photo credit: www.udiscovermusic.com/news/carrie-underwood-cry-pretty-tracklisting

Reference: Ulbricht, C. (2013). Music Therapy for Health and Wellness. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/natural-standard/201306/music-therapy-health-and-wellness