It’s wonderful when songwriting can be a focus for our lives, our raison d’etre. At other times in our journey, it takes a secondary role as we deal with major life events. How does a songwriter deal with grief? How do we allow our hearts to remain open to inspiration and emotion when we carry what can often be crippling sadness of losing someone we love? This is a question I have personally grappled with as I watch my mother waste away from Lou Gherig’s disease. Each setback, brings a new level of grief which forces me to readjust my threshold for pain. Sometimes I have the courage to dive into the turbulent waters of emotion that course inside of me. Other times I choose Facebook, food, and television to take a break from feeling.
It’s been a 6 year journey thus far, filled with more lows than highs, and as I sit on the cusp of trying to release my sophomore CD, there’s so much I need to push through that I often question if I will be able to make it. As I continue on this path to an inevitable loss (unless there is a miracle), I sought to learn from peers who have made it to the other side. I asked three songwriters who have recently experienced the loss of a parent to share about their experience. Unfortunately, one of them has stopped writing completely for over a year and is just in the process of taking steps out of the pit (and I am secretly rooting for this person). The other two graciously peeled back the curtain to share how they are courageously moving forward. Here is the insight of one of them. The second one will be published later this week.
That’s When It Hits Me – by Lynn Harrison
Writing songs has been helpful to me as I’ve dealt with grief and loss in my life, and I believe that many good songs can be written during bad times. Because grief is a time of intense feelings such as anger and sadness, it offers rich emotional content—something that’s essential if a song is to have real power and meaning. When we’re dealing with grief , we really care about something: we have something important to say. In addition to that, I think that the form of a song, the beauty of it, can ease the pain of loss…can help us glimpse how our losses fit within the larger pattern of the universe. Music always involves tension and release; it comes to a form of resolution which offers solace.
Finally, I think that writing about grief and loss unites us with others. Everyone suffers losses. Not everyone can write about them, but songwriters can. Great songs inspired by grief, whether it’s death (“Tears in Heaven”) or romantic loss (“Yesterday”) or any other form of loss (“American Pie”) help us come to terms with what life is all about. That said, writing during a time of loss is not always possible—we’re exhausted, under stress, or simply sad. We shouldn’t feel obligated to write a song at any time! And yet, if we do feel inclined to pick up a pen or a guitar during difficult times, we may be surprised at what comes out. It may not be for “public consumption” but that doesn’t diminish its importance.
The song “That’s When it Hits Me” helped me tell some of my dad’s and my story in a way that would be remembered. It was, in a sense, a eulogy. On the other hand, writing the song was no substitute for the actual feelings that went along with Dad’s death. I still have to go through all of them, some of which are confusing and don’t fit neatly into the form of songwriting.