Songwriting through grief

Me & Mom

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 Meby Lynn Harrison 

Lynn with her father.

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.

Click Here to visit Lynn Harrison’s Songwriter Profile.


7 thoughts on “Songwriting through grief

  1. beautiful song, Lynn, and wonderful insights from both of you. Lily, my heart just breaks with your ongoing painful struggle, as I am starting to have struggles with both my parents. And I hope you know you have lots of support all around you, and arms available for good hugs whenever you need them. I, too, like so many of us, have experienced loss that has been soul wrenching and quite devastating. When I learned of a close friend’s death, at just 56, I spent that day rocketing between feeling stunned, crying, sipping scotch (from a bottle this friend and I had shared, knowing the end was coming, just not expecting it so soon), and then sat at the piano for hours and actually wrote a song. It wasn’t intentional, but it brought some relief. There was sadness, loss, and even some anger in it (which can still come out when I sing it, though mostly now it sounds more melancholic). I wrote two more songs much later, like a year later, and it still has emotional charge for me (probably always will) when I try to sing them. But oh, the relief! Music is a constant friend, and a good place to let it all out, I find.


  2. The night before we took my Mom off of life support I wrote this song for her (…it was a way to express how I was feeling about her and the impact she had in my life.


  3. Lily we’re all proud of you for being so courageous and full of faith 🙂 For many of us, writing is therapeutic. It is sometimes really hard to do so because there’s so much to say and yet we don’t feel like we have enough energy to go there. I tried to just write random thoughts on paper and then later select the ones that I felt were most pertinent and here is the result.


  4. Thanks Joanne and Susan for sharing your experiences. I listened to your song Susan and was very moved by it. Unfortunately it’s a rite of passage that many of us must walk through. Hugs to you both!


  5. Wonderful article. Great timing. I’m going through grief of loss of my old self after having a stroke and then a ruptured brain aneursym. I’m recupterating quite well and glad to be alive. I also found out my sister has breast cancer although she’s been cancer free for a year. Then I lost a good friend who unfortunately decided to take his own life. He was a wonderful artist and songwriter who is missed by many.

    I still am unable to do much songwriting lately. The words won’t come. But I know that eventually they will. I wrote a piano piece (even though I don’t play piano) for my Mum after she died on her piano she willed to me. It’s not the greatest but it offers me solace. That was very healing.

    Hopefully this recent death of a friend will produce something too. Grief is exhausting for my emotions go from sadness to anger. Here was I, happy to still be alive, and here was this other person planning his own hanging death. What a comparison! It’s food for thought, that’s for sure. I will eventually write about this.

    Thanks for sharing this. The comments were useful too. Music does heal the soul.


  6. Sean Roberts

    Hang in there Lily & have faith that Music will help you through this tough path!!

    I lost my Dad 5 years ago & it was the most pain I’ve experienced in life so far.
    It felt like I was walking around with an open wound through my chest & heart for months.
    When I finally started working on my music again I could literally feel the hole mending inside. Music is magic!

    On my page the song “How My Body Bleeds” is written about the loss of a loved one.
    Not an uplifting diddy but an honest tune about the pain we deal with in these hard times.

    Stay strong!!


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