Music and Its Impact on the Grieving Process

Those of you who knew my husband, Dunc, might not have known how musical he was. Unless you can recall his whistling, that is. (And then you might not remember it for its musical quality, more for its repetitiveness and its vibrato!) Dunc could sing a tune back, no matter how complex, having only heard it once. He had a really good singing voice, but had never really explored using it, favouring whistling, even in the shower. Apparently, his musical career got off to a rocky start: he failed his grade one piano exam and then played the clarinet badly in church (his own words). I think these two events deterred him from taking music any further. However, Dunc very much enjoyed listening to music, whether it be something heavy on his iPod at work (mostly when senior managers weren’t looking), or on the stereo at home on a Saturday morning, bouncing around the lounge, with the boys and I, to something more cheesy. He had eclectic music tastes and I fear that the boys will develop an appreciation of mostly pop music in his absence, unless someone comes forth and volunteers to educate them in the art of German heavy metal!

Dunc liked to play music loud, whatever the genre, and I often found myself becoming slightly irked by the volume, particularly if I’d had a busy day or was feeling stressed. As a result, I was surprised that I felt the need to listen to a lot of music, and at quite some volume, in the early days following Dunc’s death. It was as if I was trying to fill a silence and a void. If nothing else, it helped to buoy me up, as it is hard to be so sad when listening to something bright and lively. I still use music now to lift my spirits on more difficult days. Combining a good tune with a bit of crazy dancing with my two gorgeous boys never fails to lighten my mood. When my energy levels are low, I find myself at the piano, playing and singing, though preferably with only the boys around to hear my rather rusty music-making attempts. This works especially well in the evenings when they don’t want me to go downstairs after bedtime. Playing the piano calms me; the boys know I am right at the bottom of the stairs and they can hear that I am definitely there.

Sometimes, I use music to help me to acknowledge and to deal with my emotions when I know that they are close to the surface. There are inevitably times when it is necessary to put on a brave face, and this can be especially difficult if I am feeling particularly emotional. Alternatively, it might be that I can feel my emotions building, but tears just won’t come. My strategy for both eventualities is to give myself time to play a tune or two on the stereo that will enable me to cry, releasing my emotions and making me feel more able to deal with the next event or the day ahead.

Music, however, does come with a health warning when one is grieving. Along with its ability to lift me up when I am feeling low, it also has the ability to bring me right back down on a day when I have successfully managed to distract myself from my feelings until that point. Imagine me happily driving the boys to their swimming lessons on a sunny Saturday morning, only for I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston, or pretty much anything by Mumford and Sons, to be played on the radio. I have learnt that it is prudent to switch it off if I do not want to find myself being stared at by the driver next to me at traffic lights, wondering what can be so bad that I am crying silent tears at 8:30a.m. on a beautiful day!

I’m sure we all have songs and pieces of music that are strongly associated with particular moments in time. The boys like listening to Nobody Does It Better by Carly Simon. They have watched the video of Dunc and I attempting to dance to it at our wedding and they know it is special. For me, it is hard to hear now, and I hope that in time it will just form one of my many fond memories again. When I hear Don’t Stop Me Now (the Mc Fly version, I’m afraid), it takes me back to the evening of Sam’s birth and Dunc being a truly brilliant birth partner. Even hearing the Match of the Day music on Saturday night brought a lump to my throat, just because it was late and I was sitting watching the football on my own. After all, our interest in football (and sport generally) was one of the first things that brought Dunc and I together as a couple.

Christmas music will soon present me with a host of difficulties. Dunc always made the most of the opportunity to play festive songs throughout December. He enjoyed the really old songs that his parents played when he was young (having searched them out on Amazon), the more recent, popular ones, and bizarrely (and discretely), Michael Buble’s Christmas album. Playing any of these tunes at home this year will be strictly according to the mood of the boys and I. Going out Christmas shopping will be risky though, because I can not control the music to which I am subjected whilst doing it. I can just picture myself browsing in the stores, laden with shopping bags, chewing my quivering lip, while Mariah Carey sings All I Want for Christmas is Youoooooo in the background. It was previously my festive guilty pleasure, but this year it just seems a bit too close to the bone. In addition, I’m wondering how many times I will have to sit through Away in a Manger and Silent Night, trying not to well up when I think about the words.

Christmas music aside (and I actually wouldn’t be without it, even now), I think music generally has a very positive part to play in helping me to deal with my grief. In the words of Johnny Depp, “Music can open up so many emotions that we didn’t know we had.” Scary though it is to face the emotions involved in moving through the grieving process, that is what I must do, if I am to emerge the other side in one piece. I wonder if Adele and Scouting for Girls know what an important role they have to play in helping me, and, presumably, many others like me, through this tricky time?!Image

Dunc exploring his musical talents on Sam’s ELC guitar!

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