Using Music for Complicated Family Grief

GriefRecently I wrote about grief and complicated family dynamics. In it I suggested that the death of a family member with whom you have a strained relationship can bring up conflicting feelings, while also presenting you with the opportunity to more clearly define what kinds of relationships you want to experience and to examine how you wish to experience family. In order to get to this point, I spoke about the need to move through feelings of anger or bitterness. Again, it’s ok and normal to feel these feelings, but it’s important to not get “stuck” there.

In this post, I want to identify ways in which music can be used to get through those feelings because, while simply reading the words may make the process look easy, it can really be more difficult than that. Depending upon the degree and nature of the strained relationship, it can take some time to get to a place of acceptance and of openness to taking on a new perspective. Because music can affect us so deeply and profoundly with seemingly little effort, it can be an effective from of treatment for complicated family grief.

Listening to Meaningful Music

One way music may be used is through the use of personally meaningful songs. Is there a particular song that reminds you of that person? Of your relationship with that person? If so, listen to it. Let the music allow you to acknowledge your feelings without judgement because there is no right or wrong to how you feel and how you experience your grief. The purpose of this activity is to be able to acknowledge the feelings and to let them move out of you so that you don’t have to hold onto them inside yourself.

Once you’ve done this, the next step is to find a song that reflects how you would have liked the relationship to have been. Listening to this song might be more difficult in that it may bring up feelings of resentment or sadness that you were unable to experience this with your family member. Again, listen without judgment because there is no right or wrong to how you feel, but do allow yourself to remain open to experiencing the positive qualities of the song you selected.


Something that can be helpful for getting to a place of acceptance and a readiness to move forward is to engage in song-writing. Put down into words what you want or need to say. Writing this out moves the feelings and thoughts from within you to the outside of you; you no longer have to carry these things within yourself. While you’re writing, you may even come up with new insights.

From this place, you can work with your thoughts and feelings so that you can create something of beauty from your grief. In setting your words to music, you may choose a familiar melody to use or create your own. My own experience with song-writing has often been that words will come to me already set to a melody, which doesn’t have to be complex. Keep it simple and accessible. This song is for you.

Help is Available

Keep in mind that this isn’t meant to be a fast, linear process. It can take time in to find the music that best represents how you’re feeling or how you want to feel. It can be difficult to go to these emotional places, so remaining open to your experience without judgment is important, as is giving yourself the time and space for reflection. If you find it too difficult to do on your own, also know that it is ok to seek outside help. If this is where you are at in your grieving process, contact me; I can provide you with the support and guidance you need for navigating through this difficult time. Learn more here about the counseling services I offer adults.

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