October 29, 2018 Brigitte Ganger

What Country Music Gets Right About Grief

A bereavement playlist for moving through emotions

What Country Music Gets Right About Grief
Nostalgia for the good old days, drinking a cold one with your buddies and loving your family are all common themes among many country songs. (Shutterstock)

Grief is a universal experience that plays a role in all kinds of music. But there is one genre of music that gets grief exactly right: Country music often focuses on the subjects of love, loss and the grief of ordinary folks as they navigate life. Whether or not you are a country music fan, this kind of music can be the soundtrack of bereavement if you are in the mood to emote.  



Why does country music hit the bereaved so hard?


All genres of music explore the human condition, and there are many thematic and stylistic elements that allow musicians to tap into emotion. The country and western sound is marked by several musical ingredients that make it the perfect recipe for mourning. 


Nostalgia 


Yearning for the past is a common theme in most country songs. Desperation to capture parts of the old days, and wistful longing for things past are a part of nearly every country ballad that you'll hear on the radio. Everyone experiences pangs of nostalgia, and the feeling is very powerful. 


Country and western music is a traditional, folk-inspired style of music that lends itself well to themes of bereavement. (Shutterstock) 


These feelings are all too common for people who remember deceased loved ones with a twinge of regret or longing in their hearts. Remembering the past in vivid detail and yearning to return to moments that were more carefree are both natural parts of the grieving process. 


Those who are overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia may avoid thinking about the past, which is akin to a state of grief denial. If you want to lean into your yearning for the past, however, listening to country music can help you feel your feelings, and get them out in the open.


Simplicity


Country music is descended from folk music, and is recognizable by its fairly simplistic musical patterns. It's music that can can be shared on the road, around a bonfire or at home with family. Even casual musicians can negotiate basic patterns to make meaningful music in this style. Anyone familiar with country music can enjoy and participate. 


Many country songs are relatable to grieving people because of the simplicity in which they conjure details and express human emotions. 



Loss


Loss of love, loss of the good old days and loss of loved ones—country music explores the grief we feel when something or someone we cherish is taken from us. Because country music is so nostalgic, the end of good times with good people is even more painful. This kind of music has a unique ability to remind people of their roots, and points out the difference between then and now. 


When someone you love dies, it's normal to think of the past and compare that lightness to the darkness of grief. That's why listening to country music during bereavement can be cathartic for some people, and overwhelming for others. 


God 


Country and western music often references God and heaven. Christianity is a main religion of the South, and this deeply held religious and cultural creed shows in many songs of this genre. 


There's no one way to experience grief in relation to religion. Some folks experience a serious crisis of faith in all parts of their life, including religion, when a loved one dies. Others return to church, or sense a deepening in faith, since Christianity offers promises for an afterlife. Believing that your loved one is in heaven can be an incredible comfort to someone struggling with a death.  


Country music's frequent references to heaven, living a good Christian life and trusting God are a comfort to the bereaved. This can make grieving while listening to country music meaningful for practicing or cultural Christians.



Connection


Humans need emotional connection with others in order to survive. We are an empathic species, and modern life isn't always conducive to healthy or regular expressions of emotion. Between work, family and the daily grind, many people don't often get a chance to explore  their feelings. For many, listening to music can help connect with others in a more emotive way.  


One regular theme in many country songs is the fun of drinking with friends. Indulging in whiskey, beer and shots at the local bar is a way to relax, unwind and find human connection. In the throes of grief, you might feel the urge to spend time with others who share your pain.



Dependability


For those who love to listen to it, the rural blend of stringed instruments, simple melodies and emotive lyrics is a way of tapping into feelings that are universal. Frequently exploring nostalgic themes that reflect the blue collar lifestyle, living in America, falling in love, drinking with friends and loss. All of these consistent country music elements are dependable—which is exactly what grieving people need when their life has been turned upside down by a recent death.



Finding your tune


Country and western music has the power to unite people. In North America, country is one of the most popular genres of music, in part due to its unique ability to bring strong emotions to the surface. This genre of music taps into something emotional in all of us, and can help process the feelings that elude us.  

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