No matter what holidays you observe this time of year, you will be confronted with glitter. It’s in frosting, sprinkles, cards, Christmas ornaments, window décor. Everywhere. And like grief, glitter sticks to everything. It may spark joy or it may spark feelings of irritation or sadness. Whatever grief looks like for you during this holiday season, your experience is valid.
Perhaps the holidays may be something that you are looking forward to as you will be surrounded by loved ones, and is a welcome break from the emptiness you have been feeling. Or maybe this is a time of year you are dreading without your loved one, missing shared experiences. My full disclosure here then is that I do not know the best way for you to express your grief this time of year. I cannot “prescribe” the best music for you to listen to or not listen to. I can only offer a menu of options that may be helpful.
NEUTRAL, PREDICTABLE or NOTHING
Music therapist and bereavement coordinator Molly Hicks suggests that for those experiencing a very recent loss, holiday music may be too triggering at the moment and difficult to process through at this time. If you are experiencing “grief brain,” (yes, this is a real thing), then your mind is already flooded thinking about your loved one. It may be hard to focus. You may find yourself forgetting simple things like where you left your keys or how to make a basic meal that is always in your rotation. It can be overwhelming to even think of all the holiday preparations that you typically are in charge of. If this describes you, you may consider listening to music that does not have lyrics. This can allow some space for you to freely focus on your mental or emotional space as it is without lyrical dictation. You may consider just listening to instrumental music at a slow tempo and simply focus on your breath, timing just your breathing in synchronization with the music. Returning to your breath can assist in calming the mind to redirect to the present moment. This can have a physical benefit as well, such as lowering blood pressure and slowing the heart rate.
Oceans of Abundance – Steven Halpern
Spa music that can be found on spotify or youtube
Spa-Healing Music for Massage Yoga Meditation and Deep Sleep – Found on spotify
Do You Hear What I Hear? -The Piano Guys
O Come O Come, Emmanuel -The Piano Guys
Jesu Joy – The Piano Guys
Still, Still, Still -Jon Schmidt
You may also consider making a personal playlist to play in the car instead of listening to the radio, which may be playing non-stop holiday music this time of year. It can be comforting to have all your favorite songs lined up so you know what is coming next and don’t want any emotional surprises thrown your way.
Nothing. Not listening to music may be something you need most. Just silence can be comforting.
MUSIC THAT STIRS FOND MEMORIES
You may find that holiday music or whatever music you listen to this time of year actually helps you feel closer to your loved one that is not physically present. You may even find a way to incorporate music into a family tradition. Perhaps it is a song you listen to as you decorate the tree, special music you play in the evening, or a favorite Christmas song your loved one enjoyed. It is also an opportunity to share fond memories with friends and family about particular moments this time of year that your loved one made extra special.
This could be an opportunity to create a playlist or play a special album that your loved one enjoyed; maybe bringing out a songbook for a sing-along or carols to play on the piano.
FOR THE KIDS
Children do not present grief the typical way adults do. Kids generally present emotions of grief in spurts or may “act out” or need to be alone at times. These exhibits of grief are dependent on the developmental age of the child as well. Often kids will seem just fine as they are playing and enjoying things they always enjoy and so adults will interpret this as children are not really experiencing the same difficult emotions that adults are experiencing. In reality children are resilient but also need as much support as adults do, sometimes more. It is important we are able to offer stability and a sense of some normalcy for kids this time of year so they feel supported and secure. In my experience working with children in bereavement this time of year, there are opportunities to be found watching Christmas musicals that present characters who are also having difficulty with emotions during the holidays and even loss.
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas – A story about a grumpy character who feels alone in the world until he finds comfort and even love in the unconditional love of a local community.
A Charlie Brown Christmas – Sweet Charlie Brown is not really catching the “holiday spirit” and relies on his friends to help him find meaning and solidarity.
Olaf’s Winter Adventure – Silly lovable snowman Olaf is struggling this holiday season feeling displacement as everyone but himself and his dear friends Elsa and Anna seem to have holiday traditions. Elsa and Anna both have lost parents but remind Olaf that they take comfort and even joy in having each other.
Your kiddos may still want to hear their favorite Christmas songs. Whatever they are in the mood for this holiday is just fine.
Listening to music with your children or watching favorite holiday movies can be great conversation starters. You may ask, “what do you like about that song?” “Does this song remind you of (special person)?..what do you remember?” “Do you ever feel like the Grinch? Charlie Brown? Olaf?” Your child may not be ready to talk about their grief yet, but this can be a relief to be permitted to talk and normalize feelings.
And…like it or not, Jingle Bells. KIDS LOVE JINGLE BELLS.
MUSIC THAT UNDERSTANDS
Remember you are not alone in your grief. Many, many, many others can identify with whatever you may be experiencing this time of year. Song writers are among these people. You may want to try listening to a song that really resonates with you and write down some of the lyrics that you identify with. If you would like to sit with your grief and process those feelings, journal, or just go ahead and have a cry, here are some suggestions:
Christmas Makes Me Cry – Kacey Musgraves
Hard Candy Christmas – Dolly Parton
Blue Christmas – Elvis Presley
Sad Holiday – Niki Demar
Christmas Lights – Coldplay
River – Joanie Mitchell
Just a Lonely Christmas – The Supremes
The song Glitter by Patrick Droney expresses a powerful metaphor of what grief feels like this time of year for so many. The chorus summarizes it beautifully:
And it’s sweet and it’s bitter
Grief, it’s like glitter
Oh, what a mess it makes
What a me
ss it makes
Whatever glittery mess you are in, friends, I hope you feel supported this holiday. Know we are here for you.