Music can be a solace in times of grief. In this post I share some principles I’ve learned about worship and grieving. I’ve led music at several funeral services over the years for friends, family and church members.
Our Grief Story
Last week my mother-in-law (78) went to be with Jesus quietly at home after a long battle with Huntington’s disease.
Grieving is hard. Death, although an inevitable part of life, is neither desired nor natural. I’ve heard people say, “I don’t like funerals.” Well, of course not, nobody likes a funeral, that’s understandable.
Until you suffer a loss, you don’t know how to handle it. Mom’s passing was not unexpected. It had been imminent for a long time. Yet it was still a great shock to my wife when she got the word.
Pops is 82 and heroically insisted on caring for mom at home during her 16 year illness. On the day she fell asleep he shared “It’s surreal, I can’t believe it. I’ve never seen anybody die before.”
Planning Music For The Funeral
I helped plan the music and the funeral service with the family. Mom loved to sing.
Pops wanted a lot of music.
Music can really help when we are grieving. The sound, the lyrics, the melodies of meaningful songs console us.
Thinking theologically, the presence of God through the Holy Spirit is the only genuine source of comfort. In John 14:16, Jesus describes the Holy Spirit as the Comforter who will abide with us in our time of need.
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; (John 14:16 )
But, music, and in particular, worship music can help us process very powerful emotions.
Five Ways Music Comforts
1. Music helps us connect with and express our emotions.
We can express our sadness. We can also give voice to our longing for hope.
For example, the text and melody of the great hymn, Oh Love That Will Not Let Me Go is one I personally love and included as a prelude in mom’s service.
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
Next in the service, we opened with an old fashioned family hymn sing that included:
- Blessed Assurance,
- Leaning on The Everlasting Arms
- It Is Well With My Soul
Later after a scripture and prayer, we all sang In The Garden.
These songs allowed us to release the wide range of emotions we were feeling with honest, yet trusting lyrics.
2. Music can powerfully influence our mood by the associations we have with that song.
Certain songs highlight the soundtrack of our lives. The life experiences and accompanying feelings associated with that song carry deep significance and personal meaning.
For Pops, the song “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” meant a great deal.
He remembered singing along with it on the radio when his newborn son, their third child, died unexpectedly in 1958. When we were looking through the hymn book at songs, he really wanted to include He’s Got The Whole World because he sang it everyday during that season of grief in his life.
The song was meaningful to his family’s story.
Soundtrack songs matter most to the one(s) who lived that moment in time. That’s why we say “Oh, that song takes me back to …”
This fact has more impact the older we get and “memories of the good ol’ days” play a more important role in our day-to-day life.
3. Music can help us honor the memory of, and connect with, the heart of our loved one.
Mom and Pops loved the hymn “Whispering Hope” and sang it frequently to the kids.
We planned this song in the funeral service after a time of sharing testimonies.
By singing it together we could connect with something dear to the family memory and her heart.
4. Special music can make the moment really special.
I shared an original song called “Requiem” , adapting the lyrics to sing “Marie’s Requiem”.
5. Lyrics of faith can help us find and express hope in God.
In worship, we literally put words in people’s mouths. They can express and resolve our grief back to the Lord.
Great lyrics remind us of what we know and believe. They can inspire and reveal fresh faith. This can empower the funeral service itself to be a witness to saving belief in Jesus Christ.
For this purpose we concluded with a medley of songs that included:
- The Solid Rock,
- ‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus,
- There Is Power in The Blood,
- He’s Got Whole World in His Hands,
- Will The Circle Unbroken,
- When We All Get To Heaven
TIP: How to Be Relevant
To be relevant in a particular family and cultural context, you need to connect with what’s meaningful to them, not the CCLI top 100 or Relevant Magazine.
For this family clan in rural Delaware, old timey country church hymns were the most relevant way to minister.
Take All The Time You Need
For those affected, it is important to grieve in whatever way they wish and for as long as they wish.
It takes a lot of time to grieve a loss, the greater the loss, the more time it takes. Life will never be the same, don’t pretend it should be. But it can still be meaningful, even when tinged with sadness.
In seasons of grief, worship comforts our souls and lifts our spirits.
Keep it real. I hope this article encourages a wholehearted, worshipful perspective in seasons of grieving.
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By the way, have you heard about my next missions trip to Sri Lanka? Read about it here.