Cry It Out With WYG’s Ultimate Grief Playlist

When my first serious boyfriend broke up with me the summer after I graduated high school, I was thoroughly and completely devastated. I made it my prerogative to fully experience the anguish of my first heartbreak by locking myself in my room, pouring over old photos, and writing tear-soaked love poems. I might have stayed in that room forever (or at least until the weekend) had one of my closest friends not shown up with just the thing for a broken heart – blank CDs.

Now I don’t think CDs are so far in our past that I have to explain them to anyone, do I?  Google it if you must and while you’re at it look up audio cassette tapes which are, in my opinion, the most classic break up mix medium.  Anyway, we headed up to my attic to my clunky family PC and burned one of the greatest mixes of all time named ‘Eleanor and Jamie’s Sad Mix’.  I was good with titles even then.

This CD stayed with me through several subsequent heartbreaks until it grew too smudged and scratched to play even a single song all the way through. You might have thought that as I moved into my 20s the songs would start to feel a little dated, perhaps a little out of context, but no, they always did the trick.  In fact, I thought they really grew better with age.

Since my first superficial heartbreak, I’ve unfortunately learned how much deeper the pain of true loss can cut. Fortunately, I’ve become far more proficient at coping with hardship than I was at the age of 17 (okay, okay – most of the time), but the one thing that has never changed is that when I feel down I always go back to my sad mix tapes CDs digital playlists.

I know I’m not the only one who loves a good music-fueled cry. I just had a look around the shared playlists on Spotify – “Sad Love Songs”, “Sad Station”, “Sad Songs for Crying Yourself to Sleep” – so anecdotally – there are many of us. This is also reflected in the research. For example, a 2014 study found that people choose to listen to sad music and tend to like it more when they in the midst of emotional distress. So it’s a common coping mechanism, but is it effective?

Doesn’t it seem like listening to sad songs when you’re sad would make you even sadder? Well, I suppose, but only if you look at sadness as a purely and objectively negative experience which…it isn’t. Sadness, in general, is actually far more complex and, depending on the situation, is often linked with pleasant experiences like nostalgia, relief, calm, and awe.

Listening to sad music, in particular, has been linked with a number of positive experiences like nostalgia, imagination, empathy, peacefulness, tenderness, transcendence, and wonder. For participants living in Western cultures, nostalgia has been cited as the most common experience, which makes total sense. The most meaningful music is often related to memory which, as you know, commonly comes in the form of bittersweet nostalgia after a loss.

In another study, researchers found that 61-92% of their samples reported experiencing joyful sadness while listening to sad music, while 40-56% of participants reported experiencing distressing feelings like grief, loss, and hatred. I’m certain that many people’s experiences were mixed because grief is often defined by conflicting emotions. Many of the most comforting experiences and memories are a mix of happy and sad. Why should music be any different?

One final study, identified three different types of sadness experiences based on participant responses:

(1) Comforting Sorrow was associated with feelings of comfort, tenderness, peacefulness, and being sad but elated. People who experience comforting sorrow often spend time reflecting on the song’s lyrics and thinking about how they relate to other people, life situations, and/or social relationships.

(2) Sublime Sorrow was associated with feelings of transcendence, wonder, satisfaction, pleasant melancholia, and joy.  This is often defined as a moving experience and it’s thought to be related to instrumental music or music where the lyrics aren’t meaningful or understood.

(3) Grief Stricken Sorrow is a type of sadness experience that is considered mostly negative.  This experience is related to feeling downhearted, anxious, powerless, self-pity, and grief-stricken sadness. Like comforting sorrow, grief-stricken sorrow appears to be related to reflection on meaningful and/or familiar lyrics.

We see the experience of grief-stricken sorrow echoed in the expressions of some of our readers. Recently, when we asked people to share song suggestions for a grief playlist, several people remarked that they’ve had a very difficult time listening to music since their loved one’s death. We received many comments like “There are too many memories,” “I rarely listen to music anymore,” “It’s too sad,” and “I feel like I’ve lost music too.”

So for some people, listening to music may be more distressing than comforting and this can feel like a secondary loss.  Though, based on what we know about grief, grief triggers, and continued bonds, there’s reason to hope that many people who experience music with grief-stricken sorrow in the early days of grief will eventually get to a place where they can not only listen to familiar music, but that they are also able to find comfort, tenderness, peace, and/or nostalgia in the experience.

With that, let’s finish where we started with a good-ole’ fashioned playlist full of songs submitted by our readers. A few days ago we asked our followers on Facebook and Instagram, “What is the saddest song on your grief playlist?” and we received over 300 responses! We’ve gathered most of the submissions (all those that we could locate) onto the Spotify playlist below. Only 100 of the 312 songs are listed here, so we recommend heading over to Spotify to check out the full list (the basic version of Spotify is free). Spotify users can follow this playlist, which we’ll continue to add to over time. Obviously, not all the songs on here will appeal to you, so we suggest creating your own playlist based on the suggestions that you like.    

Keep your song suggestions coming in the comments below.  Also, don’t forget to subscribe to receive our blog posts straight to your email inbox.  

July 17, 2018

88 responses on "Cry It Out With WYG's Ultimate Grief Playlist"

  1. Oh! And here’s one to cry to: “21 Years“ was written by Tobymac when his son passed away (about 2 months after my son, Alex, died.).

  2. Thank you for this! We love music in our home and always have something going, but when my son died in a sudden accident in July (2019) it tripped us up a bit. He was 17. His sisters, 16 and 20 and I have had conversations about this very subject. My 16 yr old avoids the sad songs. My 20 yr old and I listen to them much more. Some songs aren’t exactly sad, but they hold big memories with them. I had to pull over when driving the other day because a very funny song that Alex had introduced to us came on and it fought me off guard. I was laughing and crying all over myself! But I wouldn’t want to not have those memories! In fact since that day I’ve listened to that funny song 5 times. Thank you for this article.

  3. “Days” by The Kinks or the version by Kristy MacColl.

  4. Into my arms – Nick Cave. plus all of Ghosteen

  5. ‘Remember’ by NTHN

    My son wrote this track when his friend lost her husband as a way of trying address the different stages of the grieving process and as a reminder that we are often a lot stronger than we believe – our inner strength can carry us through, even if we don’t feel it at the time.

    Here’s a link to the track on Spotify:

  6. “Seasons In the Sun”, Terry Jacks, just came across this the other day…

  7. How do you get that lonely- blaine larson

  8. If I could bring you back by Joe Diffie

  9. Early MOrning Rain, Gordon LIghtfoot
    I’m not Supposed to Care, Gordon LIghtfoot
    Looking at the Rain, Gordon Lighrfoot
    Four Walls, sung by Jim Reeves
    I Dreamed about Momma Last Night, Hank Williams
    Honey – Bobby Goldsboro
    With Pen in Hand Vikki Carr
    Jenny Bryce – James Keelaghan
    Hello in There – John Pryne
    Below – Slaid Cleaves
    All I wanna do is make love to you – Heart
    Grand Cenral Station – Mary Chapin-Carpenter
    Letter Edged in Black
    I’m Here to Get My Baby out of Jail
    Lightning Express

    I listen to all kinds of music. IN the last few years I’ve lost my next youngest sibling (who loved Heart) my parents and I found out my other brother was a narcissistic manipulator in disguise. There are plenty more songs than this that could go on a griefl list but here are some of mine.

    With Pen In

  10. I’ll Never Love Again, by Lady Gaga – This one is a real tearjerker for me – reminds me of how Steve & I met and how much I miss him.

  11. Song for my Father- Sarah Mclachlan
    Most of All- Brandi Carlile
    Sunday Morning Coming Down- Johnny Cash

  12. I too do not see any playlist. There’s a long blank space after the last sentence (…based on the suggestions that you like.), then the comments begin. What am I missing?

  13. “Saw You in a Dream” by The Japanese House is my go-to song when I want to let my emotions just pour out. The artist wrote it about a friend who had passed away, and the lyrics really really resonate with me. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a relatably painful song.

  14. Drowning by Chris young

  15. When my Husband passes away 2 years ago, I played The Beates’ “In My Life” and “Here, There And everywhere” and The Last Mile Of the Way”. by Sam Cooke.

  16. Music has always been a part of my life. I work to it, play to it, and even read to it. After my wife passed away in 2014, it took me awhile until I could listen to everything I had collected (almost 200 different artists), except Phil Ochs. At least I found some newer artists who weren’t associated with our love of music – The Staves, Red Molly, and Lord Huron. I still can’t listen to Phil Ochs.

  17. My husband died in a strange accident at age 52; his own car crushed him to death, and the police had no clue how that could have happened. Accordingly, my personal favorite songs are Die Young, Only the Good Die Young, and Last Kiss.

  18. Another one I thought of is “I Kill Giants” (the stripped version) by The Naked and Famous. It always reminds me of those I’ve loved and lost, especially my cousin who died of an accidental overdose this summer.

  19. Heavy Rope (the acoustic version) by LIGHTS. This song will always break my heart into a million little pieces.

  20. I have lost 2 adult children, identical twin girls. Amanda at age 25 in 2009, and more recently, Shanda, Christmas Eve 2017, at age 33. Music was so prominent in both my daughters’ lives. Every day, music was played, appreciated and was so enmeshed in their world. Cherished now by me, are songs that bring them back to me in an instant when I hear them…so many are already listed in others posts above…these here, were not yet:
    Life Is A Highway – Tom Cochrane; Use Somebody – Kings of Leon; Mercy – Duffy;
    Thousand Years – Christina Perri; Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers; The Crossroads – Bone Thugs ‘N Harmony

  21. “Every Time I See Your Picture” and “Resurrect the Love” by Luba. These songs were actually written in memory of her own father, who died of a heart attack when she was only 21.

  22. If I Die Young – The Band Perry
    Over You – Miranda Lambert
    You Should be Here – Cole Swindell

  23. five for fighting, 100 yrs greg allman,these days neil young, goin back stephen still ,do for the others skid row,i remember you ozzie ,dreamer bread,goodbye girl harry nilsson,without you will cheer ya right up i promise!

    goodbye girl harry nilsson without you

  24. “We May Never Pass this Way Again” by Seals and Crofts

  25. Wish You Were Here by Florence and the Machine
    I’ll Be Brave for You by the xx

  26. Release — Pearl Jam
    Disappear — Dream Theater
    Wonderful Tonight — Eric Clapton (the 24 nights version)

  27. Photographs and memories by Jim Croce

    Time in a bottle by Jim Croce

    Landslide by Dixie Chics

    Grandpa tell me about the good ole days by The Judd’s

  28. For relationship grief: Jackson Browne’s “Fountain Of Sorrow “and “Late for the Sky” ….extraordinarily thought provoking and moving

  29. It Can’t Rain All The Time by Jane Siberry

    Everyday Is Exactly The Same by Nine Inch Nails

    Wake Me Up When September Ends by Green Day

    A song I believe is called The Christmas Shoes. Don’t know who does it.

  30. Famous Blue Raincoat by The immortal Leonard Cohen

  31. Bed’s too big without you by Police
    Apologies if already proposed

  32. “Time Stands Still” by Rush
    “Clocks” by Coldplay

  33. Baby Blue by Dave Matthews Band

  34. “The Bliss” by Volbeat! I felt like my fiance (passed away 18 months ago at age of 30) could have written it directly to me after he died.

  35. I agree with Pashta Merrymoon Con Te Partiro (lost my wife of 60 years and hope to follow her soon ) I love you Connie, with you I will go

  36. The First Time, Ever I Saw Your Face by Roberta Flack.

  37. You Are My Sunshine by Elizabeth Mitchell – in memory of my one-year-old grandson who died last year on Mother’s Day. 22 people a day die waiting for an organ transplant that never comes. Please consider giving the gift of life.

  38. Some songs that haven’t been mentioned yet that make me think of my son…
    Just Breathe by Pearl Jam
    Beyond the Sea (from Finding Nemo)
    Nothing Compares 2 U by Sinead O’Connor
    I Try by Macy Gray
    Baby Mine (from the movie Dumbo)
    Purple Rain by Prince

  39. Great lists and songs everyone! Thank you. The Pearl Jam song “Come Back” from the ‘Avocado’ album is a deeply imploring song that takes me back 40 years to the death of my mother. I used to dream that she was alive until I awoke the next morning!
    Also good to hear one of my favourite bands the Avett Brothers getting some mentions.

  40. I Hope You Dance
    In the Arms of an Angel

  41. Thank you Teri Sahn-Silver. Found it!

  42. No Hard Feelings By The Avett Brothers

  43. Thanks for this… I already had a playlist on spotify with some sad songs, now I have a bigger one after listening to this playlist. I especially related to Through My Prayers by Avett Brothers. It’s a song I had never heard, but I already liked the band. Thanks everyone for your submissions.

  44. I want to apologize for my previous remarks. My brothers birthday was July 10 and a dear friend announced she was leaving my area on that same day. I’ve been reliving lots of pain for the last few days. I wanted to listen to the grief play list and ‘cry it out’, but when it came up that I needed to open an account with Spot-iffy I didn’t react well. Overall I think Whats Your Grief is a great site. Just maybe not a fan of how spottily does things.


  45. Damb – won’t even reply to my message. All I can say is go to Hell.
    Some of us are hurting, more than you know. Try having a real loss in your life, see what that feel like. You would not be a sell out if you did. I will be removing myself from you channel and web site. You are phonies and charlatans. Shame on you. Real people hurt but you are just using us. FUCK YOU~!!

  46. And an other thing, I am in pain, lots of pain regarding my brothers death, and all you gave me was an opportunity to give Spottily my money. You used to help me when I was feeling this way. Now you are all about is marketing, shame on you!!!

  47. Let it Be-Paul McCartney wrote it after he dreamt his mother told him this.

    Land of Hope and dreams-Bruce Springsteen

    Good-bye for Now-Kathy Troccoli

  48. I have a 2 1/2 hour playlist of my “favorite” grief songs that I play over and over again and these particular songs help with grieving the loss of my husband. Here’s one that I’ve added most recently that really speaks to me: The Night We Met by Lord Huron. “… And then I can tell myself, What the hell I’m supposed to do, And then I can tell myself Not to ride along with you…”

  49. It will be 4 years in September that my husband died from cancer. Rarely a day goes by where I don’t cry. Music was such a huge part of his life. He recorded a song for me “One More Day” …… on days that are really hard, I listen and listen to that song. I miss him so much.
    When Miranda Lambert’s album “The Weight of These Wings” was release, it was like every song expressed all the emotions and feelings of my heart and soul. My favorites are:
    Dear Old Sun
    Things That Break
    Well Rested
    I’ve Got Wheels

  50. DREAM RIVER by The Mavericks
    WHISPERING PINES boy Iris DeMent
    ME AND THE EAGLE by Steve Earle
    RED RIVER VALLEY by George Strait

  51. Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again (Phantom of the Opera)

    Totally forgot about the dead father storyline in this one until I saw Phantom again last night. That song definitely brought me to tears!

  52. There is no link to get to the Playlist that I can find. The name of the Playlist is also not given. I would really like to access this Playlist. Thanks.

  53. If you search Grief Playlist Volume 1 on Spotify it will come up

  54. “Be Here Long” by NEEDTOBREATHE. I listened to this song quite a bit after my mom passed.

  55. You Should Be Here
    Cole Swindell

  56. I always thought that Godspeed (Sweet Dreams) by the Dixie Chicks was really a song about a mother grieving her boy. After losing my son, I can’t listen to it anymore (or really much of anything anymore). My son loved music and had earbuds in his ears almost constantly. I have pretty much stopped listening to music. Popular music just reminds me of my loss, not that I ever forget. I get that horrible jarring feeling of “that unspeakable thing really did happen” when I hear certain songs and I’m back to that horrible day. I have a small daughter now, who loves music as well. She loves driving in the car with daddy because he will listen to cd’s, and mom drives with the car quiet. She has spent more time at the cemetery than any 5 year old should, but I don’t know how to explain the connection between my grief and music to her. She just thinks I don’t like music.

  57. Avett Brothers – Morning Song, Murder in the City and No Hard Feelings

  58. If I Die Young -The band Perry; Say Hello 2 Heaven – The Temple of the Dog; Fix You – Coldplay;

  59. Carrie Underwood: See You Again

  60. Pieces by RED
    Fine on the Outside – Priscilla Ahn
    Le Onde – Ludovico Einaudi
    Across the Ocean – Azure Ray
    Iris and Jasper – Hans Zimmer
    Breathe Me – Sia
    Nicest Thing – Kate Nash
    Loftið Verður Skyndilega Kalt – Ólafur Arnalds
    매일의 고백 (2016 Remastered) (Daily Confessions) – 강아솔 (Kang Ah Sol)
    I’ve Seen Hell – Martin Phipps
    Sara Bareilles’ cover of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’
    Echo – Jason Walker
    너뿐이야 (You’re the Only One) – 최시원 (Choi Siwon)
    Undertow – Ane Brun
    Madison – Ola Gjeilo
    거짓말 거짓말 거짓말 (Lie, Lie, Lie) – 이적 (Lee Juck)
    Little House – Amanda Seyfried
    Follow You Down to the Old Oak Tree – James Vincent McMorrow
    The Death of Jane Seymour – Trevor Morris
    Beautiful – MercyMe
    Look Back – Martin Phipps
    The Light Will Come – Phil Wickham
    A Dream Discarded – John Williams
    Fall to Earth – Glass Pear
    The Violet Hour – The Civil Wars

  61. If you came back from heaven
    By Lori morgan

  62. Hey, Girl.sung by Freddie Scott
    Brings me to tears every time .
    My loss is a Boy but doesn’t matter
    Blessings to all of you who have lost boys and girls
    and of course beloved animals

  63. Lost my husband in late 2015
    Music was a great part of my healing.

    Baroque Music
    Memory -Cats
    Don’t let the sun catch you crying.
    Only Time by Enya
    a-ha – Crying In The Rain by Gerry and the Pacemakers

  64. Lost my husband in late 2015
    Music was a great part of my healing.

    Baroque Music
    Don’t let the sun catch you crying.
    Only Time by Enya
    a-ha – Crying In The Rain by Gerry and the Pacemakers

  65. A song to add to the list is
    Between Here and Gone
    Mary Chapin Carpenter

    It really helps with the grief sorrow

  66. If you are taking requests, the haunting irish fiddle tune
    “Ashokan Farewell” from The Civil War documentary soundtrack. I am still a blubbering mess when I hear that tune.

  67. I can identify with the 3 different types of sadness viz. (1) Comforting Sorrow, ( 2) Sublime Sorrow and (3) Grief Stricken Sorrow. Often when I feel overwhelmed by the loss of my husband to Alzheimer’s Disease, I find myself playing “sad” music, particularly Andre Rieu’s CD “Farewell: Music to Sooth the Spirit.” I find the 3rd track , “Benedictus” (from St. Cecelia Mass, Gounod) moves me to tears every time but in some sort of strange way it “comforts” me and I feel strangely “warmed” by it. It seems to touch every emotional button but somehow I find I want to continue listening. I have been thinking that I was “strange” to listen to such music when I was having a “down” day. I thank your for this article because I now realise I am not alone in this “listening” – even though it must seem bizarre to others who are not walking the road of grief and bereavement.

  68. Close your eyes- James Taylor
    Ripple- Grateful Dead.

  69. Time to Say Goodbye — Andrea Bocelli (the song I want sung to me as I die, and at my funeral service).

  70. Can’t believe Death Cab for Cutie – I Will Follow You into the Dark didn’t make the list!

  71. Somewhere in Time by the composer John Barry. I lost my 23 year old son to cancer 9 years ago and I only listen to this song on the date he passed on June 12th of every year. Too painful; but in essence I know I’ll find him again one day. I still cry for him everyday…there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t.

  72. Sideways by Citizen Cope
    Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin
    I assume Tears in heaven already made the list

  73. Can’t Live if Living Is Without You

  74. Please Remember Me, Scotty McCreery and Randy Newman’s When I’m Gone (season finale of Monk). Great lyric something like; ‘as for the light by which you see me, leave it on.’ Powerful melody. Very therapeutic.

  75. Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen
    Why should I cry for you: Sting
    In the arms of an angel: Sarah McLachlan
    A Thousand Years: Christina Perri
    I don’t want to miss a thing: Aerosmith

  76. One of the most rending losses of my life to date is 6 years long now and I still cry when I hear Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock”

  77. Rest in peace by Aron Wright
    Who am i by Andrew Galucki
    Saturn by Sleeping At Last
    Last nigth on heart by Green Day
    Here Without You by 3 Doors Down

  78. I love this. The playlist is on Spotify – an online subscription service for music and podcasts – you need to download the spotify service. It’s free (with commercials), a paid subscription without commercials.

    I created a spotify playlist to memorialize my brother, who died unexpectedly. It was a labor of love with over 100 songs. I still listen to it.
    He was a die hard Rolling Stones fan! You Can’t Always Get What you Want. But if you Try Sometimes, You Might Find. You get what you need!

  79. Music is a big part of my life, especially opera and other forms of classical music. But this music has never been a source of comfort during the grieving process. In fact, just the opposite. For a year after my mother died, I could not listen to an opera. I am happy that it gives comfort to others.

  80. Only th Good Die Young

  81. Otherside- by Post Malone. I feel like this song’s lyrics reflect my feelings when I think of my husband who passed away from Cancer at the age of 46 last year. I truly believe music heals.

  82. Goodbye my friend-Linda Rondstat
    I and love and you- Avett Brothers

  83. Evergreen by Streisand. Had it played at my husband’s funeral nearly 24 years ago, and still, just thinking of the name makes me cry, don’t even have to hear it.

  84. Over and Over by Rachael Yamagata

  85. My husband passed away 14 months ago. I started listening to sad songs almost right away. Often I cried, but as time moved forward I often felt comforted.

    I have my favorites of course. And sometimes I still cry. I also found songs about heartache meaningful. My heart was broken by the loss.

    I listen to music every day.

  86. I can’t find this playlist. Can you make it public please? Thank you.

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