We all have lost someone near and dear to us in our lives. For many of us, we aren’t truly given the time and resources to properly grieve for our loss. And even when we are given that grace, we find it difficult to cope with the reality we’re facing.
Thankfully, music can help us through our darkest days. So today, I’m going to provide you with impactful songs about losing someone, which can hopefully help you better deal with any pain or heartache you’re suffering from.
Whether you’ve lost a loved one, a romantic partner, or even yourself, these songs will remind you that there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel, and that better days are coming.
“Lost Somebody” – A Tribe Called Quest
This song begins with an isolated bass line. At first glance, no one really knows where the bass is going, or what the song will come to be, which is very similar to the silence we endure after we’ve lost someone we loved; we’re not really sure what comes next. Eventually, a snare and bass drum invade the silence, accompanied by an upbeat, yet somber piano melody, and rapper, Q-Tip, says the name of his best friend and brother from another mother, “Phife.”
Malik Izaak, popularly known as Phife Dawg was an incredibly talented member of the hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest. Shortly before the release of their latest album, Phife Dawg passed away due to complications with diabetes.
Q-Tip begins his verse artistically detailing how Phife was miraculously born in a place and time where being a person of color meant there were people and institutions designed to eradicate his very existence; but he survived.
Q-Tip goes on to express how Phife was like his little brother, which meant they naturally celebrated together and fought together like normal siblings. He reminisces on how they lived an authentic life together and never pretended to be someone they weren’t. Q-Tip can do nothing but appreciate the life he shared with his best friend and sorrowfully wish he was there to celebrate the fruits of their labor together. This was definitely one of the harder songs to listen to on their last album because it dives into the heart of the grief of Q-Tip and another founding member of the group, Jarobi.
Decades of memories with their friend are packed into just a few verses, until the melody comes to an abrupt halt one minute before the song ends. The final line, “no more crying”, can be heard before we are left in several seconds of silence, paying homage to not only Phife Dawg, but also the people we’ve loved and lost along the way, throughout this journey we call life.
“Release You” – Tom Misch (feat. Carmody)
Many of us have lost someone due to circumstances out of our control, and that doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to feel the pain of losing someone that we willingly choose to remove from our lives.
Tom Misch’s indie, downtempo track, “Release You”, perfectly captures this bittersweet feeling. In the first verse, Carmody describes a relationship as a “melody” that once belonged to her, but now the story she shared with another no longer belongs to her, leaving her with no choice but to release this person.
The chorus flows through like the tears I shed when I first heard this song. As Carmody longingly sings about the person who was once hers, each line is followed by Misch’s repetitive and resounding “Oh, to release you”. He sings these words throughout each chorus, with each rise and fall of every other beat, seemingly following the gentle feeling in our chests as we inhale and exhale with every breath; very much like how breathing is a cyclical practice, we often have to re-remind ourselves to let go again and again.
Whenever I get lost reminiscing about a prior relationship, I always revisit this soft-hearted track, as it soothes my healing heart. “Release You” is a gentle reminder that every relationship in our life has an innate ebb and flow, and many don’t last a lifetime like we had hoped.
But this is totally okay because even in loss, we grow from our experiences. We are gifted with the opportunity to look back to those memories with a tender fondness and appreciation for what was, rather than what could have been.
“Doing Better” – Jamie Issac
No matter how big or small the loss we’re currently coping with, it’s paramount that we go through a period of melancholy; this may be scary for some, but the sadness never lasts. In his slow, jazzy with a tinge of soulful early hip-hop single, James Issac beautifully details his heavy transition from intense sorrow to a slight upturn in his mood. He wastes no time in the first measure, mentioning that he knows he must be doing better because he’s begun to write lyrics again.
Throughout each verse and hook, he explores the various ways he has felt depression in his healing process, even as he writes these lyrics. He describes being able to catch his breathing with each letter, and how at one low point, he would drown himself in his sorrow every evening, or even crave the overwhelming caving-in feeling, likening it to being buried six feet under.
Despite no longer feeling the closeness of his previous lover, James realizes the connection he felt was never reciprocated. Strengthened by this newfound clarity, discovered during sleepless nights, James begins to pinpoint all the positives he’s experiencing.
Though he views his lyrics as “words for display”, he celebrates that he’s sleeping better, crying less, and not crawling through each day as before. The sultry piano in this song, and the rapid, subtle drum beat after the first chorus abruptly ends with “Yes, I’m doing better with my-” really anchors me. The dull drum resembles a lingering anxiety that can only be seen on the inside and isn’t visible around my or James’s friends or family. It’s our personal journey through grief that we all intimately share yet process individually.
“Last Kiss” – Pearl Jam
Sometimes the happiest-sounding songs have the saddest lyrics. Pearl Jam’s folk-rock hit cover of Wayne Cochran’s, “Last Kiss” tells a tragic story of how he lost his significant other in a fatal car accident. They were on a date, and he was driving in his father’s car, when he swerved to miss a stationary car and crashed.
He wakes up in the pouring rain, and, as onlookers and officials are on the scene, he desperately searches through the night, despite his vision being blurred by the blood of his injuries. When he finds his darling lying on the ground, he holds her tight; the life in her was fading fast, but she manages to ask him to hold her ”just a little while”. As he held her close to him, they shared one last kiss…then she was gone.
Oftentimes the initial shock of losing someone we love is accompanied by a perpetual shock that never quite leaves our minds. Like the singer felt that he would never forget the sound of tearing metal and pained screams of his girlfriend, it’s difficult for us to forget those last moments we shared with someone before their unfortunate passing.
Nothing is wrong with remembering; it’s what we do with the memories that determine the trajectory of our lives. The singer resolved to be good, so he could see his love in the afterlife. In my personal experience, I resolved to honor those I have lost in all creative aspects of my life, even in this very sentence. The choice is completely up to us, and there is no right or wrong way to express our love; even if you need to dance and cry it out, “Last Kiss” provides an upbeat tempo to do just that.
“Days Go By” – Men I Trust
I’m not ashamed to admit I have listened to this indie, jazzy song on repeat so many times, that it’s bound to make my top 5 list on Spotify Rewind. The track begins with the softest, slightly dissonant chords, when a funky bassline, minimalistic drum set and gentle, nostalgic vocals merge into a watercolor tapestry of love, loss, and contentment.
The lyrics continuously repeat “Days go by and I still don’t know how and why I still make my way without you. Without you….”. Emphasis is placed on the words “days” “still” and “I”, resembling the lonely and ostracizing feeling one may experience while coping with losing someone. This segment is repeated with a short, brooding chorus until the wavy rifts of an electric guitar carry us through a lengthy, optimistic outro.
Grieving is a cyclical process, so it’s natural to be faced with the same feelings of hopelessness, confusion, absent-mindedness, and aimlessness for several days at a time. Just as the singer wonders how she’s made it thus far without her loved one, we ponder the same.
This track is perfect for introspection because the melody rides the waves of our thoughts with ease. Then it quietly ends on a positive chord, which reminds us that there’s always a brighter day just around the corner. Even the official music video demonstrates the vocalist, Emma Proulx, smiling brightly and dancing very comfortably in a quaint town. I’ve danced just as much, as well as cried, hiked, and created my own works of art with this song in the background; therefore, you have my unbiased permission to do the same.
“Zoom” – The Commodores
“I may be just a foolish dreamer, but I don’t care”, Lionel Richie passionately expresses in this timeless R&B hit from 1977. The first verse couldn’t be more perfect, as Richie insists he knows that the life he’s dreaming of is somewhere out there. He asks his listeners to take a moment with him and allow him to dream his dream.
Then the music fades and extends into the future, giving him the space to describe the world he’s dreaming of. He auspiciously envisions a world where people are happy and free to be themselves, which is an extremely powerful wish to have in 1977.
No matter what anyone says, he knows that because he’s experienced many pains and silly games, the happiness and love he’s searching for most assuredly exists; after all, “everyone finds the right way somehow, somewhere, someday….”
My father showed me this song when I was a depressed teenager, and it became my soothing lullaby for nearly a year. Why I was depressed boiled down to the fact that I knew deep down that to go after the life I wanted, I had to reinvent myself. I was so afraid of losing my old self and embracing the new me whom I had never met.
But the hope of achieving the life I had longed for kept me going and I was able to not only create an improved version of myself, but also love that version. I’ve changed several times since those years, but the sentiment of “Zoom” forever has a place in my heart. Sometimes, although death seems scary and sorrowful, it also signifies change and a beautiful rebirth that ultimately results in a higher quality of life.
“Mark My Words” – Justin Bieber
There are times when the loss of someone we love is just unacceptable, and though we’re powerless to change the outcome of a broken relationship, we do everything we can to plan for a day when we can once again thrive with the one we love more than anything.
This is exactly the message Justin Bieber sent to his former partner in “Mark My Words”. “Mark my words…that’s all I have”, he helplessly, yet willfully declares. Rumors were tearing into the seams of his romantic relationship, which contributed to their falling apart; they lost each of their identities fighting to keep their relationship alive.
Despite Bieber’s feelings of failure, this song shows us that there is immense growth lying underneath the dead leaves of lost relationships. He resolved to stand strong and mature into a better man for his partner. Although the relationship in question never blossomed to fruition, the experience paved the way for Bieber to apply all that he learned to his current marriage.
“Together Again” – Janet Jackson
One of the most touching, and infectious songs about losing a loved one from the 1990s is Janet Jackson’s “Together Again.”
But while many songs on this topic spend their time discussing the emotional pain associated with the passing of a loved one, Janet manages to make a song be much more upbeat and forward looking.
Because for Janet, on this particular track, she’s less focused on the here and now and instead chooses to lift her spirits by thinking about seeing her loved one in the afterlife.
But in the meantime, Janet takes solace that her loved one is now virtually omnipresent in her life, smiling back at her from beyond our human plane of existence.
Everywhere I go, every smile I see
I know you are there smilin’ back at me
Dancin’ in moonlight, I know you are free
‘Cause I can see your star, shinin’ down on me
It’s a massively inspirational song for anyone dealing with loss. And you can’t help but feel significantly better after listening to it.
“If I Lose Myself” – OneRepublic
Once upon a time lived a song that encapsulated the euphoric feeling of knowing that even if you were to pass away this very moment, you’d have no regrets. This song is no other than OneRepublic’s “If I Lose Myself”.
The setting is on an airplane at a dangerous 40,000 feet up in the air, just outside of the normal cruising height, where an aircraft may experience intense turbulence. The first verse describes the singer, Ryan Tedder’s, life flashing before his eyes as he stares at the sun, seeing his “life out of the window.”
There isn’t much one can do in a situation like this, so Tedder finds comfort in knowing his loved one is next to him. In this moment, if the plane were to plummet, he’d be content knowing that if he were to lose himself, his loved one would be right there, by his side.
I admit, I’ve had this very thought on every flight I’ve taken. Blame the countless movies and news stories of such tragic events, but no one really knows when their time could be. I’ve reflected on my life and those I’ve loved while staring at the clouds below, knowing that if I go down, I go clutching the overwhelming gratitude I’ve felt for every single second of my life.
There’s a dark, poetic beauty in embracing your own mortality. Try doing it now; how does it feel? If you like what you see, keep on keeping on! If not, find vigor in knowing you have this very second to turn your life in a direction that you will enjoy.
“One Sweet Day” – Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey
In the 1990s, Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men were at the top of their game in the R&B genre. And so, it’s kind of no surprise that their collaboration created one of the more memorable songs of the past 25 years.
What was a bit unexpected, I suppose, was that the song would be “One Sweet Day,” a melancholic track that’s about coping with a loved one’s death.
But “One Sweet Day” also features lyrics that show the pain of regret. The idea that you could’ve always done more for someone, and the sting of knowing you’ll never get a do-over.
Darling I never showed you
Assumed you’d always be there
I, I took your presence for granted
But I always cared
And I miss the love we shared
And I know you’re shining down on me from heaven
Like so many friends we’ve lost along the way
And I know eventually we’ll be together
One sweet day
“Love Is Not Enough” – Above & Beyond (Zoë Johnston)
The beginning, epicenter, and ending lyrics of this song will remain with me forever. This earnest, electronic dance track features the angelic and smooth voice of Zoë Johnston, who, after an upbeat buildup, says “Well, I’ve had too many a good cry for you; well, this is my time to say goodbye to you”.
The beginning lines completely takes your breath away as she sings with sincerity that although she’s capable of loving her partner, she learns that love is not the only ingredient needed to sustain a healthy relationship. The bridge carries a similar message, in which Johnston stresses that “love is hurting if it screams.”
Finally, at the end, once we’ve cried as many tears as we could, with bittersweet resolve, she ensures that “One day, you will fly away from here; one day you’ll leave your hurts behind”.
It takes immeasurable strength to admit when it’s time to let go; a strength that cost me a couple of heartbreaks to properly harness. I have travelled to many a mountain peak and sang, crying my eyes out, to these powerful lyrics.
“Love Is Not Enough” strips you of the shame that comes with initiating a breakup, whether it be romantic or platonic, because we’re all human. We all make mistakes and we’re all allowed to admit when it’s time to throw in the towel.
If you’re struggling with letting go of someone, try to imagine how you both will benefit from separating, keeping in mind that personal growth is a valid reason for doing so.
“Underneath the Sycamore” – Death Cab for Cutie
Death Cab for Cutie is well-known for elegantly orchestrating songs about death, which is exactly what their hit single, “Underneath the Sycamore”, details in their intricately metaphoric lyrics. I remember being a child and getting a notification on my Nintendo DS that a new music video was ready to be downloaded as a promotional (for all of you kiddos who don’t know, a Nintendo DS was similar to a Switch, but much cooler!).
Then, I remember being a little horrified at the fact that such melancholy themes that touched on depression, sorrow, and taking one’s own life was so proudly broadcasted to children’s toys all across the nation.
Nevertheless, this song changed my life; it normalized the fact that we all are “broken in our own ways, sifting through the rubble for the wrong things”, and that, underneath the sycamore, in our final resting place, we are all the same. I am in no way promoting self-harm; rather, I am encouraging you to go easy on yourself because we all know what it feels like to suffer, which means you don’t have to go it alone.
“For Those We Have Lost” – Owsey
I would not be true to myself if I did not include an instrumental track; this one is for all of you fellow audiophiles. Owesy is a musician who knows how to skillfully weave deep emotional moods into his musical art, which he really showcases in this ambient electronic track, “For Those We Have Lost”.
The track begins with soft, unintelligible whispers accompanied by a low, resonant roar; It is a rumble we often feel deep in our hearts when we can’t express the love we feel for someone we have lost, yet this song is designed to help you release those emotions.
Some have described this track to be the happiest sad song they’ve ever heard because Owsey experiments with instruments native to island countries, that have a celebratory connotation. Imagine running through the park or forest with your loved one or enjoying a breathtaking sunset.
With every beat, the sounds you hear whisk you away to joyful and carefree memories you’ve experienced with your loved one and ensures you that this is a weightless feeling you will always carry in your heavy heart.
Whether you are struggling with losing a significant other or someone who is or is like family to you, or even losing yourself, it’s important to recognize that you’re not alone.
Music is like free therapy, and there’s definitely a song out there that perfectly relates to your situation.
These songs about losing someone provide only a glimpse into the vast world of healing music for our time. Let the raw emotion of these songs gently guide you through your process, so that you may emerge on the other side wiser, lighter, and in high spirits.