Artemis Walsh / Essay / September 2018

Songs of Loss

Written by Artemis Walsh

Music affects us. I don’t think that’s a controversial statement. But there are times when certain songs connect to a very unplanned and unexpected feeling.

When my best friend committed suicide, it threw me onto the rocks. I had lost not only my closest friend, but my shoulder to cry on, my confidant, and the only person who could have understood what it’s like to lose a friend like that. I was left in hollow and heavy grief.

In the midst of this, I turned to music. Not to cope, but to open the floodgates of emotion and bring myself to tears. To bring myself back to the summer days I sat on his porch and his second-hand smoke filled my lungs. To hit myself once more with the ringing sound of his father’s voice giving me the news. I thought that through this overdose of mourning, I could bring myself closer to him again. At the very least, it would be a good source of emotional self-harm.

And in that whirlpool, one strange genre of song began to populate my playlists: breakup songs. In many ways, the death of a friend—especially suicide—can feel like a relationship ending. There is the decline of the relationship: the friend’s deteriorating state. There is the rejection: the act of suicide. There is the absence: the absence. And more than anything else, the crushing inadequacy and doubt and speculation: Could I have done something different? I didn’t do enough. I couldn’t save them.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/1aoBqoZBJ2xuBoWnqV1XVt

The desperate wailing of Julien Baker’s “Something” and Kimya Dawson’s sullen “So Nice So Smart” brought me back to when I first got the call which brought me the news. They force me to remember walking down to the beach, falling to my knees, and screaming out into the lake, demanding God bring them back. Overtime, as the initial breakdown was replaced by frozen numbness and mourning, these songs were replaced in turn by “Tire Swing” and “Ain’t No Sunshine”, tracks dealing with the post-breakup ennui. I would open the window and lie face down in bed, wishing the wind would cover my bedroom in snow and freeze me to death, so I could be reunited with my best friend.

These weren’t the only songs I listened to for coping, and I have been moving away from grief music in general over the last few months. The one year anniversary of their death approaches soon, and I have come to realize that I need to do everything in my power to prepare myself emotionally for that week in November. But no matter what recovery holds for me, I will carry the pain and loss to my own grave, and I will never be fully free of their absence.

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