In a series of blog posts, I will explore the role that disaster songs may play in the grieving process following a disaster. Naturally, this will be quite speculative as it would be very difficult to conduct actual fieldwork amongst the bereaved following a disaster. First, I cannot predict when a disaster might occur and therefore it would be very difficult to plan for and conduct fieldwork when and if one were to occur. Secondly, and more importantly, there would be serious ethical issues involved in conducting fieldwork amongst those experiencing the deep sorrow, pain, and confusion of loss following a disaster. I am therefore using grief literature to identify what the bereaved need to move forward after loss and speculating how songs might help fulfill those needs.
For clinical psychologists and grief counsellors, “grief” refers to the experience of loss whereas “mourning” refers to the process that works through grief. A number of scholars have presented phase- and task-based models for understanding the mourning process, with varying numbers of phases or tasks. A widely accepted model (Worden 2002) proposes four tasks:
- accept the reality of the loss,
- work through the pain of grief,
- adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing, and
- emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life.
These tasks do not necessarily happen sequentially and may overlap each other. There are various ways in which disaster songs may assist with these tasks.
In order to accept the reality of a loss, the bereaved frequently feel compelled to “test” the reality of a death by telling its story over and over again. However, Anglo-American society is generally not very tolerant of such behaviour. But while it may not be socially acceptable to talk about a death over and over, it is perfectly acceptable to sing (or play) a song repeatedly. Moreover, since we expect songs to elicit an emotional reaction, we are sympathetic when the bereaved cry in response to a song whereas we might be impatient with an emotional expression without an obvious trigger. The very existence of a song about the disaster also helps to concretize the loss.
I will address the other three mourning tasks in subsequent blogs.
Worden, J. William. 2002. Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner. 3rd ed. New York: Springer Publications.