A Holiday Playlist to Remember Your Loved One

Author: Allison Gilbert

“Music is one of the strongest tethers we have to the past,” Kenneth Bilby, former director of the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago, tells me. “It’s a critically important carrier of memory.”

violin and music sheet

With this notion in mind, I’ll reveal a story about my family I recently shared publicly for the first time:

My uncle dictated a note to me one day before he died. Richard was my dad’s younger brother and he’d been sick for a while. He was 70 years old and my father had been dead more than a decade by the time I became Richard’s primary caretaker.

Richie, as our family called him, went to the Peabody Conservatory at Johns Hopkins University and was a great lover of music throughout his life. He founded the music label “Grenadilla,” and his company produced acclaimed discographies and was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1978, in the category of Best Arrangement for Voices. He also performed a clarinet recital at Carnegie Hall, the event so large in his memory, he often told my brother and me it was the happiest moment of his life.

The note was my idea. Sitting at his bedside, feeding him cherry Jell-O and urging him to take even a sip of water, I asked my uncle for a list of his favorite pieces of music. I thought I’d benefit — indeed all his family and friends could benefit — from his deep reservoir of knowledge. And I knew we’d feel closer to Richie after he died if we could enjoy these songs and arrangements knowing he once took pleasure in them too. I was to type up the note and email it to his closest friends and family after he passed away. And I did. It was one of the most important and joyful emails I’ve ever written.

This year, a few years after my uncle’s death, I pass along his expertly curated list to you:

“Some of My Favorite Listening” by Richard Allen Gilbert

This playlist brings back wonderful memories of my uncle and me. You can read more in, “Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive,” where I talk more about the importance of music in remembering.

What music did your loved one enjoy most? Make a playlist and then consider sharing it. A commemorative playlist can make an especially thoughtful holiday gift.

There are many types of playlists you can create: music you listened to together, songs your loved one enjoyed, even a genre of music they liked — classical, hip hop, r&b, country. Update these playlists whenever you think of a new piece of music to add.

The holidays are filled with gatherings and festive music. But maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t want to be festive.” I get it. And I have news that may bring you solace. Holiday festivities don’t have to be shared events. As odd as this may sound, it’s possible to celebrate quietly and privately.

I love the idea of setting aside time, alone, to honor loved ones who’ve died. This could simply mean putting on a favorite radio station and looking through old photos. It could include lighting a candle, taking a bath and listening to a favorite song. You may find that by carving out moments to embrace these cherished memories you’re better prepared to face the headwind of holiday parties. Purposeful commemoration is fortifying.

A Playlist for Our TAPS Family

TAPS has a playlist of music. Through the Saturday Morning Message, you can find a link to the “Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Songs of Love and Remembrance,” songs suggested by surviving military loved ones and compiled by surviving father Andy Weiss. The playlist provides an opportunity to connect with your loved one and your TAPS family throughout the holiday season. If you have a song you’d like to submit for consideration, please email online@taps.org

From the pen of…
Allison Gilbert is one of the most thought-provoking and influential writers on grief and resilience. The author of numerous books including the groundbreaking, “Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive,” her work exposes the secret and essential factor for harnessing loss to drive happiness and rebound from adversity. www.allisongilbert.com