The query: Sometimes when a sad but lovely song comes on the radio, I imagine that it would be a nice song to play at my child’s funeral if he were to (God forbid a bazillion-trillion times) die young. Then I start to imagine other details about the service. This is insane, yes?
The verdict: Actually, not insane. Music has a way of stirring deep emotions, and sad songs stir up—surprise—the sad ones. As we listen to, let’s say, Adele, sorrow washes over us and soon our thoughts go rolling in the deep, depressing places we usually avoid. Down there in the dark lurks our greatest fear: death, especially the death of a child.
Confronted by an emotion so overwhelming, the brain has to do something to keep from going over the edge. So it turns the pangs into a project—a do-it-yourself, check-your-checklist activity—because that’s something we can get a handle on, says Dr. Reiss. Thinking about the funeral logistically almost “takes the emotion out of it,” he says. “That makes it bearable.”
Ah, but when does song-induced sadness slip into something more serious? “There’s no specific cutoff,” says Dr. Reiss. “But if it doesn’t fade away, and you find yourself inconsolable, maybe you should talk to someone. A friend or a professional.”
But first, turn off the Adele.
Next: What to do about elevator-induced rage.