The Saddest Songs Are the Ones She Loved
Music and mourning (again and again and again)
“And perhaps there is a limit to the grieving that the human heart can do. As when one adds salt to a tumbler of water, there comes a point where simply no more will be absorbed.” -Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger
I can name that tune in two notes. When “Zombie” by The Cranberries begins, my whole body reacts in a way that feels like electric shock. Sudden and visceral, so many little shocks pass through me that I wait for some part of me to catch fire.
Because that is what happens when you encounter music or poetry or art that has become part of you.
Because, well, I wore out that No Need to Argue CD in the 9th grade. Track 4 in particular. If I close my eyes, I can hear the song that comes before and the song that comes after.
“Zombie” is full of the kind of high school memories that are almost too tender to touch: dank basements and Ouija boards and roller skating rinks and MTV and My So-Called Life and Pulp Fiction and Dr. Pepper Lip Smackers. Locker combinations, making my own zines, passing notes in Spanish class. Wondering if the boy I liked also liked me back. The one with the magenta mohawk.
And her. Of course. It always comes back to her.
Sarah knew The Cranberries and that album and that song as well as I did. We listened to it together, whether we liked it or not because it was always on the radio, always on MTV in 1994. I have no doubt “Zombie” lived inside her somewhere, maybe behind her molars or buried in the back of her neck, the same way it lives inside me.
It isn’t nostalgia or even really grief. I can’t pinpoint this feeling, what music does to me in her absence.
But I try to imagine her last moments sometimes and I wonder what was the last song she heard. Then, I have this weird sense of knowing that if her ghost were sitting in the car with me when “Zombie” came on, she’d also feel it in the same way. She’d melt.
That she’s gone changes how I hear songs that once lived in her. In us. It’s like a huge Sarah-shaped epiphany that she won’t hear it again.
And it’s like losing her all over again.
In 2018, when Dolores O’Riordan, leader singer of The Cranberries, died, the news punched through my carefully maintained numbness.
I had stopped listening to music (except songs that came out after Sarah’s death or the silly kid’s music my son enjoyed) because I couldn’t handle any reminders. But I didn’t need to hear O’Riordan’s voice to feel this new loss.
I added O’Riordan’s name to the list of people who died after Sarah. I don’t know why. I started this list because I put things into words when I need to process them. And I still couldn’t (can’t) believe all these people outlived my friend.
Chris Cornell. Chester Bennington. Tom Petty. David Bowie. George Michael. Prince.
Learning, just minutes ago, how O’Riordan died, “'excessive amounts' of alcohol before accidentally drowning,” makes me want to go numb all over again.
What can I say except that I’m writing about loss and mourning all the time, but still have the capacity to feel fresh waves of grief all over again.
Even on the happiest days, even in the echoes of our favorite songs, she’s always here.
In other news, I met with my new agent last Friday and can’t wait to begin the revision of a project all about lost friendship and grief. Mourning Pages feeds that other writing pretty well.
I’ll update soon on how it’s going. After a few weeks of waiting, I shared online the news about my new agent, so it finally feels real. If you don’t post it online it didn’t really happen, right?
It’s an exciting time. It’s a time. Thank you for subscribing.