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Top 12 Country Songs for a Celebration of Life Service

By | Meaningful Funerals, Music

“A good country music song takes a page out of somebody’s life and puts music to it.” – Conway Twitty

According to well-known grief expert, counselor, and author Dr. Alan Wolfelt, music is an important element of a meaningful funeral because it “help[s] us access our feelings…think about our loss.” Music is a window to the soul. We all know a song that particularly touched our heart, brought tears to our eyes or joy to our spirit. Music takes us to a place mere words never can. It can be an essential tool in our grief journeys.

Countless people across the world are country music fans, and they consider the genre a big part of their everyday life. For that reason, we have put together these top 12 country songs. Whether you need a grief playlist or are planning a funeral and need inspiration, this list is worth checking out. Of course, if you are planning a funeral for a loved one, the more connection you or your loved one has to a song, the better it will be for a celebration of life. But if you are looking for ideas, please review this list and see if any of these songs meet your needs.

12. I Hope You Dance (Lee Ann Womack)

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle  for the path of least resistance
I hope you dance

Over time, this would become Lee Ann Womack’s signature song. It won the Country Music Association’s and Academy of Country Music’s awards for Song of the Year as well as a Grammy Award for Best Country Song of the Year. The song calls us to be active in the stories of our lives and to take the opportunities before us to find hope and new life.

11. Live Like You Were Dying (Tim McGraw)

I spoke sweeter and I gave forgiveness I’d been denyin’
And he said someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’

Released in August 2004, this song went on to be the 2005 Grammy Award winner for Best Country Male Vocal Performance and the Best Country Vocal Performance. The original music video prominently featured McGraw’s relationship with his father, who had died of brain cancer. No matter whether you are grieving or grieving and planning a funeral, this song is worth a look.

10. Temporary Home (Carrie Underwood)

This was just a stop on the way to where I’m going
I’m not afraid because I know
This was my temporary home

This lovely ballad was co-written by Carrie Underwood and inspired by her belief that Earth is our temporary home. One day, heaven awaits those who truly believe in God. This song is beautiful in its melody and message. When making selections for a celebration of life, choose music that would be meaningful to the lost loved one but also to those gathered to mourn. Music helps us realize and release our emotions, and for a funeral service to be a healing experience, mourners must be invited to express their grief.

9. If I Had Only Known (Reba McEntire)

So unaware I foolishly believed
That you would always be there
But then there came a day
And I turned my head and you slipped away

In this powerful song, the longing in the singer’s voice draws the listener in as she reflects on all the things she would have done or said if only she’d known what was coming. Even if death is not a surprise to us, we may still feel a sense of shock or disbelief when it occurs. Perhaps, we even wish we’d done some things differently. This song perfectly illustrates our natural desire to turn back time and say things unsaid or do things undone.

8. There’ll be You (Faith Hill)

In my heart
There will always be a place for you for all my life
I’ll keep a part of you with me
And everywhere I am, there you’ll be

Nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, this hit song dips and soars, inviting us to join in the emotional journey. Faith Hill’s melodic tones perfectly express the deep feelings of gratitude we have toward those who give us strength, steadfastness, and love throughout our lives. The words “I’ll keep a part of you with me” are perfect for those who are mourning, as we will always carry the memory of a lost loved one within us.

7. Just a Closer Walk With Thee (Patsy Cline)

When my feeble life is o’er
Time for me will be no more
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy Kingdom’s shore, to Thy shore

A beloved hymn with a long history, this Patsy Cline recording of “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” is beautiful and touching. The song is a statement and a prayer. It calls the listener to trust in God during times of grief and struggle. Though we may not understand why a death has occurred, this song gives hope that God is with us. Patsy Cline’s rendition is dear to the hearts of many, and it provides an avenue for us to express our emotions.

6. Angels Among Us (Alabama)

Oh, I believe there are angels among us
Sent down to us from somewhere up above

If you are familiar with country music, you’ve likely heard of the band Alabama. They became known for their unique blend of country music and southern rock with elements of gospel and pop. To date, they are the most awarded band in country music history. This 1993 hit song is exceptionally versatile and has been used for many different types of events. It beautifully portrays the goodness in people and how every person can be an angel in disguise to someone around them.

5. Go Rest High on That Mountain (Vince Gill)

Oh, how we cried the day you left us
We gathered round your grave to grieve

Inspirational and emotional, this Grammy Award-winning song was originally written as a tribute to Vince Gill’s brother, who passed away from a heart attack. Vince Gill would later state, “All I wanted to do was grieve for him and celebrate his life.” The song talks about the pain we feel when lose someone we love but couples that pain with hope, reflecting on the joy that comes from being with God.

4. The Dance (Garth Brooks)

Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain
But I’d have had to miss the dance

Well known in country music circles, “The Dance” is one of the most beloved country songs. The song is soft and poignant throughout, beginning with a beautiful piano introduction. The lyrics are simple but relatable, exploring the relationship between pain and risk. When we love people, we are taking a risk because one day we will lose them. But if we turn away out of fear, then we miss the dance of life.

3. Daddy’s Hands (Holly Dunn)

If I could do things over, I’d live my life again
and never take for granted the love in daddy’s hands

Written as a Father’s Day gift, “Daddy’s Hands” became Holly Dunn’s breakout song, and later, her signature hit. The lyrics are sweet and simple, beautifully portraying the love between a father and his child. With its open lyrics, either a son or daughter could use the song as the perfect tribute for a father or father figure.

2. One More Day (Diamond Rio)

I didn’t ask for money
Or a mansion in Malibu
I simply asked for one more day with you

Following several tragic events that occurred in 2001 – namely 9/11, the Oklahoma State plane crash, and the death of Dale Earnhardt – “One More Day” became a song of mourning and healing. Diamond Rio drummer, Brian Prout, said that it was very special, knowing that the song had an “impact on someone’s life and helped in a tough time of healing and hope.” The desire for more time with our lost loved ones is universal. This song helps us touch on those emotions and express them in a healthy way.

1. When I Get Where I’m Going (Brad Paisley, featuring Dolly Parton)

But when I get where I’m going
And I see my maker’s face
I’ll stand forever in the light
Of his amazing grace

Featuring the vocal harmony of Dolly Parton, this inspirational song carries a two-fold focus. In part, the lyrics paint a picture of wonder and joy awaiting those who have left this earth and an exhortation to those still alive that they should rejoice that their loved one is in heaven. But on the other hand, the song also acknowledges the pain we experience when those we love are gone and the way that we miss them deeply. Bittersweet and beautiful, this song is well worth considering for a meaningful celebration of life.

To listen to the entire playlist, click here.

Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral Ceremony

By | Meaningful Funerals, Music

Music is an important element of a funeral ceremony because it helps us to process feelings that are difficult to put into words. As Dr. Alan Wolfelt tells us, music imprints itself on our hearts more than any other experience in life. For people of faith, these feelings are often best expressed in hymns, which are songs of devotion or praise to God. If you are looking for timeless songs of faith to honor the life of a loved one, you may want to consider using one of these 10 beautiful hymns.

10. It is Well With My Soul (written by Horatio Gates Spafford, 1873)

“When peace like a river attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
“It is well, it is well with my soul.”

Spafford’s devout hymn was composed in the midst of great tragedy. After sending his family ahead of him on a boat to England, he received a telegram from his wife informing him that their ship had sunk in the Atlantic and that his four daughters had all passed away. In the aftermath of the event, Spafford wrote one of the most memorable of all hymns. Devoid of bitterness, the song is a testament to the level of Spafford’s faith even in the worst of times. His firm belief in the return of the Lord, vividly described as a day when the clouds will be “rolled back as a scroll,” is a beautiful sentiment that and reminds Christian believers of the true home where loved ones reside.

9. Great is Thy Faithfulness (written by Thomas O. Chisolm, 1923)

“‘Great is Thy faithfulness!’ ‘Great is Thy faithfulness!’
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
‘Great is Thy faithfulness,’ Lord, unto me!”

After the loss of a loved one, people often experience disorientation and confusion. How do we respond to loss, and how do we find a way to continue to live our lives? So much changes when a loved one passes away, and the natural response is to look for something to cling to. The words of this 20th century hymn provide a reminder of the things that are constant in the world. People of faith will find great comfort in singing, “Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not, / As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.” While nothing can take away the pain of loss, this hymn reminds the mourner that some things in life always stay the same.

8. I Need Thee (written by Annie Hawks and Robert Lowry, 1872)

“I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior!
I come to Thee.”

“Every hour I need thee.” Not monthly, weekly, or daily. Hourly. The speaker requires the assistance of the Lord in every activity and situation to see it through to completion. Every step of the journey is difficult, and requires the presence of God. A cry of devotion in times of hardship, this 19th century favorite touches on themes of perseverance, faith, suffering, and comfort. For funeral attendees, it can be viewed as a request for God’s guidance through every stage of the grief journey. The knowledge of God’s presence is an encouragement to mourners as they prepare for a new way of life and set out on the road to healing.

7. Abide With Me (written by Henry Francis Lyte, 1847)

“Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”

Faced with tuberculosis and the knowledge of his impending death, the 54-year-old Henry Francis Lyte used his time of trial as an opportunity to write one of the most beautiful and well-loved of all hymns. Not surprisingly, it has become a popular choice for spiritual funerals. The fact that Lyte was so close to death’s door makes this reflection on mortality and his personal relationship with God all the more powerful. But the song appeals not only to those nearing the end of their lives, but also to mourners who are facing the end of a certain way of life: life with their loved one. Funeral audiences can identify with Lyte’s heartfelt request for God to stay with him as “the darkness deepens.”

6. ‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus (written by Louisa Stead, 1882)

“‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise;
…to know, Thus saith the Lord.”

Like most of the hymns on this list, this 19th century classic gives mourners a source of stability, a rock to lean on in times of hardship. Funeral audiences can find peace of mind in the knowledge that the stress, fear, and doubt that often accompany a loss are in the hands of a higher power. Stead suggests that there is no need to hold on to anything or to assume a heavy burden. Our sole responsibility is “Just from Jesus simply taking, / life, and rest, and joy, and peace.” While this assurance does not eradicate the pain of loss, it does provide some comfort and can serve to alleviate the irrational guilt, frustration, and stress that people often wrestle with on the road to recovery.

5. Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer (written by William Williams, 1745)

“Guide me, O thou great redeemer,
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou art mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand.”

William Williams frames his most famous hymn in terms of a journey. Throughout all three stanzas, he asks God to guide him on his course. In the first stanza, he is a pilgrim wandering through a barren land. In the second, he uses imagery from Exodus 13, asking God to bring fire and a pillar of cloud to lead the way. And in the third, he is traveling across the Jordan to get to the land of Canaan. All three images correlate to the path that the mourner takes on his grief journey. Williams’ steadfast reliance on God during times of painful and frightening transition is relatable to mourners, making this three-and-a-half-century-old hymn as timely and relevant as the day it was written.

4. In the Sweet By and By (written by Sanford Fillmore Bennett, 1868)

“There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.”

An obvious choice for inclusion in any collection of comforting hymns, this hopeful and faith-driven song communicates a sense of peace to the listener by drawing upon imagery of another, happier land. For funeral audiences, the song’s use of the image of a faraway shore implies that loved ones are at peace with the Lord. While this knowledge doesn’t take away the pain that mourners feel, it offers some light during a difficult time. Bennett claims that after death, “our spirits shall sorrow no more, / Not a sigh for the blessing of rest.”  This emphasis on rest and peace encourages loved ones and provides them with inner strength as they work through their grief.

3. Amazing Grace (written by John Newton, 1779)

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.”

Probably the most famous of all hymns, this song of redemption penned by a slave-trader-turned-abolitionist has captured the hearts of countless Christians. While certain stanzas dealing with sin and repentance may seem less suited to a funeral audience, the song’s reputation as a sort of anthem of Christianity makes it a great choice for any religious event. And there’s no doubt that the final stanza, with its beautiful depiction of the afterlife, will speak directly to the concerns of mourners. Amazing Grace taps into the essence of what it means to believe in God, and the universal love that believers bestow on it indicate that it is a powerful representation of the faith. For a funeral ceremony, you may want to consider singing at least a few stanzas of this masterpiece.

2. I’ll Fly Away (written by Albert E. Brumley, 1929)

“Just a few more weary days and then,
I’ll fly away;
To a land where joy shall never end,
I’ll fly away.”

This extremely popular gospel song speaks to our desire for peace. Brumley views death as a time of joy and rest, as opposed to this life, which he describes as “shadows,” “prison bars,” and “weary days.” By framing life’s transience in a positive light, the song encourages us to see the full scope of the drama, the larger picture. The troubles and pains of this life are but a tiny moment in time compared to the eternal land that awaits the speaker.

The upbeat melody conveys not only joy and peace, but also confidence and steadfastness: “I’ll fly away” is not spoken as a mere possibility to be entertained, but as a reality that the speaker is fixated upon with absolute conviction. To sing this familiar gospel song in a funeral setting is to feel the pain of absence while simultaneously receiving the assurance that the spirit of a loved one has “flown away” to be with the Lord.

1. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms (written by Anthony J. Showalter and Elisha Hoffman, 1887)

“What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.”

When it comes to comforting hymns, this beautiful song of surrender is unmatched. These three stanzas, accompanied by a simple refrain, contain everything that you could want in a song for a religious funeral: a gorgeous melody, a modest length, and reassuring words of peace. Leaning on the Everlasting Arms is to religious hymns what Psalm 23 is to religious writing. It is a perfect lyrical distillation of the human soul’s devotion to God. For mourners faced with the emotional exhaustion that accompanies the loss of a loved one, it’s a blessing to hear that one can lean on the everlasting arms of God and rest “safe and secure from all alarms.” The theme of security applies equally well to those who are living and to those who have passed on. God’s love and peace is available in the here and now, as well as in the hereafter.

To listen to the entire playlist, click here.

Top 10 Songs for a Funeral Ceremony

By | Meaningful Funerals, Music

Music and Ceremony

Music can be a powerful component of the funeral ceremony because it allows us to process our feelings in a very special way. Grief counselor and educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt says that music imprints itself on the heart more than any other experience in life and that it is one of the most essential elements of ceremony. For this reason, we’ve compiled a list of our Top 10 Funeral Songs to consider using in a funeral service. Of course, if you know of a loved one’s favorite song that is particularly suitable for the ceremony, it’s ideal to use it. But if you find yourself stuck and looking for inspiration, these 10 songs could provide just what you are looking for.

10. Stand by Me (Ben E. King)

Oh, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand
Stand by me.

This classic pop song is simple and direct, but that doesn’t mean it lacks depth or heart. An instantly recognizable anthem of love and perseverance, the song strikes just the right note for a funeral, conveying hope in the midst of painful circumstances. It’s been covered many times by a number of talented artists, but the original is preferable for its familiarity and for King’s raw energy.

9. Fire and Rain (James Taylor)

Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus,
You’ve got to help me make a stand.
You’ve just got to see me through another day.”

This enormously popular early 70’s hit, written and passionately sung by the great James Taylor, contains many themes that are applicable to a funeral audience: the loss of a friend, the desire to communicate with a higher power, and attempts to stand firm during times of “fire and rain.” While some of the lyrics are painful, the melody is peaceful and sweet. This juxtaposition effectively captures the complexity of the grieving process, and reflects the paradoxical emotions that many people experience in the aftermath of loss.

8. You’re My Best Friend (Don Williams)

You placed gold on my finger
 …Brought love like I’ve never known
 You gave life to our children
 And to me a reason to go on.

Country is generally one of the most polarizing of music genres, but one would be hard pressed to find a person who isn’t moved by Don Williams’ no-frills, stripped down approach. This modest acoustic piece is the perfect song to honor the memory of spouse. Don Williams delivers some of the most heartfelt and heartbreaking lines ever recorded as a tribute to the person that is his “anchor in life’s oceans.

7.  Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too.”

With their self-titled 1975 album, Fleetwood Mac exploded into the mainstream. The first of the band’s albums to feature the subtle and intricate guitar work of Lindsey Buckingham and the distinctive voice of Stevie Nicks, it contains some of their most popular songs, including Monday Morning, Over My Head, and Rhiannon. But it’s Landslide, a heartfelt exploration of loss and change, that packs the greatest emotional wallop. A great choice to honor the memory of a parent or close loved one, this gentle pop song has been a favorite at memorial services for many years.

6. I Grieve (Peter Gabriel)

It’s just the car that we ride in
A home we reside in
The face that we hide in
The way we are tied in.

Is there another lyric that so perfectly encapsulates the relationship between the body and the soul? This examination of perseverance in the aftermath of loss functions as a microcosm for the grief journey. Gabriel slowly moves from despair to hope, frustration to acceptance. But don’t let this familiar narrative arc fool you: Gabriel doesn’t send a simplistic, cliché-ridden, “keep-your-head-up” message. The final words of the song, “I grieve,” emphasize the ongoing nature of the struggle, and suggest that the grief journey is not purely linear. Hopeful and transcendent, but honest and realistic, Gabriel’s crowning achievement captures the conflicting emotions of mourners and evokes the fierce love that we feel for those who have passed on before us.

5. We’ll Meet Again (Vera Lynn)

We’ll meet again,
 Don’t know where,
 Don’t know when,
 But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

Vera Lynn’s 1939 classic has been a favorite choice for funeral services for many years. Written on the eve of the Second World War, it captured the sentiments of many families who had to say goodbye as their loved ones left for battle. But this British tune is more than a mere historical document. Vera Lynn’s piercing voice conveys hope in the face of loss in a way that carries universal appeal, and many people have used it as a tribute to a loved one.

4. My Way (Frank Sinatra)

I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way.

Sinatra’s anthem might be the most frequently used funeral song, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a celebration of a life well lived, a testament to the power of the individual and the impact that he or she can have on the world. A fitting tribute to a loved one who embraced life to the fullest and faced “the final curtain” with dignity, My Way is timeless.

3. Into the West (Annie Lennox)

“Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home.”

While it was composed for the end credits of the 2003 film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, respect for this song extends far beyond Tolkien fans. The universal appeal of the lyrics and Lennox’s breathtaking vocal performance make it a great choice for a funeral service. This ode to a loved one uses as its central image the departure of a ship at sea, which suggests an absence that is painful, but temporary. Lennox’s faith-driven assurance that “you and I will meet again” makes this is a particularly good choice for religious ceremonies.

2. Long as I Can See the Light (Creedence Clearwater Revival)

Pack my bag and let’s get movin’, ‘cause I’m bound to drift awhile.
 When I’m gone, gone, you don’t have to worry long,
 ‘Long as I can see the light.”

Few vocalists can deliver as viscerally as John Fogerty. On every song of every album, he sounds like he’s at the end of his rope, like he’s giving his all because it might be the last song he has in him. But in addition to being a showcase for a great vocal stylist, this song is also a beautiful illustration of a journey, a movement from absence to return. To religious listeners, Fogerty’s cries of “coming home,” and seeing “the light” can take on an entirely new meaning, one that can be particularly comforting in a time of grief.

1. Tears in Heaven (Eric Clapton)

Beyond the door
There’s peace I’m sure
And I know there’ll be no more
Tears in heaven.

Written after the loss of his 4-year-old son, Tears in Heaven is a moving piece of Clapton’s grief journey. The gorgeous melody, restrained but masterful acoustic guitar work, and heartfelt lyrics are perfect for a funeral setting. Clapton pulls off a delicate balancing act, conveying the emotional exhaustion of a man who is heartbroken while simultaneously communicating a sense of peace. Over the past 25 years, the song has sprung up in many funerals, and its popularity isn’t surprising. Tears in Heaven is a bold and honest attempt to wrestle with grief, and the deeply personal nature of the song resonates with families who have lost loved ones.

To listen to the entire playlist, click here.

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

By | Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Meaningful Funerals, Music | No Comments

In this video, Dr. Wolfelt talks about the role that music plays in allowing you to process your feelings about a loved one’s passing.

The Inadequacy of Words

Music is an important part of the grieving process because it allows you to get in touch with the feelings that are so hard to put into words. After the shock of a loss, you may find it hard to process your thoughts. These profound emotions are hard to describe. Music functions as a channel between the head and the heart, allowing us to connect with our true feelings about the passing of a loved one.

Memories

The music at funeral services is often tied to specific memories of the loved one. This allows you to reflect on details from a loved one’s life, bridging the gap between past and present. In a time of grieving, it is essential that you move backward before moving forward. Music is a great way to take this positive step backward, allowing you to fully appreciate the life of your loved one and to get the most out of the ceremony.

Connection

In addition to helping you remember the life of a loved one, music also serves to strengthen your relationships with others who are grieving the loss. Music is a communal experience. It provides a way for everybody to acknowledge their grief, honor the life of the loved one, and lean on each other for support.

Ceremonial Importance

When you attend a wedding or any other rite of passage, you can be reasonably sure that there will be music. Music has become an essential component of our most important cultural ceremonies.  Adding music to the funeral provides a feeling of cultural significance. It’s a beautiful way to celebrate the life of a loved one.


Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor with over 30 years of experience working with bereaved families. He has written many best-selling books on grief and loss, including Healing Your Grieving Heart and The Journey Through Grief. Dr. Wolfelt serves as the Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition. Visit him online at www.centerforloss.com.