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Folk Songs Appropriate For Funerals and/or for Remembering a Loved One?

June 18, 2007

My oldest childhood friend lost her battle with cancer on Friday, June 15th. She was so brave. She fought 3 different kinds of cancer in a 5-year period with so much grace. She was my anchor on earth and now has become my angel. We've been friends since we were born, and I would like to honor her memory with some appropriate songs. She was a folkie but she went country on me along time ago (and I'm not country). I introduced her to Cheryl Wheeler last year. We seemed to find common ground there, and she loved Cheryl's non-political songs. The only songs that come to mind to honor her with are old stand-bys such as "Bookends" by Paul Simon, "Goodbye My Friend" by Karla Bonoff, and maybe "Buddha/Ghandi" by Cheryl Wheeler, "Changes" by Phil Ochs or "Heaven" by Julie Gold. "Jews Don't Camp" by David Buskin of Modern Man cracked her up and she listened to it during chemo.

Does anyone have additional suggestions for songs I may not have thought of?

Thanks a bunch.

Nina Gray
folk alley listener

Posted by Nina Gray at June 18, 2007 12:41 PM


There are many songs. Here are a few that came to my mind which may (or may not) be appropriate: Kate Wolf's "Friend of Mine", Iris DeMent's "After You're Gone", Bruce Cockburn's "Joy Will find a Way", Laurie Lewis' "Haven of Mercy", Leon Dubinsky's "Rise Again", Sandy Denny's "Who Knows Where the Time Goes", Donovan's "Catch the Wind", Bill Staines' "River" (more a celebration of a life well lived than of passing).

Posted by: Brent Searle at June 18, 2007 3:19 PM

You might like "Mark's Song" by eastmountainsouth. It's a beautiful song and a nice remembrance. A friend and I recently sang it at a memorial service for an elderly friend. I also like Julie Miller's song, "All My Tears." A nice version can be found by Emmylou Harris on her Wrecking Ball album however it is definitely Christian in content. And another great folk-style song is Neil Young's "When God Made Me." It is not as much of a remembrance. It is a nice song that is spiritual without being dogmatic nor a specific religious viewpoint. Also, check out Kate Campbell for some funny, poignant songs about funerals.

Posted by: DE BAIN at June 18, 2007 3:24 PM

There's a lot to be said for singing and playing a good Blues tune in times of grief, and I've found that being surrounded by a good folk version of "St. James Infirmary Blues" (that American folksong of anonymous origin, made famous by Louis Armstrong in his 1928 recording) really goes a long way in helping to work things out. If the words might not be exactly appropriate for the occasion, the instrumental version with various alternating instrumental "voices" will do.

Losing a good friend is never easy, and it's good to have others to walk along side to help us through. My heart goes out to you and to your friend's family, Nina.
May she be of blessed memory.

depending upon the gathered crowd of mourners there,

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at June 18, 2007 3:38 PM

(Sorry, Nina - scratch that last dangling sentence... I had been thinking with my fingertips again..)

Posted by: JoLynn Braswell at June 18, 2007 3:42 PM

First of all, Linda Fahey, thank you so much for your kindness. Seeing this posted brought tears to my eyes. I shouldn't be surprised at the kindness here, but please know how touched I am that you blogged this for me.

I should have thought of Kate Wolf and Donovan, for sure, which shows how my brain is not working right now--not that it ever works great any more.

I will check all of the songs and singer songwriters out. I'm making a list. Some of the folkies I've not heard of before, so you all have made it both a kind and an interesting task for me.

My brain did get into gear and remember Don Conoscenti's "Over on The Other Side."

JoLynn, I've done the same thing so many times.
Thank you for your condolences and for your help.
I have her eulogy almost finished, although I don't think I can get back there to deliver it in person--another kind friend of hers has offered to do that for me.

Music really moves me. We both loved Donovan,Tom Rush, and John Denver and many other singer-songwriters that we listened to when we were growing up. Some of them, probably most of them, have nothing to do with death or dying, but they are really getting to me right now. What I put together for her family may be a bit of both. I thank you *all* to for your thoughtful suggestions.

(Please excuse any typos or incomplete thoughts....I'm not totally here.)

Posted by: Nina Gray at June 18, 2007 7:45 PM

Amazing Grace
Ps. 23, Shepherd Me, O God
Ps. 102, The Lord Is Kind and Merciful
Ps. 91, Eagles Wings (Michael Joncas)
Celtic Alleluia
My Soul Is Longing For Your Peace (Lucien Deiss)
Come to the Water
Make Me a Channel of Your Peace
May the Angels (Lead You Into Paradise)

Posted by: Richard Schletty at June 19, 2007 1:33 PM

The best song I have ever heard about mourning is "When I Go" by Dave Carter. Honorable mention is "Slow Burn" by Robin Greenstein. You can hear "Slow Burn" in its entirety on Robin's website,

Posted by: Penny Stanton at June 20, 2007 8:10 PM

The song -- For a Dancer -- by Jackson Browne is one of his better efforts and has helped me deal with the mystery of the death of a friend.

"I don't know what happens when people die
Can't seem to grasp it as hard as I try
It's like a song I can hear playing right in my ear
That I can't sing... I can't help listening"

You take care.. And thank you for have the courage to ask.. prompting this wonderful list of remembrance songs

Posted by: Cliff Cordes at June 22, 2007 12:25 AM

Johnsmith's song "I Will Fly" is a wonderful tribute to life passages.
It's found on his "Traveler" album.

There are samples on his web site and on cdbaby

Posted by: Ben H. Rushing at June 22, 2007 10:52 AM

Johnsmith's song "I Will Fly" is a wonderful tribute to life passages.
It's found on his "Traveler" album.

There are samples on his web site and on cdbaby

Posted by: Ben H. Rushing at June 22, 2007 10:52 AM

I apologize for the double post. That was an error. But the song IS THAT GOOD.

Posted by: Ben H. Rushing at June 22, 2007 10:53 AM

Richard, thank you for those songs. The Psalms are always comforting. Again, I should have thought of both Johnsmith and Jackson Browne. The Dave Carter and Robin Greenstein songs are wonderful as well.

Her memorial service was Friday--the first day of summer. It was a difficult day, but I spent some of it with a friend and some outside. It was the odd beautiful summer day here--not too hot or humid. I sat and listened to the birds, watched the leaves sway and watched the clouds float by. I was reminded of Anne Hill's song Cloudship from "Heartsongs--The Diary of Opal Whiteley", where Opal says (and Anne sings) "What a comfort to have a friend near when lonesome feels do come."

On Saturday, her friend, who read what I sent down to be said for her, called me and told me the service was beautiful--that her nephew had played 2 John Denver songs on accoustic guitar. She didn't know the name of the first (I'm thinking probably Poems & Prayers & Promises) The 2nd was Country Roads. I never thought of Country Roads as a sad song, but it is for me, at least for now.

Thanks again to all of you. I will be taking my time with this project. There is still some mourning to be done by her family and by me. There is also comfort to be found here, in nature, with friends, in music, and I am grateful for her, these things, and many others.

Posted by: Nina Gray at June 24, 2007 11:48 AM

Dear Nina,
I always found Richard Thompson's "Dimming of the Day" to be incredibly evocative, even when it's not exactly on point.
I'm also humbled and honored that one of my songs was able to provide even an instant's diversion from suffering for your friend. Thank you for putting it out there - a great gift to me.
I hope your mourning is productive and enlightening. db

Posted by: David Buskin at June 24, 2007 6:10 PM

A couple of others that haven't been mentioned are Tim O'Brien's "Time To Learn" (which is perfect for this sad occasion), and Pat Humphries's "Swimming To The Other Side".

Posted by: Jimmie Wilson at June 25, 2007 6:03 AM

So sorry for your loss, Nina, it was a great pleasure meeting you, and I know any friend of yours must have been a super special person. Losing someone that pivotal in our lives is so hard, my heart just goes out to you.

My choice would be "Give Yourself to Love" by Kate Wolf, because while it evokes deep emotions, it also is a call to celebrate life. Mourning should always include love, and joy, and hope, because the ones who have left us would certainly want us to carry on strongly!

Posted by: Jim Pipkin at June 26, 2007 12:56 PM

Such a beautiful and simple song that was written by Warren Zevon for his last Album as he was battling cancer is "Keep my in your Heart". So touching!

Posted by: Karri Gallaugher at June 27, 2007 7:57 AM

Thanks everyone for the wonderful suggestions. Some of the songs like “Give Yourself to Love,” which we used to sing at almost all the WFMA benefit concert finales and “Swimming to the Other Side” I am very familiar with. You jogged my memory. I’ve looked up the lyrics for the songs that I was not familiar with and those too strike the right chord. Tim O’Brien’s and Warren Zevon’s songs tugged at my heartstrings. They all did.

David, thanks for your input. You may not recognize my name, but you see me at most of your concerts in metro DC area (think Russian rye bread). Jim, thank you for everything you do. It was such a pleasure getting to spend an evening with you.

I was lucky enough to get to visit my friend in late March ,and I guess to the best of our abilities we said everything that needed to be said, discussed various decisions that needed to be made, and pondered life. And we laughed and hugged. I will always treasure that time with her. And I was lucky enough to speak with her for a very short time about a week before she died.

As far as mourning goes, I hope it is productive. It is sad. Many of her friends are spread around the country but we’ve started coming together. And Jim, you’re right, some of that process needs to be healing as well as a celebration of her life. And it will be. Some mitzvahs, good deeds, will be done to honor her and hopefully, I’ll be able to incorporate some of her best qualities into things I do.

I’m truly grateful for your time and for all of your suggestions,

Posted by: Nina Gray at June 27, 2007 4:05 PM

Carved in Stone from the Subdudes is very good for this time.

Posted by: Bill Gough at June 28, 2007 9:37 PM

This is a beautiful set of suggestions. Another song that belongs in this thread - Dave van Ronk's Another Time and Place.

Posted by: Dan Kerman at August 6, 2007 6:38 PM

Dan, it is an incredibly beautiful list of suggestions.
I want to thank you all again for being there for
me and helping me out. I have kept all the suggestions, but have decided to take a break
from this for now, because I have to. I will
get it finished before the anniversary of her
death. Thank you all so much for caring and

Posted by: Nina Gray at August 21, 2007 11:22 PM

Two I thought of right away were Beth Nielsen Chapman's "Sand and Water" and Roseanne Cash's "Love is in the Roses".
My prayers are with you..

Posted by: Lisa Ferreri Valdivieso at October 15, 2007 10:13 PM

Two I thought of right away were Beth Nielsen Chapman's "Sand and Water" and Roseanne Cash's "Love is in the Roses".
My prayers are with you..

Posted by: Lisa Ferreri Valdivieso at October 15, 2007 10:13 PM

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