I often wonder what the people who love me would think if they knew I had a playlist hidden in my Spotify called “Sweet Kiss” that I am curating for the moment I die. Would they worry about me? Am I making a playlist for my own death like I would a birthday party?
How Death Positive Music Changed My Outlook on Dying
When I gave birth to my child, I was a week overdue and battling with the discomfort and dysphoria of being very pregnant. I spent my last week of pregnancy creating the perfect playlist for my birth– a low tempo electronic blend of music I had used in past yoga classes to bring forth both relaxation and intentional movement. I greatly underestimated how long I would be pushing, and my one hour playlist repeated itself over three times as my mind floated above the room, watching my body push on its own. I remember seeing my doctor sway to the music in between contractions, I remember having pride in my ability to set a good mood for my own event.
Before my pregnancy, I finished Alua Arthur’s Going With Grace Death Doula program. Right after I received my certificate, the pandemic began. Thinking about death felt like more than I could handle as I received countless phone calls from family members and friends who were dying from COVID. Everything felt too real, but I still thought about death every day.
I put on my headphones, turn the volume up loud, and let Sufjan Stevens guide me through the process of dying…
In the death doula training, I learned about holding rituals around death. Not just in a memorial service or funeral after death, but rituals like bathing a body before it is taken to a funeral home, or creating a legacy project to honor what the deceased has left behind. For me, music has always been the most important aspect of ritual. When I wake up in the morning, I turn on the music that I want to influence my day. When I do the dishes, I turn on music that has a significant amount of beats per minute to quicken my pace so I can get my least favorite chore over with. When I cry, I have a playlist for it. One day, while I was imagining my body sinking into the ground as I listened to Pink Matter by Frank Ocean, I thought to myself, why not have a death playlist?
I occasionally practice death meditation (something I also learned from Alua Arthur) – also known as Maranasati Meditation in Buddhist traditions. I love to do it on a warm summer night, lying on cool grass and watching the stars. I put on my headphones, turn the volume up loud, and let Sufjan Stevens guide me through the process of dying, until my breath is soft and I am ready to let go of the little anxieties tangling in my gut that day and go to bed.
Now, I integrate creating death playlists into my death work. I am focusing on having conversations with other trans people around death. We are facing a time when you can’t login to social media without seeing another trans person killed, and there is both a deep desire in the community to avoid talking about death except in held spaces with other trans people. When we can spend time together filling out living wills and listening to the music we want to be played during our deaths, if we get to be so lucky to choose, we can take back that power.
My death playlist has become a community collaboration. Yesterday, a friend sent me the song Funeral by Phoebe Bridgers and it was like I heard the song for the first time with the perspective of death in mind. There are more and more artists coming out with music that is death positive, because dying, and knowing people who are going to die is an absolute in all our lives. It is no wonder that music is used by nearly every culture to process emotions that feel beyond our control.
When I conceptualize my own death, I imagine the comfort of listening to this playlist I have spent an entire lifetime curating.
It is March as I write this, and Depeche Mode just released a death positive album titled Memento Mori. Next month one of my favorite artists Indigo De Souza is coming out with their album All of This Will End. Last week, experimental pop artist Melanie Martinez released a new single titled DEATH where she repeats the lyrics:
Death has come to me,
kissed me on the cheek,
gave me closure.
When I conceptualize my own death, I imagine the comfort of listening to this playlist I have spent an entire lifetime curating. I don’t know how the final playlist will be, or how long it will take to die. So, slowly I add more songs. Only when I am struck by the way a single song can, for a moment, ease the anxiety of my mortality and remind me that it will be okay. That it can be beautiful.
My Death Positive Playlist
While I hope I have many years to continue building my death playlist, I already have a few hour’s worth of music. The songs are a mix of lyrical indie, electronic, emo rock, and lo-fi jams. To give you an idea, I want to share eight songs from my playlist which you can listen to in full here.
Darkest (Dim) by TOKiMONSTA ft. Gavin Turek
I’m not sure if this song was intended to be death positive, but the lyrics mixed with the down tempo bass has always drawn me in. The chorus, “If I can just pretend, that something happens when, my eyes are closed, I’m safe alone, in my darkest dim” reminds me that there is peace in the dark.
I Hope I Think of Bike Riding When I’m Dying by Neat Beats
I imagine listening to this song with my futuristic noise canceling headphones, where the subtle beat behind the sampled sound of a father teaching their child how to ride a bike sinks into my eardrums. There is something about Neat Beats’ electronic music that feels perfect for any big life or death moment.
Death With Dignity by Sufjan Stevens
When I told a friend about my death playlist, he sent me this song. There is something so blissfully death positive about these lyrics. It makes death feel simple, something that can happen concurrently with the experience of deep love.
Woodland by The Paper Kites
There is something about this song that makes me want to run and dance with my inner child. I imagine the overwhelming introspection that happens before death as something I want to nurture, and this is a song that will absolutely support me in that.
Tiger Mountain Peasant Song by First Aid Kit
The acoustic twang of this song speaks to my country side, while the lyrics contemplate the existential grief of dying and losing a loved one.
Way Out by Indigo De Souza
Like many of us in the death positive community, I am interested in leaning into big emotions even when they are hard. Ultimately, this song is all about embracing change, and what is death if not change? I love the repetition of lyrics at the end that go “I wanna be a, I wanna be a light.” That is what I hope to be after I die.
It was 9:30 and You Were Beautiful by WMD
If you want your playlist to be soft, instrumental, and breezy, I recommend this song. This is one of the songs that I transferred from my birth playlist to my death playlist. My baby was born at 6:30, and I always flip the 9 upside-down when I read the title of this song.
Mama Saturn by Tanerélle
Tanerélle has a way of speaking to my soul. As an autistic person who primarily stims through dancing, she is always my go-to artist. While this song is mostly about intimacy with another person, I love to reframe it as a love letter to the surrealism of death: “Let love commence, close my eyes, embrace my matter.”
How To Make Your Own Death Playlist
The songs on my playlist don’t always have a death positive message, often they are about love or they are purely instrumental and elicit a sense of comfort in my body. Here are some steps to creating your own.
- Pay attention to how the music you listen to makes you feel in your body. If you feel yourself sinking into deep thought or the tension in your shoulders eases or the song scratches a part of your brain you didn’t know needed scratching – add it to your playlist.
- Listen to the lyrics. If you are a lyrics person, find music that gives you chills when you hear the words. A soft, repetitive chorus that inspires you or brings you joy is a great choice.
- Make it collaborative. Your death is one you will face alone, but that doesn’t mean it has to be lonely to prepare for it. Share your playlist with friends, or make a collaborative playlist. I dream of death positive parties where we all work on our advanced directives and funeral plans, creating an open space to talk about death in community with others.
For more death positive music recommendations, click here.