Finding closure after death through music

I love music to the point where it’s become an obsession, streaming three days of it each week. During all that streaming, I had never had a song make me cry until I listened to “A Crow Looked at Me” by Mount Eerie last week.

The 11-song album released in 2017 is one of the most beautiful yet depressing pieces of media I’ve ever consumed.

Across the project Phil Elverum, better known as Mount Eerie, recounts the moments he cherished with his wife and fellow musician Geneviève Castrée who died following a battle with pancreatic cancer in 2016 leaving behind Everum and the couple’s 1-year-old daughter.

On the opening track “Real Death,” Elverum had already brought me to tears within the first two minutes with the lyrics, “Death is real, someone’s there and then they’re not.”

“I go downstairs and outside and you still get mail. A week after you died, a package with your name on it came, and inside was a gift for our daughter you had ordered in secret, and collapsed there on the front steps I wailed. A backpack for when she goes to school a couple years from now. You were thinking ahead to a future you must have known deep down would not include you.”

The way in which Elverum displays his despair is truly heartbreaking. This specific lyric has to be one of the most gut-wrenching scenes I’ve heard depicted.

The somber yet honest description of death is just the beginning of the album’s soul crushing artistry.

Elverum’s lyrics spoke to me personally, helping me cope and understand death for the first time in my life.

The first death I ever dealt with was when I was just six years old. It was my paternal grandma who I had spent the majority of my early years beside. Similar to Castrée it was due to pancreatic cancer and I saw her health suddenly deteriorate before she passed.

Being just six years old, I really have no recollection of any of it. My memories of her have also faded to just brief glimpses of my time spent playing with mega bloks and dinosaurs with her before I started preschool.

My grandma was always by my side growing up. Babysitting and raising me while my parents worked during my childhood.
My grandma was always by my side growing up. Babysitting and raising me while my parents worked during my childhood. Photo credit: Matthew Gomez

Soon after that, my mom lost her dad to a sudden death following a blood clot during a routine check up. I was eight years old when it happened and I remember the exact moment I found out.

My reaction was hardly emotional. I remember I had a hockey game that night and told myself that any pro athlete would go out there and put on the game of their lives. What happened on the rink was unimportant and a memory now lost with time, but I remember not shedding any tears.

By high school, I realized I had become emotionally unresponsive. I bottled up anything and everything. It was also the last time I lost a close relative with my dad’s father passing away from natural causes my freshman year.

His last months were spent in hospice. We watched him transform into a more sunken version of his already scrawny-self.

I chose not to visit him on his last day, a decision I’ll always regret. I couldn’t brave seeing him go, and again I couldn’t shed a tear.

So as I listened to this album, I finally found myself reflecting on death, and it kept surfacing a question I’ve always wondered: how would I react the next time I lost someone truly close to me?

A couple weeks before I had heard the album, I stumbled upon my childhood photos with my grandparents and was brought to tears when I thought about how little I really got to know them. The thought of how close I would have been with them if they were alive today also affected me.

My grandpa spent a majority of his time babysitting my two sisters, but during the time I did spend with him it was always exploring nature.
My grandpa spent a majority of his time babysitting my two sisters, but during the time I did spend with him it was always exploring nature. Photo credit: Matthew Gomez

On the third track “Ravens,” Elverum perfectly illustrates the scenes I just described singing, “Your body transformed, I couldn’t bear to look so I turned my head west, like an early death. Now I can only see you on the fridge in lifeless pictures.”

It’s really hard to convey the impact that listening to this album had on my mindset through just typing out the lyrics.

Each song can be picked apart and leave you hearing or reading one of those most devastating moments of the artist’s life. But a large part of the emotion outside of the painstakingly beautiful lyrics is Elverum’s grief-filled voice.

“Sweet kid, we were watched and followed and I thought of Geneviève. Sweet kid, I heard you murmur in your sleep. ‘Crow’ you said ‘Crow’, and I asked ‘Are you dreaming about a crow?’ And there she was.”

The final verse of the album from the track “Crow” closes on what can be described as a reconnection with Geneviève. An idea consistent with much of the album as Elverum looks to identify his wife through a variety of animals and objects.

Accepting death is difficult and something that shouldn’t come easy for anybody. Realistically, it took me anywhere between eight to 15 years to really find closure, and even then it’ll never be true closure.

Elverum’s, “A Crow Looked at Me” truly helped me open up emotionally to the concept of death and find that closure that I so desperately wanted.

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