By Tassoula E. Kokkoris

This work was commissioned for the site atu2, which was online from 1995 – 2020 and it still protected under a shared copyright.

Having recently experienced a sudden death in the family, I became overwhelmed with emotions that I didn’t even know I had. I’ve described it as a profound sadness coupled with pain that hurt deep in my chest. In an instant, things that would normally take precedence in my everyday life became insignificant; colors that brightened my world went dull.

Within hours of the loss, I was bombarded with calls, flowers and social media messages. I had to turn my phone to vibrate because the sound of the texts constantly going off made me crazy. Later the buzzing made me nuts as well, so I buried the phone under pillows for several hours. Though everyone sending those messages had only the best of intentions, what I needed more than anything was peace and quiet.

As the days dragged on, I lost track of space and time. I thought weekends were weekdays and nighttime was morning. The thick fog of Oregon matched the haze of my brain, which was out of focus and fuzzy with despair. When I was ready to accept what had happened, and felt obligated to respond to those who had checked in, I began scrolling all of the beautiful messages that had been left for me on Facebook, and reading the kind texts and emails that were sent. Perhaps predictably, some of the ones that brought me the most comfort were those that somehow referenced U2.

I smiled one of my first genuine smiles following the passing when I opened a card from my friend and she’d tucked in a drawing her 5-year-old daughter completed of the band. Tears came to my eyes when another friend simply wrote “Kite” in the comments field of my announcement of the loss. Several folks also sent lyrics in lieu of messages, and I loved that.

Of course, that prompted me to make a playlist for the drive back to Seattle. A reflective list consisting only of U2’s music. Weeks later, I’m still listening to it, still drawing comfort from the mix. If you find yourself in a time of grief, I invite you to do the same. In case you need help with the list, here are my Top 10:

10. MLK
This song is so hymn-like that it always has a calming effect on me. After friends and family convinced me it was okay to “return” to my life, I began to seek out the dark safety of movie theaters. I wanted to see stories and characters that matched my sadness, perhaps to encourage my body to release the pain. One of the first films I saw was the brilliant Selma, about the legendary civil rights march led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This simple lullaby in his honor is as relevant today as it was when the band wrote it, if not more so. It helped me, and also reminded me of the personal tragedies suffered by those close to public figures.

9. Iris
Bono speaks of how he filled the absence of his mother with music, and what better way to pay tribute to her life than with this beautiful tune. The heavenly intro reminds me of the presence of angels and the lyrics speak to the truth in our longevity. I believe that sharing the physical world is only the beginning of our souls’ journey, and the light of love shines on.

8. Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own
Losing a loved one is always hard; losing a loved one with whom you had a difficult relationship can be harder. Bono seemed to discover the essence of his father toward the end of his life, and following his passing. The result was this raw meditation on all of the things they both got right and wrong along the way. An honest, gorgeous tribute to remind us all to do the best we can for as long as we have together.

7. Heartland
Though this song is about a place rather than a person, I found it incredibly cathartic on my drive back home from bereavement leave. Each day I wake, I’m a little further from the shock, a little more distant from the grief. Dawn does, indeed, change everything.

6. If God Will Send His Angels
In times of such deep despair it can certainly seem like a higher power is taking a vacation (if your beliefs include a higher power, of course). Like we’re all out on our own islands, making our way without any guidance or relief. It can be therapeutic to get mad, and this criticism of God’s silence, masked under a quiet cloak of melody, sure helped my anger seem justified when I needed it most.

5. One
In the aftermath of my loss, I immediately started putting thoughts down on paper. As I began to trace my experience, I realized that nearly everyone is flying blind in the wake of sudden grief. So, I wrote what I was feeling at each step of the way, and decided to publish it in hopes that people who will eventually endure the same thing will be more prepared than I was for the pain. I also wanted to stress that no one should apologize for the myriad of emotions they will confront that are completely out of their control. The response was overwhelming and one dear friend wrote me a note in appreciation of the piece, mentioning how we really do “carry each other” in times of need. We most certainly do, which is why this song remains in heavy rotation. The words are so simple, so pure, so true.

4. Kite
None of us know “where the wind will blow” and all we can do in the meantime is give this life of ours our best. Like the one-word title left for me by a friend, the simple poetry of this song soothes me. Just like watching the beautiful colors of a kite fly by — even if it’s “blowing out of control on a breeze,” the universe has still given it a purpose, profound in its own journey.

3. In a Little While
This is my go-to song for recovering from just about anything. I detailed why in an essay I wrote back in 2008, so I won’t go into it here, but I’m pleased to say it possesses the same healing powers it had when I first needed it over a decade ago. It holds up.

2. One Tree Hill
One of the most common lines that friends sent to me after the unthinkable happened, was the glorious, “I’ll see you again when the stars fall from the sky” from this tragically beautiful song. What could I say? I was a sobbing mess every time I saw or heard it, but I loved getting it. It’s so touching, so sweet and says so much by saying so little. One of the greatest gifts U2 has ever given us, made personal by those I love.

1. Window in the Skies
This song may be an afterthought for many fans; casual listeners may not even realize that it’s U2, but I found it a great help the farther I got from my grief. “Oh can’t you see what love has done?” I most certainly can.

(c) @U2/Kokkoris, 2015