How Grief Connected a British Metal Band and a Gray-Haired American Writer


Our Hollow, Our Home

Last winter, I received an email from Mike Goncalves. Mike wrote that he manages a British band called “Our Hollow, Our Home.” Their songwriter and vocalist Tobias Young had been moved by my TEDx talk after his father’s death. Could their band sample phrases from my talk for the lead cut on their upcoming album, “In Moment // In Memory?”

I remembered my skepticism about leading a grief ritual in a disco bar in San Francisco and how well that had worked.

In Moment // In Memory Album Cover

A “metalcore” band? Why not? Everyone grieves.

The album came out in fall 2018. What teenage girl doesn’t want to be connected to a rock band? OK, heavy metal isn’t Motown or Dylan, the music of my youth. and I’m no teenager, but I was honored to inspire a group of dark-clad serious-eyed British musicians with important ideas, angular movements, and huge amplifiers.

In their album promotion, the songwriter Tobias wrote: “We wanted this album to be something our listeners could turn to in a time of need. Just as writing these songs helped me get through one of the most difficult periods of my life, …we hope this record will be a companion to anyone taking their own journey.”

In another article, Tobias wrote, “Elaine Mansfield was kind enough to let us sample her ‘Good Grief – What I Learned from Loss’ TEDs talk. …I wanted the listener to be immersed in the emotion of this album …and get a taste for the journey they are about to take ‘In Moment//In Memory.”

The first cut “Denial” includes my voice from the TEDx talk. A 30 second excerpt is available if you’d like to hear. I hope you’ll listen. It doesn’t matter if it’s not “your” music or “my” music. It’s the sound of a new generation facing grief.

Here’s are the words from my talk Tobias used as lyrics for his song:

Tobias Young

“Love ends in loss for the ones left behind. And grief is a natural response to losing what we’ve cherished. But when I stood at the threshold of death, I felt something vast and unfathomable. So far beyond my ordinary sense of self. Opening to that mystery was humbling. It made me a little wiser and a little more realistic about our precarious human situation. When I pause to remember someone I’ve lost, grief is right there. But as the 13th century poet Rumi says, ‘The wound is the place where the light enters you.'”

Tobias wrote thanking me for permission: “You have helped me find peace within myself and learn to live with the loss of my father and to enjoy his memory rather than mourn his passing. I mention your TEDx talk in …interviews and to our fans and it’s always met with a fantastic response. I think it’s amazing our two very different worlds can be connected. Your words have helped me create an album that I hope in turn will help people going through grief, just like your words have helped me. For that I can’t thank you enough.”

My friend Mark Liebenow, author of Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite and other books, writes about grief and nature. Mark pointed out the importance of this collaboration in his compassionate Facebook comment: “Tobias, thank you for taking the leap. …I’m glad you found a way to blend Elaine’s thoughts with your own and express them through music. Young people (i.e. under 40) need to find places where their grief is understood and accepted, and you are helping with this. …The song sounds and feels so much like my first days of grief.”

Disco bar grief ritual

I sent another message to Tobias: “It’s ironic I’ve lost so much hearing I can’t understand my own words, but my son Anthony Mansfield was a great help even though his music is very different from yours. He’s a DJ who plays house and dance music. He also runs a sound camp at Burning Man  called Disco Knights. He listened to your music with a knowing ear and knowing heart because his dad died, too. I’m honored to have my world touch your world and your work.”

I didn’t add that Anthony was the one who organized the grief ritual in a disco bar.

The best response came from Anthony: “Not many people get to say ‘my mom got sampled by a metal band.'”


What unexpected connections surprised you? What brought you together? For another article about connecting worlds through grief ritual, see Disco Balls and Candles: Grief Ritual in Unusual Places. For another piece about music and grief, we’ll have to wait until after my cochlear implant, but many creative expressions help us work with grief. For a post about painting and grief, see Finding Balance during Grief: Healing Dreams and Creativity.

  1. Grief IS a heavy metal experience – the deep rumbling, the high piercing notes, the pummeling cacophony of air. Even if we are hard of hearing, like Evelyn Glennie we can feel the vibrations through our feet and arms and fingertips.

    • I loved your Facebook comments about this surprising collaboration, Mark. That was obvious since I included them in the piece. I watch them move and can tell it’s my voice in the sample. If they hadn’t asked for permission and told me, I wouldn’t have known. Lots of deep rumbling and high keening in the experience of grief.

  2. This is so touching and unusual Elaine. Mike Goncalves was clearly moved and touched by your TedX talk and Tobias putting your own words into their heavy metal song is brilliant. I couldn’t make out the words so well on the song but the graphics or the visuals spoke well ..

    But the message of grief to be embraced and not turned away from is profound as is the message that grief affects us all, young and old and in between. This is wonderful that your grief touched their world and it is expressed in music.

    Thank you!

    • I loved this unlikely connection, Susan. What a sweet surprise! I had my son Anthony listen to their earlier album and read lyrics to confirm the good heart behind their music. I’m glad the words they used were available in print form for a promo article for the album (I linked to them), because they were beyond my hearing limitations. I’m so glad Tobias could use these words to express the deep grief he felt at the loss of his dad. Once again, we experience the universality of grief, across oceans, across cultures, across generations.

  3. Dear Elaine, It’s been such a JOY to read your article today! I’m over the moon at how we can all inspire and encourage another’s soul to creative! And how generous it was of Tobias to publicly (and privately) acknowledge the importance of viewing your astonishing TED talk following the recent death of his own father. As a poet, I truly believe it doesn’t get any better than to hear the news that we’ve deeply affected another … so much so, that they’ve since created something healing and transcendental out of their dark shadows and sorrow.

    “Our Hollow, Our Home”… Oh, I love the band’s name, it’s deeply poetic and I’ve just read a great interview online about their new album in which each song (and music) is discussed with illuminating detail. It’s most helpful when I think of the (literal) heart-breaking journey that follows the death of loved one for many people. To be sure, we are caught in the eye of a terrible, terrible storm, cursed and blessed by anger and grief in turns … yet it is so deep, it threatens to annihilate us as we pass through Dante’s merciless inferno, chapter by chapter.

    In response to your closing question, when I first started blogging my poetry three and a half years ago, I never expected to find soul connections on the internet yet to my wonderful surprise I have … with a small group of beautiful, liked-minded souls spread all across the world. And to you my dear friend what can I say! Your loving words help so many heal and find peace. Thank you so much for being a life boat, a ladder and a lamp! For you encourage me to pick up my pen, again and again and again! In sisterhood and in soul, Deborah.

    • I agree, Deborah. Nothing is better than knowing my words helped Tobias and inspired his unique expression of grief. Mike the band manager wrote me a beautiful letter asking for my permission, both heartfelt and professional. Although I’d never heard of “Our Hollow, Our Home,” they’re a popular metal band and their music touches young people I rarely reach. I loved reading the interviews, too. And I agree that this music brings us close to grief’s annihilation, close to Dante’s inferno or the Great Below where Inanna was initiated. In this place, we feel there is no mercy, but then the music rises out of darkness with a creative expression of agony. I found mercy there.

      Isn’t it amazing that I’ve connected with you in England and people in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa? It’s astounding to find questers and seekers everywhere and know we share a common language. What an image you give me as a gift: “a lifeboat, a ladder and a lamp.” You are an inspired poet, Deborah. I’ve learned so much from you and even asked for direct advice about a piece I was writing. You didn’t tell me what to say. You told me where to look. I’ll always be grateful for our soul sisterhood.

      • Thank you so much Elaine for your kind words. I love your description of how music can rises out of the darkness, so very apt. The ancient Persian Rumi wrote: “Be a lamp, or a lifeboat, or a ladder. Help someone’s soul heal. Walk out of your house like a shepherd.” I have been inspired by the beauty, truth and wisdom of his divine words, and this particular quote, forever it feels. Love and light, the Shepherd’s Daughter xx

        • Thanks for reminding me these images came from Rumi. They sounded so familiar. I’m also inspired by Rumi, as you know. And no wonder those words stay close to your heart.

  4. Fantastic Elaine! I love the twists & turns of the unexpected. Good for you! I look forward to listening to it.

    xoxo Karen

    • Amazing surprises when we least expect them, Karen. The sample of the TEDx talk available on line (there’s a link in the piece) is only 30 seconds long. Since it’s a new album, we can hear more by paying for the music, although more and more singles show up on Youtube if you look under “Our Hollow, Our Home.” The song at the end of my post isn’t the one in which they sampled by talk, but it gives you a good idea about their sound and energy and their connection with grief.

  5. Oh, my word, Elaine, you are REALLY ROCKIN’ it! And full of surprises. You have a whole stadium of supporters who are cheering for you, including me. I listened to the videos and recalled your wonderful TEDx talk as I read with amazement. Thank you for the Mark Liebenow book title too. I’m certain nature helps in grief healing.

    How thrilling to have such a profound impact on youth. You are truly being “generative,” Elaine, the goal of this stage of our lives. Please tell Anthony I’m so proud of him for organizing the grief ritual in a disco bar. Who knows what serendipitous encounters await after your implant next month!

    • It’s good to have a wonderful surprise once in a while, Marian. I loved writing about the experience. When I got the first email from the band asking for permission, I said to myself, “Is this for real?” It seemed so unlikely. I was glad Anthony could listen to their music for me and give me a thumbs up. It’s far from the kind of music he plays, but the lyrics were positive and helpful. “Our Hollow, Our Home” opened my mind and confronted some inaccurate stereotypes.

      Anthony arranged to have the ritual in a large space with plenty of comfortable seating. We created a grief ritual together. First I did a reading. Since most of the people there knew Anthony, I chose excerpts from my book about him and his brother dealing with grief. There was an altar with a central candle. People said names and lit small votive candles for parents, grandparents, and friends. Many came to the altar for a second round and lit candles for pets and people who had inspired them and more. We took a dip into the world of shared loss and felt supported and heard. It’s hard enough to talk about loss at our age, but so much harder in your 20s and 30s.

  6. You never cease amaze me with your insight into the soul. Apparently I am not the only one touched by your thoughts and advice. I bet you were surprised by the British band incorporating your Ted Tslk into a musical piece that will give comfort to so many grieving people. Again, as always, you are my hero

    • Pam, I was astounded by all of this. For others reading this comment, I’ve known Pam since high school. Who can imagine the surprises of this life, including Pam finding me on Facebook even though my last name had changed. I’m grateful another generation has a chance to hear Tobias’s heartfelt message about grief. He made my words his own. I feel decidedly unheroic, dear Pam, but thank you for seeing me in a positive light.

  7. Elaine, how wonderful that your words connected with this young musician and lead to such a meaningful collaboration!

    • It was wonderful and amazing–and so much fun turning it all into a blog. I wonder what the band guys will think of it. I’ll probably find out soon.

  8. Wow ~ this is so wonderful, astounding, amazing, and inspirational! I love how these different worlds have touched, and your exchange with Deborah was so beautiful. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • This response to my TEDx talk was a treat and a heart-opener for me, Anne. One of life’s whimsical gifts that takes us by surprise. Deborah is a generous friend, although we’ve never met her person. I connected to her through mutual Jungian friends and love her book of poetry ‘A Liberated Sheep in a Post-Shepherd World.’ You can also read her poems and essays on line. She has a wonderful series on the Tarot and is now sharing a poem for each month or season. Here’s her website in case you’re curious: Various topics are in the R column.

      I hope you’re doing well and winter is moderate where you are. The Snow Queen is in a bad mood here with a low of -8 and intense wind forecast for mid week. I’m grateful for my warm home and wood stove.

  9. Hello Elaine,

    If I remember correctly, your cochlear implant is tomorrow. I am sending wishes for it to happen with as much ease as possible. I will light a candle for you.

    And I also wanted to thank you for the link you sent to Deborah’s website. I just read her poem for February and loved it. As our ground is frozen and the power is out due to a winter storm, it is a delight to remember “the miracles laying beneath that sprout and strengthen in the warm belly of the mother.” I, too, am grateful for my wood stove that keeps me warm.

    • You have the date right, Anne. I’m still waiting to hear from the surgical center about when I need to be there in the morning. Not too early, they promised, because it’s a two hour drive. The surgery is just the first step because they don’t turn on sound for 6 weeks. I’m glad you connected with Deborah’s poetry. I like imagining that quickening life this time of year, too. It’s been oddly warm here after the coldest days I can remember–not the temperature (-14 on my front porch) but the 30-40 mph winds that came with it. Every morning as I loaded the wood stove, I felt gratitude for electric power. The stove doesn’t need it, but it’s hard to be snowed in without it. I hope yours is back on. Thank you for good wishes and remembering. It helps to know we’re being held when we take those underworld dives.

Leave a Reply