Almost 20 years before his own untimely death, Chris Cornell penned a beautiful tribute to his friend and fellow musician, Jeff Buckley. “Wave Goodbye,” from his first solo album, “Euphoria Mourning,” details in perfect precision what it’s like to lose a close friend, from the stinging heartache to the confusion. Yet it also reminds us that, even though it seems like the grief will never stop, eventually we learn how to live again.
After singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley died from an accidental drowning in 1997, dozens of artists, including Rufus Wainwright and Aimee Mann, wrote heartfelt tributes to him. But while many of those artists spoke directly to their relationships with Buckley specifically, Cornell’s tribute is different. It speaks to a generalized grief that most of us have felt at one time or another. In this sense, it’s a memorial song that anyone can revisit and relate to after the death of a loved one.
One line, in particular, recalls an experience that anyone who has lost someone suddenly probably shares. Cornell sings,
“And everywhere you think you see them walking down the street when you miss somebody.”
A stranger’s haircut might remind you momentarily of the person you lost. Or the smell of someone’s perfume might trick you, for a split second, into thinking that your loved one just walked past you on the sidewalk. This can be an unsettling experience that brings back immense, unexpected feelings of grief, even long after a loved one has died.
Cornell isn’t afraid to talk about the pervasiveness of grief in “Wave Goodbye.” Many platitudes about grief reassure us that, eventually, it disappears. This might be true in some cases, but more often, grief is something that never completely goes away. You learn to cope with it. But after the loss of someone close, your life changes irreversibly.
Cornell’s memorial song refuses to sugarcoat the grieving process. It says that grief is painful. It may be with you to some extent for the rest of your life. But you have to pick yourself up and live life to the fullest, even in the face of grief — especially in the face of grief.
Cornell also reminds us that when we love someone we unknowingly set ourselves up for future feelings of grief. He sings,
“So now you start to recognize that every single path you see leads to a tear in your eye.”
But rather than wallowing in this grief, or anxiously awaiting it, we have to “wave goodbye” and accept the loss of the people we love most.
That process can take years. In some cases, we may never fully heal. Decades after someone’s death, we may still experience intense emotions when we hear their favorite song on the radio or find a long-lost photo of them. These feelings might be unpleasant in the moment, yet they remind us that we are alive. They remind us that we once loved this person deeply, enough to still feel pangs of grief years after they’re gone. It’s a bittersweet, undeniably beautiful sentiment.
Read the full lyrics for “Wave Goodbye” here, or watch the video below.