R&B singer Kehlani has experienced a great deal of loss and portrays their resulting grief in unconventional ways through music. In their latest single, “Altar,” they celebrate the impact and the lives of those who have passed, emphasizing that just because a loved one is gone, they don’t need to be forgotten.
This song feels incredibly personal because of my experience with loss. My aunt passed away almost six years ago and I still have a hard time coping with the fact she’s really gone. A picture of her and me remains on my lock screen just so I won’t forget what she looks like. My heart aches profoundly when I look back on the time I had with her. I think about everything I took for granted and the million different things I wish I could say to her and ask her. I wish that I could hug her again, see her smile and hear her infectious laugh in real-time.
“Altar’s” upbeat tone, which challenges the somber tone that often comes with songs on grief, drives me to pay attention to the memories I have left of my aunt, rather than the heartbreak that remains. The song offers a sense of comfort and shows me that there is beauty in loss, so long as I grow to appreciate why I feel pain when thinking about her. “Altar” radiates warmth and happiness, expressing the power of grief and acceptance. It feels like a gleam of sunshine after days of seemingly endless darkness and storms. It reminds me that the reason why I’m still so insistent on keeping her memory fresh in my mind is that she taught me how to love so deeply. Instead of feeling regret from failing to enjoy the moments I shared with loved ones, this song challenges me to think about why I care so much about keeping them alive.
Listening to “Altar,” or even thinking about its lyrics, challenges me to empathetically change how I perceive life without my aunt. People constantly say that loved ones who have passed are “gone, but never forgotten” and that they will live in our hearts forever. But I don’t think I truly understood what that meant until hearing this song’s lyrics. I try not to beat myself up over the fact that it is taking me so long to cope with her death, because as Kehlani so gracefully sang in her song, I’m keeping her alive, because I want to and I am able to. There is no reason for me to get over her death until, or if I ever feel the need to. The fact that a desire to keep her alive remains so strong almost six years later should empower me to keep going and honor her every day.
My aunt’s passing still causes me pain. But being able to recognize, even for a second, that the reason why I may feel so much grief over her is that the love we shared for each other was profound when she was here, and remains just as strong today, is enough to get me through the day.
“Altar” is not the first time that I have been pushed to view loss in a positive light, but I think that its message came at a time when I was finally ready to accept that grief doesn’t always have to be filled with shame and regret. “Altar” has aided my growth towards acceptance in ways I never thought possible. I am forever grateful to Kehlani for sharing this art.
MiC Columnist Maria Patton can be reached at email@example.com.