Processing Grief Through Art
- Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, 49, was only 10 years old when he lost his father to esophageal cancer. Overcome with emotion, a young Armstrong locked himself in his room and told his mother: “Wake me up when September ends.”
- That declaration would become the title of the seminal Green Day ballad of the same name, which was released in 2004 and was initially a struggle for Armstong to perform.
- Armstrong channeled his grief into his music. Others find comfort in support groups or use therapy to help them process the pain and grief of losing a parent to cancer.
The Grammy-winning singer was just 10 when his father lost his battle with esophageal cancer, which is why it is a bittersweet moment every year when record sales and online memes both see huge boosts because of the song’s title.Read More
That was in 1982, and 20 years later (as referenced in the song’s lyrics, “20 years have come and passed”), Armstrong used that line from his childhood to craft one of the seminal songs in the Green Day catalog.
The laconic Armstrong prefers to have his songs do the talking for him, and for almost two decades, said little about the song. He did not even reveal that he wrote the song about his father upon its release. Instead, a publicist for Green Day shared the story with the public.
Armstrong confirmed that he wrote the song as an ode to his father when Green Day appeared on VH1’s Storytellers in 2005. He also told the audience at that live taping that he struggled to perform the song.
“I’ve never tackled an issue about that — about singing about my father,” said Armstrong. “It’s hard to sing, but definitely therapeutic because it deals with the passing of someone that you love.”
He had planned to include it on the 2002 album Shananigans but found it too difficult to perform at that time.
Around that time, he also shared the impact his father’s love of music had on him during childhood.
“I learned show tunes as a kid. My dad was a jazz drummer, and I used to go to veterans’ hospitals and sing,” Armstrong told Rolling Stone.
His father would later arrange piano lessons for his son just two years before his death.
“I wanted to play guitar, but they said my hands were too small,” noted Armstrong.
That was the last Armstrong spoke about the song for 14 long years.
Then, in 2019, he gave a far more detailed account of the story behind the song on Howard Stern’s Sirius XM radio program.
“I think it’s something that just stayed with me; the month of September being that anniversary that always is just, I don’t know, kind of a bummer,” said Armstrong. “But it’s weird. When things happen like that when you’re that young, it’s almost like life starts at year zero, or something like that.”
The singer also revealed that in the 14 years since last asked, he had become more accustomed to performing the song and started to see it as more of a tribute to his dad’s life instead of a rumination on his death.
“I think about him every day, really,” said Armstrong. “I kinda avoided writing about him for many years, and then finally having a breakthrough like that felt good. It wasn’t like a negative emotion so much, but it was just kind of like honoring him.”
Coping with Loss of a Parent to Cancer
Armstrong had to deal with the challenging and grief-filled experience of losing a parent to cancer when he was just 10.
It is a journey that can feel overwhelming for people young and old, but some resources can offer support along the way. Some people find comfort in support groups, while others use therapy to help them process the pain of grief.
Camila Legaspi was in high school when she lost her mother to breast cancer.
Legaspi credits therapy with “saving” her during that emotionally difficult time in her life, something she spoke about in a previous interview with SurvivorNet.
“Therapy saved my life. I was dealing with some really intense anxiety and depression at that point. It just changed my life because I was so drained by all the negativity that was going on,” said Legaspi.
“Going to a therapist helped me realize that there was still so much out there for me, that I still had my family, that I still had my siblings,” she added. “The reality is, is when you lose someone, it’s really, really, really hard. And it’s totally OK to talk to someone. And I’m so happy that I talked to my therapist. Keep your chin up, and it’s going to be OK.”
Grieving After A Parent’s Cancer Death
SN & You — Mother-Daughter Bond
The unbreakable mother-daughter bond focuses on a new SurvivorNetTV offering, SN & You — Mother-Daughter Bond.
The documentary follows Erica Stolper and her mother, Melissa Berry. Erica was just 7 when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and the two quickly found a somewhat unlikely way to bond.
The day that Melissa decided to shave her head, she asked Erica, who was obsessed with becoming a hairdresser, to help with her new buzz cut.
“It was the first big step that she really took in her whole journey,” recalled Erica in a previous interview with SurvivorNet.
“It was cool to be a part of it with her,” she says.
SN & You — Mother-Daughter Bond