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bereaved parent : child loss 

Send my Roots Rain.jpg
"Gabriel : A Poem" excerpted from:

"Send my Roots Rain - A Companion on the Grief Journey

by permission of Kim Langley          3 minute read

pages 89-91; Paraclete Press, Copyright 2019.


Gabriel: A Poem


I did not know the work of mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night


The mountaintop is not in sight
Because there is no mountaintop
Poor Sisyphus grief


I did not know I would struggle
Through a ragged underbrush
Without an upward path


Because there is no path
There is only a blunt rock
With a river to fall into


And Time with its medieval chambers
Time with its jagged edges
And blunt instruments


I did not know the work of mourning
Is a labor in the dark
We carry inside ourselves


Though sometimes when I sleep
I am with him again
And then I wake


Poor Sisyphus grief
I am not ready for your heaviness
Cemented to my body


Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders


That’s why it takes courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day



Edward Hirsch knows what it is to mourn the loss of a “wounded pilgrim” son. He lost an only son, Gabriel, who was twenty-two when he died of cardiac arrest from a combination of alcohol and a party drug that had been slipped into a drink.

Hirsch is saying that, like Sisyphus from Greek mythology who was condemned for eternity to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back again and again, he feels crushed under this weight.

In an interview, “A Poet on Losing His Son,,” Hirsch once observed that in the United States everyone wants to talk about healing right away. But to Hirsch, that felt false. He feels that before you can heal, you have to fully mourn. He wrote, “Some nights I could not tell / If he was the wrecking ball / Or the building it crashed into.”

Gabriel had developmental disabilities and had collected diagnoses and various school and mental-health interventions in his short life. One of the most poignant lines of all from Hirsch’s interview might be this one that comes as no surprise to a  parent: “He was trouble / but he was our trouble.”

His father is willing to carry “Poor Sisyphus grief” and this willingness has awokened in him the recognition that most everyone he sees is carrying something on their shoulders that makes getting out of bed in the morning an act of courage.

What are your thoughts and feelings about the kind of steadfast love, tough love, compassionate love, that continues to do its work in the bereaved as they try to mourn fully? Does knowing that others are silently, bravely carrying their burdens as best they can give you a sense of solidarity even with the courage of strangers?


“If there’s a silver lining to the emptiness, here it is: the unfillable is what brings people together. I’ve never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I’ve made countless by sharing my weakness and my emptiness.

--GLENNON DOYLE MELTON, "Carry On, Warrior"

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