In an interview on NPR this morning; Edward Hirsch was discussing his grief at the loss of his son and his processing of this overwhelming grief through poetry. As Hirsch was reading an excerpt from Gabriel, A Poem,
The mountaintop is not in sight
Because there is no mountaintop
Poor Sisyphus grief
I became aware that in my love and grief for my Great Dane, Addie, I have become Sisyphus. Sisyphus is a mythological figure who had cheated death and he was punished by the gods for doing so. They condemned him to an eternity of rolling a rock up a hill, and just as he reached the peak of the hill he would lose control of the rock, the rock would roll back to the base of the hill and Sisyphus would be forced to begin again.
Each time I walk through the door and Addie greets me with her beautiful brown eyes I become the Sisyphus who is watching the rock roll down the hill. In those moments I am forced to acknowledge that the rock is returning to its resting place, only to call to me to push it up the hill once again. Addie controls when the journey begins again, and it is in this gray area that I am most uncomfortable, it is in this gray area that I am Sisyphus.
Hirsch pointed out that he does not believe that grief ends, but that we become stronger in dealing with our grief; poor Sisyphus grief. We do not become stronger in the process but in the understanding that we have become accustomed to the repetitive motion of rolling that damn rock up the hill. I don’t think, based on my grief for my father, that relief comes when I reach the summit but instead relief hits when the rock slips out of my hand and is rolling down the hill; in those moments, just before beginning the journey to fetch the rock, I can tell myself that the grief has left me. Addie’s journey forces me to enjoy the brief reprieve because just like Sisyphus, I cannot ignore my penance, the rock is lying at the base of the hill and it is mine to roll, and yet it is not mine to time.