The Unimaginable: A Grieving Parent On ‘Hamilton’

Is a spoiler alert required for historical events that occurred over 200 years ago?  I’m told it isn’t, but consider this your official spoiler alert.

My husband and I were presented with the totally unexpected opportunity to go see ‘Hamilton’ last week.  After agreeing that the family will be eating three squares of oatmeal for the next month to cover the ticket prices (can someone, anyone, explain why these tickets are so damn expensive?), we went.  It did not disappoint.

I would never call myself a ‘musical person’ or a ‘Broadway person.’  I can count on a couple of fingers the number of live musicals I have seen in my life.  That ‘Cats’ was ‘Wicked,’ kind of thing, but ‘Hamilton’ transfixed me. Using hip hop and rap lenses to capture the founding of America is nothing short of genius.  These tools provide a context and relevance that breathe life into history, making the humanity behind the American Revolution and founding of our country accessible to modern audiences.

Long story short, this musical was well worth a month of oatmeal.


Because so little time elapsed between the getting of the tickets and the seeing of the play, I didn’t have the opportunity to do even the simplest Google search on Alexander Hamilton.  All I knew about the play was the hype that I studiously avoided.  I did watch the PBS documentary about the making of it, and, I can’t lie, I found Lin-Manuel Miranda so damn charming and smart that I was intrigued.  Turns out, the hype is totally legit.

So, here is where the spoiler comes in, folks.  I didn’t know that Alexander and Eliza Hamilton buried their first born child.  Philip, their nineteen year old son, was killed in a duel defending his father’s honor.  Much of the second act of the play revolves around the impact of their son’s death on this Founding Father and his long suffering wife.  The song “It’s Quiet Uptown” tries to capture what Miranda calls, “the unimaginable.”  It will stick with me for a long, long time.  Give it a listen:

If you yourself are not grieving a child, it’s hard to explain the visceral connection you feel to other grieving parents.  There is a level of empathy and solidarity that transcends so many of the barriers that exist to knowing another person.  The depth of grief is universal, despite time, despite culture, despite geography.  It is a profound and sacred shorthand.

One of the burdens of surviving the death of a child is the intense loneliness and isolation you feel.  My daily grief and sadness is unapparent to the outside world.  I shop for groceries and take my sons to school and volunteer at event XYZ and all the while, despite it not being seen, I am grieving.  The burden is real and it is heavy, but in so many instances, it is invisible.  Some days, that invisibility is an advantage, some days not.

The effect of seeing another parent’s grief on stage, captured so tenderly and respectfully, was raw and arresting.  I was a weeping mess for most of the second act.  I purchased the soundtrack the day after seeing the performance and play this song on loop.  It is the last thing I listened to before picking up my youngest from pre-school this week, so I am grateful for the bright sun these days, allowing me to wear sunglasses and hide my wet and red eyes.

Lordy.  Even as I sit here and write these words, I am crying, knowing that in just a few minutes I need to pull it together and bundle up my toddler to pick up my older boy at school.  The other parents, gathered like I will be, waiting for our kids after school, will not see this grief, this sadness, but it is there, heavy and potent, beating inside me alongside my heart.

‘Hamilton’ is a masterpiece on many levels, for many reasons.  To capture a parent’s grief and mirror it on stage for the audience to witness is a balm, a gift, an invitation to feel less alone.  Art heals, my friends.

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