Mother pens memoir to honor son killed in Syria, help others grieve


There will be no traditional services, ceremonies or flag gardens to mark Memorial Day and honor American soldiers killed in action, but Gold Star mother Sheila Mitchell-Murphy will honor her “hero” son’s memory this year with a memoir she hopes will help other grieving military families.

“Other Gold Star moms would sometimes reach out to me about how they just don’t know how to express their grief, or how they feel shunned and silenced and that’s why I kept writing,” Mitchell-Murphy said. “What I want the American people to understand is that we need support, regardless of if it’s been 10 or 20 years. I want them to understand that these feelings don’t go away — just like their love for their children. … We’re left with a hole in our heart.”

Her son, Spc. Etienne Murphy, a Brockton native, died in a vehicle rollover during combat on May 26, 2017, five days into his first deployment in Syria. He was 22 years old.

While there are plentiful resources for gold star spouses and children, Mitchell-Murphy said there is a “minimum” for the parents left behind.

“Those are our babies. It cuts us to our core,” she said. “When I lost Etienne — my soul was taken away from me and my soul is in the book,” she said.

A collection of social media posts and letters from the past three years, Mitchell-Murphy’s memoir, “Because You’re Not Here,” offers a raw and unfiltered window inside the grieving process of a mother learning to cope with the loss of her son.

Murphy left behind his mother, father Calvin, wife Martha and two young children. Mitchell-Murphy said she’s struggled to fill the void and would post on Twitter and Facebook about her feelings — at times garnering backlash.

Daniel Magoon, executive director of the veterans’ group Mass Fallen Heroes said Mitchell-Murphy’s book reveals the “brutal honest truth” of grieving the loss of a child killed in action.

“She is going to help another Gold Star dad or brother or a wife, because they’re going to read it and relate to it,” Magoon said.

An illustration of a broken, bleeding and weeping heart drawn by Mitchell-Murphy’s husband, retired Boston firefighter Calvin Murphy, graces the cover. Mitchell-Murphy said it’s a representation of how she and other Gold Star families feel every day.

“He fought for what he believed and I want people to remember my son. Etienne was the epitome of a true American hero, just like so many others like him killed in action,” Mitchell-Murphy said.

Murphy wanted to be a soldier after witnessing the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when he was just 6 years old. It inspired him to join the JROTC at his high school in Georgia and led him to his career as an Army Ranger — one of the military’s most elite roles.

Her book honors Murphy’s memory — the father he was, the son, the jokester, the “Star Wars” fanatic, the soldier who loved his country.

His loss is something Mitchell-Murphy said she will never get over and she said she hopes by writing about her grief, she can help other Gold Star families like hers battle their own.

“I want other Gold Star parents to know that I understand them. I’m right there with them. I’m hurting, and I cry with them every day and I pray for all of them, every single day because I feel their pain, and I don’t want them to feel like they’re alone,” Mitchell-Murphy said.

This Memorial Day, the Mitchell-Murphy said Gold Star families — cut off from ceremonies and traditions — will be hurting more than usual.

“Take a moment of silence this Memorial Day and just honestly and sincerely say thank you to our children and to these families,” she said.

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