Katie Allison Granju has been blogging about the death of her 18-year-old son.
I cannot fathom what it must be like to lose a child. I realize that life is not a grief competition, but watching your tween or teenager die just seems like the deepest, blackest circle of horror. I lost a fetus; that was sad. But my friends who have lost older children…that’s beyond. Older children are not just potential. They’re not just promise. They’ve become actual people, with goals, with fully bloomed personalities; folks who have been on the planet long enough to have grown into their wishes and desires. And to lose a beloved, funny, musical, kind child to drugs and to a brutal beating…
I’m not being articulate here. But the subject takes words away.
I started reading Katie’s blog when she posted about Henry being admitted to the hospital last year. As someone who has been writing about parenting for a long time, I’ve been open about my issues with most mommyblogs. I respect people’s desire to share stories and build community. But just as I’m not interested in most memoirs, I’m not interested in most stories about life with kids. What I said in Tablet way back when:
“Half the truth is often a great lie,” as Ben Franklin said. Most mommybloggers tacitly follow the unwritten but codified rules: Create a persona that’s exasperated but loving, pretending to be annoyed by one’s child but in a way that makes it clear that said child is a genius, indicate that you don’t sweat the small stuff and mock parents who do. This is writing as incantation, a magic amulet—it pushes the real, messy, nuanced world away instead of bringing it closer in all its terrors.
God help me, but mommyblogging frequently reminds me of what I and Ruth Franklin have both observed about Holocaust writing; sometimes fiction is more truthful than memoir. Writing about one’s kids can feel performance-y, fake-y. But Katie’s writing was not that. Her openness about Henry’s longtime struggles with drugs … too real and too compelling to turn away from. Not in a Sheen-y Guignol way, not in a self-righteous that-will-never-to-me way, but in a “Dear God, there is no magic amulet” way. This woman did everything a parent could do in the face of a child’s addiction — individual therapy, family therapy, in-patient treatment, outpatient treatment — and disaster still befell her darling child. Katie, unlike most people on the vast and unruly Interwebs, has always been a good writer. But the rawness and truthfulness in her posts about Henry’s hospitalization and then his death and her mourning were something else entirely. Reading her blog did feel like bearing witness, or being part of the chevra kadisha, the ritual society that helps care for the dead.
Now Katie is trying to get local authorities in her Tennessee community to undertake a full investigation into Henry’s death. It seems clear to me, at least, that law enforcement wasn’t terribly interested in investigating Henry’s death because he was an addict and probably a small-time dealer as well. But he was beaten horribly before he died; and based on Katie’s posts it seems clear that he was taken advantage of by certain adults whose identities are known in the community. It seems more than clear that local law enforcement mishandled the investigation into Henry’s beating and its aftermath, and that the the sheriff’s office acted callously toward the Granju family. (For instance, a detective told the family that because 3 suspects who’d been interviewed about beating and robbing Henry had 3 slightly differing stories, it wouldn’t be possible to prosecute any of them — even though they admitted their guilt! Buh?)
You can read the entire backstory on Katie’s blog.
Katie does sound nearly crazed with grief. And I know some people are unnerved by her single-mindedness. Mourning is unseemly. But as it says in Deuteronomy, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof. She’s following that commandment. She is a grieving mother, and she is fierce. But does being made to feel uncomfortable by a mother’s grief mean that you get to deny a teenage boy whose life was snuffed out a shot at justice? It may be that no one will ever be tried or convicted in Henry’s death. But right now, it certainly sounds as though any investigation into Henry’s death was flimsy and half-hearted. Citizens of any municipality deserve to be treated seriously and respectfully by law enforcement. Can anyone seriously argue otherwise?
Again, read the story and tell me what you think.