When you hear about an addict--what image does that conjure? Do you think fearful thoughts, judgmental thoughts, compassionate thoughts...or prefer not to think about it at all? I can say in all honesty that years ago, probably even when I was old enough to know better--I was judgmental when thinking of an addict, throwing this person I heard about in a category of failure or depravity that I couldn't imagine being close to.
I cannot begin to say how deeply I have been affected by Katie Granju's story of the loss of her son Henry. I know that initially it was just because in following her blog and her writing, I felt as if I knew her, even just a little, so it was very much like feeling the pain for a friend.
I had read her blog entries, following Henry's struggle for life daily. I read her words and worried for her, hoped for Henry, and learned more about him along the way. Something struck a chord with me. Something deeper.
And then, Henry died.
I have hurt for Katie, but somehow related to Henry in a way I couldn't understand. I am not an addict, have never faced addiction. But, I have suffered from depression and battled it many times alone and in secret because of the stigmas attached to any kind of mental illness. I have been so close to the edge of not coming back. I know that place. I cannot compare my suffering to Henry's. But I know what it is like to feel at the mercy of something that is harming you--and in the face of it being powerless to help yourself or make the right choices. It is horrible, frightening, maddening. And more than heartbreaking.
Then, Katie published Henry's eulogy, given by his father. This series of words made me catch my breath:
...Henry was a brilliant, beautiful baby and child who from the very beginning, simply felt the world more deeply than most of the rest of us. This special sensitivity was both his blessing and his curse. His inborn and intense empathy and intuition gifted him with a natural creativity that he expressed musically and in writing. However, it also caused him great suffering, a suffering that he never seemed to be able to shake completely, and which he eventually attempted to mask in ways that hurt him more than they helped him. Henry was – in so many ways – just too sensitive for the world into which he was born.
A few people who have been close to me forever--who know me well--and who have seen me in darker moments, have often described me in this way--feeling things more deeply....too sensitive for this world...I can see myself in that way. It has been a battle for me my whole life to separate myself more- to not be so deeply hurt by others, by the world around me. I was so struck by the realization that none of us can judge what we would or wouldn't ever do or be. We are all closer to the edge than we care to know. I could have easily slipped into the abyss. The path I took was not so different from Henry's, it was just another form of masking that pain. I think of the harsh judgment I have had in the past thinking of addiction--of addicts. And now, I feel I understand more than I would care to.
Part of the reason I have been so touched is that I am so grateful at this moment for my life, for survival, for making it through everything even though I fervently believed that I would never feel the joy, love, and peace that I do now. I wish with all my heart that Henry had made it through this to feel the same. I have no doubt he would have. The world lost an amazing person--not an addict. A beautiful boy, a beloved son, brother, cousin and friend.
I rarely post a video of this length on my blog, but I ask you to take the 20 minutes to watch it. It is Henry Louis Granju's life in pictures and video. Watch these images and ask yourself tough questions. Make others you know ask themselves tough questions about how we judge people battling addiction and those who love them. And if you have children...please hug them, love them, tell them how amazing they are. Do this in honor of Katie and Henry.