"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Katie Granju: A Mother's Love and the Fight for Justice

“A mother's love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity. It dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.” - Agatha Christie
I have watched over the last year as Katie Granju has been torn down, ridiculed, and all but ignored by the people in power in her community who were supposed to support and protect her. For those of you that read my blog, you have seen my past posts about Henry’s death and Katie’s fight. To really understand the case and what has happened, you should visit the site she and her family created to document their fight for justice.

When I first began reading Katie’s brave posts as Henry was fighting for his life, I was educated in so many ways about the true depth of a mother’s love, and about addiction and the judgment, stigmas and pain that accompany it. I learned that every addict is someone’s child, worthy of love and forgiveness. I learned a lot about my own prejudices and judgment concerning addiction. Katie changed the way that I, and countless others, viewed addiction.

Then, Henry Granju died. I remember so vividly watching the videos Katie posted on her blog of Henry as a baby, a toddler, a young boy, a teenager…he was so loved. The loss rocked Katie and her family to its core.

Then, I watched as in the midst of her grief as Katie was treated so callously by various members of the local DA’s office and the sheriff's department, all because she wanted the drug dealers that provided her son with the drugs that killed him (and also did not call for help while Henry suffered for hours) brought to justice. 

Today, I woke to see that the three key people involved in Henry’s death have been arrested on multiple felony counts. While the charges aren’t directly related to Henry’s death, these criminals are off the street. I know that if Katie and her family hadn’t kept fighting, this would not have happened. It is so sad that it took a family in the middle of unbearable grief to light a fire under the system and make this happen.

But, they did. She did.

So this morning, I write these words through tears as I have learned something else. A mother’s love is stronger than a corrupt system, painful and hateful anonymous comments, deceit and betrayal. 

One mother’s love can withstand anything and everything to find justice for her son. 

Katie Granju has taught me many things, but that I know most of all.

Click here to visit the Justice for Henry website.

Click here to read more about the arrests and indictments.

Click here to learn about Henry’s Fund, created by Henry’s family to help others struggling with addiction.


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Light the Night for Sheila Barnett

A few days ago, a friend sent me the email below, and I don't think I could tell the story any better, so I am sharing the exact words she sent me. Please pass along this story and donate if you can. Let's help Sheila Barnett feel the love and exceed her fundraising goals for this upcoming walk.

Family and Friends,

Please take a minute to hear about a cause that is near to my heart, and especially to a dear friend of mine, Sheila Barnett. My hospital (Presbyterian in Charlotte) is sponsoring a Light the Night event to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I am asking if you would please consider making a donation in honor of my friend, Sheila Barnett in her personal walk for this cause. Some of you may have heard her story from me, but if not you will not forget it.

Sheila lost not one child, but all three of her adult children to (AML) Acute Myeloid Leukemia in a span of 3 years. In the video link below, Sheila briefly tells her story, but says she was disappointed with the editing. The interview took over an hour in which she endured an anxiety attack and stopped to sob several times. She told me afterwards that she cannot believe she allowed herself to say, "I don't know how things could be any worse," because she fears they can. Sheila remains terrified and prays every night that her two surviving grandchildren will never develop AML considering the strong family history. All 3 of Sheila's children's birthdays and death anniversaries fall in September and October. This Light the Night walk is not only in memory of her 3 children, but being on October 22 also ends another year of this most difficult time of remembrance.

I have known Sheila since her daughter Amanda's death, and I cannot tell you how unbelievable this woman is. She has firmly stood her ground in this fight, and as angry as she may be at times, maintains faith that she has a reason to live. Sheila still works at Presbyterian Hospital where 2 of her 3 children died, as a guest services specialist. 

Chances are, if you come to the hospital, she would be the one to greet you and help you get where you need to be. Although she has been through an unbelievable ordeal, her passion is working in the cancer center, and sharing a compassion that only she can give.

Please watch the video, and consider making a donation to Sheila's page. If you are unable to make a donation, please pray for Sheila during this difficult time of year.

Click here to watch Sheila's video.

Click here to make a donation.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

Words of a Broken Heart

Within the set up of my blog, I have code installed so I can monitor the activity when I need to. One of the features includes the ability to see what search terms lead people to my blog. For instance, someone might type the words “vintage wedding photos” into Google or another search engine, and somewhere in the choices this post  I wrote about collecting old wedding photos might come up. The person clicks the link to my blog and I can see that those words led them here.

Without fail, the two most common searches have been these phrases, or something close to them: “how to write a letter to my dad who cheated on my mom” which leads them here and “getting married- don’t want my father to walk me down the aisle at my wedding” which leads them here. I have such a heavy heart seeing those phrases pop up so often- from all over the world. So many people are experiencing similar pain; a pain I know all too well.

So for anyone tonight who has come to my blog based on these painful issues, let this be my letter to you:

To the child whose heart has been broken,

First, let me begin by saying that I am no expert on mending fences with a father that has somehow rejected, hurt, abused, or wounded you. I have only written, as honestly as I can, about my process of healing from what happened to me, and finding a way to make sense of my choices and my feelings based on what I have been through. I doubt my father and I will ever really reconcile or have anything I can call a relationship. In my case, that is the best outcome.

For those wondering how to write a letter to a cheating father…we each have our own stories. We each have our own set of circumstances. The letter I wrote here on my blog came long after writing several private letters years ago. These were letters that my therapist at the time asked me to write to my father and my mother. These letters were private, and weren’t intended to be mailed or emailed to my parents, unless I decided to, which I didn’t. But, they contained everything I wanted to say, everything I had ever wanted to say. They were brutal, painful letters. The act of writing those letters, which I then read to my therapist, was a healing process in itself. Just letting those things out, being so honest, leaving no detail or past act unturned was freeing. I didn’t feel I needed to mail them. They were written, and I honestly knew that neither of my parents would fully understand what they were reading, nor would they take any accountability for the content. Unfortunately, it is a mixture of illness, alcoholism, and denial that follows both in my family that makes that a reality. But I wrote those words, and said them out loud. I knew their meaning, and knew where the accountability belonged.

So, I recommend writing the letter(s) you need to write. Say what you need to say—all of it, everything. Don’t write it and send it immediately…that’s always a recipe for regret. Pore over it, study it-- make sure you are saying everything you want to say. Be as mad as you want to be, as hurt as you want to be. You can always edit later. Get it all out. Maybe have a trusted friend or therapist read it. And whatever your heart tells you, whatever the past dictates, do it. Mail it, save it, burn it, whatever helps you heal.

As I said in my blog post, men who are fathers who cheat always seem oblivious to the fact that you are not just cheating on your spouse (the mother of your children), but you are also cheating on your family- your children. It is not a singular crime. Whether you think they know or not—this act of deceit and betrayal will haunt them in some way, in some form one day. (This goes for women as mothers who cheat also—I just have a little more familiarity with the father’s acts on my end).

Now, for the women out there who are asking—Does my father have to walk me down the aisle? The answer is NO, absolutely not. Some women ask this question for different reasons—just preference, a break with traditional wedding ceremonies, etc. But the search terms I see suggest many women are asking that question for the same reason I did. I can only share my experience with this situation.

I struggled deeply with this decision. The only reason I struggled was because of my mother. She wanted my father to walk me down the aisle for the same reason she wants all of us home for Christmas, gathered around the tree, singing carols in matching sweaters while holding hands. She has a vision in her head of what we should be- what she wants so badly for us to be. It is something we are not- something we won’t ever be. I understand her denial is a coping mechanism, but for years and years of my life, I have done things for her that have hurt and deeply damaged me. I would go home for Christmas only to be kicked out by my father on Christmas Eve in a drunken rage. I would try to play the part of the youngest child in a perfect family for her, and I feel as though I lost years of my life in doing so.

I did those things because I hated to see her hurt. I hated that my mother didn’t have a life where she was married to a caring, doting husband, and where she wasn’t really loved or taken care of. I didn’t want to add to that pain. But here’s what’s real: those were her choices. No matter how the chips fell, she stayed with my father, and put me in painful places my whole life based on those choices.

The cycle has to be broken. I decided it would start with me and my wedding day. This was the first day of my new life- a healthy, whole life filled with a real love, an honest man, and my own choices. It had taken me too long to heal, to come out on the other side of all this. Having him escort me down the aisle felt like a huge step backward.

So that was the choice I made. My mother guilted, threatened, cried, and called constantly begging me to change my mind. She told me she knew my father wouldn’t come to the wedding because of my choice. She told me it would ruin the wedding for her. She told me she hated what people would be thinking. I stood strong. But I did cry many tears leading up to that day, remaining firm in my phone calls to her, but falling apart when I hung up the phone. I didn’t want to hurt her…I kept asking myself—was this one minute in my wedding that big of a deal? But you know what? It was.

It ended up being the best decision I could have made. My father did come to the wedding, my mother’s day wasn’t ruined, and although I know she was disappointed, she recovered. What did happen was a new understanding. I saw and felt something intrinsically change between me and my parents, especially my father. They both sensed something different—the old patterns and guilt weren’t working anymore. I was no longer acting the part, no longer caving to guilt and pressure. My father spoke to me in a quiet way that day. I can’t explain it, but I felt a power shift. It was a comforting power- the power of my own confidence, my own heart.

So, the most important thing I can say to those of you here for these reasons is…hang on, trust your heart, trust your gut, and believe in yourself and your choices. Therapy was a godsend for me—a life preserver thrown out to me in an ocean of damage and grief where I was drowning. Most of all, these search words prove to me that we aren’t alone out here—so many of us are dealing with this same pain, struggling with the same issues. 

And while that doesn’t ease the pain completely, there are thousands of survival stories out there to lean on and hold in your heart for hope. Find them, read them, love yourself…and always, always, have hope. 

The words of your broken heart will take you places--far away from where you started...
I promise.

The artwork featured here, also entitled "Words of a Broken Heart", was created by Deborah Belasco. View this and more of her work here.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

In Their Own Words: The Voices of 9/11

There is no more profound or fitting way to remember 9/11 than in the voices of those who lost someone. While I watched footage of September 11, 2001 this morning, I got teary as I saw the first then the second tower fall to the ground. It broke my heart all over again. But to think of the people who had loved ones in those towers, loved ones who didn't make it out...to think of the panic, pain, and worry--and ten years of grief--is unimaginable. No one can know unless they went through that pain, and no one can tell their stories except the people who lived them.

I have always been a huge fan of StoryCorps. In remembrance of 9/11, the team behind StoryCorps has been capturing the stories and words of those affected by 9/11. Take a few moments and listen this morning, and be sure and tell those you love what they mean to you today--and every day.

A side note to the first story below that is so tragically sad: Beverly Eckert died in the crash of Continental Flight 3407 on February 12, 2009.

To hear more stories, click here.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

What I Remember: 9/11 and the Days After

It is hard to believe that it has been ten years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. At the same time, it does seem so far away- a lifetime ago since it happened. Every year on this anniversary, I am touched by new stories I hadn’t heard before—stories of heroism and loss that haunt me. I count my blessings that I was far away from the cities affected that day, and that even though I traveled constantly for business, I wasn’t on a plane that particular morning, though I had been the day before.

We all have our stories of where we were that day, and mine is not spectacular or even relevant in the scope of things. I was in Colorado hosting an event for the company I worked for at the time. I had overslept that morning- which was so unlike me for anything to do with an event or my work. It is still the only morning I ever overslept while I was on the road for work—for anything. It was an odd, rushed start to the day, and as I dashed out of my hotel room a few minutes before 7am, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that a red banner was floating along the bottom of the television screen with large letters. I had the sound muted, and thought it was some random weather warning. I was more worried about getting downstairs to make sure the meeting room was set up properly.

Once I got downstairs, I walked through the lobby area and a crowd was in front of a large television set. Before I saw the screen, I could feel something was wrong in the room. I saw some of my coworkers standing in the crowd, and then finally, I saw the screen—saw what was happening. I came downstairs just as the second plane hit. Before I realized it, I was peppering a stranger with questions—a man in a business suit. He looked ashen—and as he told me what he had seen and heard so far, he teared up. I looked for the two women working with me on the event and found them steps away, watching another television outside of our conference room.

The next hour was a blur of phone calls- checking on my friends who traveled extensively, as I did. Making sure everyone was safe. Calling my parents to let them know I was fine. I remember walking outside as I thought of the people who worked in The Windows on the World Restaurant at the top of the North Tower- people I had just worked with a few months prior while in New York. We hosted a reception in the restaurant—and I remembered the view, so beautiful, so far away from the bustling city below. I remembered the kindness of the catering manager and the waiter for our event who made me laugh. I wondered if they were there, if they were OK. I remembered that we stayed in the Marriott hotel adjacent to the tower. All of it was gone. I felt sick.

We had been scheduled to fly out the next day, but instead, we headed to the nearest rental car location outside of the airport. We found it—crowded and overrun with panicked travelers- rented two cars, and I spent the afternoon trying to map our trip back to California—back home for all of us. I don’t think I will ever have another day in my life so surreal, so suspended...encountering so many strangers in tears or seeing truly terrified expressions of people I didn’t know and watching as other strangers comforted them.

The drive home was eerie—almost silent. We listened to NPR all the way home, hearing the voices of survivors and loved ones who had lost their sons, daughters, husbands, siblings—their unedited words raw with grief. It was sobering and terrifying. I just wanted to get back to my bed, my books, my cats…and the safety of my home.

I have read several blog posts in the last few days, talking about how in the days after the attacks, the feeling of unity was so strong—the abundance of overpowering acts of kindness that occurred between strangers could barely be measured. I remember that feeling.

I remember going to the grocery store the day after I got home and encountering several neighbors in my apartment complex on the way to my car. We spoke smiled, stopped and talked. This was an apartment complex full of business people like myself, and this had rarely ever happened. We were all taking account of each other, genuinely caring when saying hello.

At the grocery store, people were careful turning corners, apologizing profusely for bumping into one another. And while this may seem small—these little, meaningful encounters were so powerful. There was such a feeling of shared grief. Kindness was the knee-jerk reaction for everyone. It was contagious and beautiful.

I knew that we, as a country, had been changed in some fundamental way. Back then, I believed that we were going to continue this path of kindness and togetherness. I never expected nirvana or for the intensity in those first days to last, but I did believe that we might view neighbors and strangers differently, seeing unity before differences. Perhaps I was more naïve than I thought possible.

We have changed as a country. I believe the most clear and evident change is that we don’t feel safe, we don’t see ourselves as immune from the “far away” violence in other countries where we once believed that this sort of thing took place. Now, we are one of those places where things like this do happen. That is a huge shift in thinking, a huge shift in living.

The other change makes me so sad. The thing that I loved most about what I saw in the days after 9/11 was such an acceptance of everyone, kindness without question. Although all of us held anger for the people who had carried out these attacks, a small group of Americans immediately thought to hate a religion, a people, a group that they believed that these terrorists belonged to. And then the group that hated started to grow. And then the group THEY hated started to grow. It started to become all encompassing—the hatred and fear. We stopped looking beside us in compassion, but some people suspected their neighbors, coworkers and friends as being a part of who we hated, who we feared, who we found guilty.

I wanted the people who were responsible punished—even dead. But I did not want to see our country become a beacon of hatred, judgment, or paranoid vengeance. I wanted to feel safe, but not at the cost of our souls.

I guess I am still naïve. I wish so badly to feel the kindness in those days after the attacks. Actually, if I am wishing for things…I want to turn back time and take back the loss, the pain, the attacks themselves. But since that isn’t possible, I try and wish for things I still think somehow are possible. I don’t want to believe that it takes bombs, death, and hatred to make us reach out to our neighbors, old friends, and strangers when we see them in need, or just see a moment of pain cross someone’s face that is so deep--and even though we don’t know how to heal that kind of pain—we reach out and say, I am here, I understand.

I am as guilty as anyone. I am not the same as I was in those days after the attacks. I try to be each day, but I am not. I am not quite as compassionate, quite as reticent to judge.

Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of so much loss, so much pain, so much uncertainty. Almost 3,000 people died that day. For their family, friends, and loved ones, nothing will take away that pain. We can write beautiful words about the loved ones they lost, we can honor them with ceremonies, we can speak their names. But, what better legacy than kindness? What better way to remember a day often attributed to hate than to counter with boundless compassion?

I know it is naïve, and ridiculously optimistic. I know that even I won’t live every day that way. I know that someone in the mall parking lot will annoy me endlessly for some small infraction. But I hope that tomorrow as I count my blessings, I can remember everything we have lost since that day, everything I have been here to enjoy. I hope that I can remember to be a little kinder, a little more accepting. I know I will try.
And I hope, even in some small way, that effort is contagious.


Monday, September 5, 2011

Man in the Red Bandanna

The narration for this video begins with these words: "What would you do in the last hour of your life? Where would you be? Who would remember?"

Welles Crowther's last hour was spent rescuing people in the South Tower of the World Trade Center, ten years ago on September 11, 2001. An equities trader on the South Tower's 104th floor, Crowther helped dozens of people to safety on September 11. Their stories of his efforts, his compassion, and his strength have left behind a beautiful legacy for a man who lived an honorable life, and died a hero.

His body was found in March 2002, alongside several firefighters and emergency workers in a suspected command post in the South Tower lobby.

Welles' mother received one final phone call from her son on September 11, soon after United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower. He called to let her know he was OK. After that, she and her husband never heard from him again, and had it not been for a a New York Times article, they might never have known how Welles spent his last hour.

He spent that last hour saving lives, selflessly risking his own life and safety. His story is beautifully told in this video. Take a few moments and watch this video today, and pay tribute to a young man who died as he lived...with honor.

Read more about Welles Crowther, his heroism and his legacy:



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