What Mothers Do

I’ve got five kids and I’ve been a mother for over 21 years.  I find that my “mothering urges” sort of spread themselves over whatever children happen to be around me.  When my kids have friends over, I’m all “sweetheart” and “honey” at them.  I feed them.  I feel sorry for them if they are upset.  I try to talk to them if they will let me.  If little ones fall down or have hurt feelings I hug and bandage.  If I’m out in public and hear someone being mean to their child I follow them around to make sure it’s not serious.  When I hear tiny babies crying in Target I silently beg their mothers to feed them already!
I’m not tooting my own horn–I mean, I thought that was just how mothers mostly are.  I bet most of you mothers reading are like that.
What would you think of a mother who would provide her own child with illegal drugs?  Who would hide behind her prominent family while selling pain pills to other young teenagers?  Who would not call 911 to assist a teenager who was slowly dying in the home of drug-dealing acquaintances?

Laurie Pelot Gooch

Laurie Gooch is the mother of Henry Granju‘s girlfriend.  I’ve written plenty about Henry almost since I first began blogging, but if you don’t know his story you can start here.  Ms. Gooch is also the daughter of a prominent Knoxville politician, and one cannot help but speculate that her family connections have thus far shielded her from prosecution for her activities.  She was finally arrested and charged, thanks to a KPD investigation fueled by information provided by Henry’s mother.  But now apparently she has been allowed to plea to lesser charges and may serve no jail time at all.
I don’t know Laurie Gooch’s whole life story.  I don’t know what has happened to make her the person she is today.  Perhaps she has redeeming qualities of which I am unaware.  But I know enough to know where she belongs right now:  behind bars.  Not only is she a danger to the teenagers of Knoxville, including her own child, but letting her plea her way out of this doesn’t do much to end the scourge of prescription drug abuse that is killing our teenagers and ripping families apart every day.
Please help by sharing this post or any of Henry’s mama’s posts on this topic.  You can go here to sign a petition that will go to the sentencing judge.  You can go here to find out how to write him a letter asking that he refuse to grant her judicial diversion.
If you are a mom (and even if you aren’t) let’s do what mothers do, or what they are supposed to do.  Let’s take action to protect all the vulnerable children–teenagers are still children–in our midst from those who would prey upon them.

One Short Life

A year ago today, a young life ended.  Today marks the end of the first year that Henry’s family spent without him, longing for him on every holiday and birthday, at the birth of his sister  and death of his great-grandmother, during family milestones and every day moments.  They say that the first year is the hardest, and I hope that proves true, but circumstances have prevented this family’s grieving from following the usual course. Henry’s killers walk free, and the people who are supposed to protect and serve and to seek justice have not.
Katie filed a civil wrongful death suit today against the couple and the clinic who supplied the methadone that led to Henry’s death.  Just days after he died, the family set up a foundation which is already awarding scholarships to young people with addiction whose families cannot afford inpatient treatment.  WBIR T.V. produced a documentary on Henry’s short life and death which they aired twice, commercial free, and which  is now available to the public, showing both kids and their parents that addiction–and addicts–might look different from what they imagined.  Katie’s writing has raised awareness in our community and beyond about the prescription drug addiction crisis, and in advocating for a thorough investigation into her son’s death and prosecution of the perpetrators under the laws that are already on the books she will very likely change the way these cases are dealt with in the future.    Henry’s life had meaning, and people will remember him.  He made–he is making–a difference.

Why has Henry’s story captivated so many, and why have I written so much about him here?  His mother’s honesty, emotion, and beautiful writing have played a major role.  I had been reading Katie’s blog  for so many years that while I had only met in her person a few times and had never met Henry at all, I felt that I knew all of them and I am sure I am not the only one who felt the same.  Anyone who spends significant time in any online community ceases to feel a huge distinction between real life and virtual acquaintances. I was horrified when Katie posted that Henry had been hospitalized.  I visited frequently to check for updates.  I rejoiced when it looked like Henry was going to make it after all.  And I cried when I read Katie’s Facebook update with nothing more than her son’s full name and the dates of his short life.   If you start at the beginning, as so many did, and read through the little more than a month of postings that cover Henry’s struggle from hospitalization to painful death, you will be captivated too.
Then there was the second part of the story, the part that Katie waited a long time to tell:  that despite overwhelming evidence, most of which she had to search for herself, despite laws on the books allowing for prosecution for homicide of those who deliver a lethal dose of drugs, the powers that be in Knox County had declined to pursue a thorough investigation into the circumstances surrounding Henry’s death.  This is another story well worth reading.  It will horrify and depress you, and if you live in Knox County it may frighten and even embarrass you.  Read the story, which lays out the facts of what happened to Henry at what the KCSO and the D.A.’s office have done in response.  Listen to the media coverage, both local and national, in the sidebar.
Henry’s cause is worth championing, but there is another very good reason that it is a fitting topic for my blog, which began as a continuation of my defunct column from the East Tennessee Catholic.  In the paper I wrote about life issues, usually abortion, but also assisted reproductive technology, euthanasia, the death penalty, even war.  I welcomed the chance that blogging gave me to branch out a little.  But what all the life issues share is the conviction that all life is sacred from conception until natural death.
People writing about Henry make much of the fact that he was sweet, handsome, talented, much-loved, that he was more than his addiction.  But those facts are not the reason that he deserves justice.  If Henry had been none of those things, if he really were the worthless junkie that some of the commenters on the Knoxville News-Sentinel coverage of the case–and even on Katie’s own blogs–would make him out to be, he would still deserve justice.  An “unattractive victim” is still a victim, a human being,  a child of God.

Henry’s life was his to live, and it was stolen from him.  He died painfully over several days.  It shouldn’t have happened and it shouldn’t go unnoticed and unpunished.  And if we believe that life is sacred and worthy of protection, we should all do whatever we can to make sure that nothing like it ever happens again, to anyone.
If you believe in the cause of justice for Henry, please go here and sign the petition asking for a full investigation into his death.  Thank you.

Whose Judgment?

Here’s a column reprint from 2003, which I was inspired to run today by a Facebook post by my friend Amy (you can see her here) whom I have known since first grade.  She said:  “The difference between a flower and a weed is judgment.”

It was a rare sunny day, and 9-year-old Jake, 2-year-old William, and I were going for a walk.  As we passed our neighbor’s house, I warned Jake to stay out of her grass because shortly before I had seen it being sprayed with herbicide.

“Why did she do that?” Jake asked me.  “There aren’t any weeds in her grass.”

I pointed to the white clover flowers.  “Those are weeds, Jake.  So are dandelions and buttercups and violets.”

Jake was indignant.  “Those aren’t weeds, Mom!  Those are flowers.”

Since I have been known to mow around the buttercups and violets in my own yard and vividly remember crying inconsolably as a child when my uncle sprayed all the dandelions in his yard, I tend to agree with Jake.

I started thinking about what makes a weed a weed and a flower a flower.  Isn’t it all about choice?  I have put buttercups in vases and transplanted violets into my border.  I leave the dandelions in my yard alone, but I pull them up when they appear in the rose garden.  To others, like my neighbor, only cultivated flowers are pretty.

Aren’t unplanned babies a little like weeds, springing up unwished for, disturbing the symmetry of the garden we have planned in our minds?  Some people choose to let the “weed” grow, to see what it blooms into, to see how it alters the pattern of the garden with its unique beauty.  Others remove it quickly–before they have a chance to see how beautiful it can be.

With literal weeds, though, at least we have a consensus.  Even if I choose not to poison them, I know which flowers are supposed to be weeds and which are not.  Under our laws, any unborn baby is a weed unless his mother decides he is a flower.

I recently read about a couple’s experience of expecting a baby with Down Syndrome.  Everyone encouraged them to abort their baby because he wasn’t a perfect specimen,  I don’t use chemicals in my garden, so my roses always get blackspot and most of the leaves fall off.  But the flowers are still pretty, even if they won’t win any prizes.

Like most people, I have been shocked and saddened by the terrible tragedy of Laci and Conner Peterson.  Even though Baby Conner never drew a breath, he has been given the dignity of a name and is mourned throughout the country.  He was Laci’s baby, and we all know that she wanted him.  Conner’s murderer will be charged with homicide, yet women pay physicians to legally kill babies every day.
We must fight to change a culture that says the lives of babies are valuable only on the say-so of their mothers.  We must encourage women to take the chance of allowing “unwelcome weeds” to take root and grow.

We have lived in our house only a year and a half, and I haven’t done much gardening yet.  I’ve been waiting to see what would develop.  Last spring a green vine started growing up the side of my porch.  I still don’t know what it’s called, but, like a baby, it grows fast.  I began winding it through and around and under the porch railings.  By midsummer it was like a hedge.  I kept wondering whether I was making a fool of myself, letting some weed grow all over my porch, but my faith was finally rewarded.  In July the vine blossomed with thousands of small, sweet-smelling white flowers.  I would have missed that if I had mercilessly cut it down to the ground.

not mine–uncredited internet photo

Jake’s last word to me on weeds was, “Those are flowers, and flowers can’t be ugly.  All flowers are beautiful.”

As are all babies.

I now know that the vine in question was Sweet Autumn Clematis, and it continued to delight us every summer.

Private pain

 A WONDERFUL FACT to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it! Something of the awfulness, even of Death itself, is referable to this. No more can I turn the leaves of this dear book that I loved, and vainly hope in time to read it all. No more can I look into the depths of this unfathomable water, wherein, as momentary lights glanced into it, I have had glimpses of buried treasure and other things submerged. It was appointed that the book should shut with a spring, for ever and for ever, when I had read but a page. It was appointed that the water should be locked in an eternal frost, when the light was playing on its surface, and I stood in ignorance on the shore. My friend is dead, my neighbour is dead, my love, the darling of my soul, is dead; it is the inexorable consolidation and perpetuation of the secret that was always in that individuality, and which I shall carry in mine to my life’s end. In any of the burial-places of this city through which I pass, is there a sleeper more inscrutable than its busy inhabitants are, in their innermost personality, to me, or than I am to them?

The above is from one of my favorite novels, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities.  Perhaps it has stayed with me because it so eloquently expresses a mystery I have often felt but have never been able to explain so well, the realization that all around me, others are going through their days, living their lives, thinking their thoughts, and those lives and those thoughts, of which I am completely unaware, are every bit as important to them as mine are to me.  I may see a person just once, through a car window, our lives just barely intersecting, and I will never know anything more about that person, her triumphs, his tragedies. 
Have you ever stared at the person you love most in the world and suddenly realized something similar, that he or she is a person just like you, with an inner life and thoughts you can never fully fathom?  All of a sudden that person starts to look a little too REAL, somehow, and you almost have to look away.  It’s too much to think about, too much to understand.
I’m thinking about this today for a sad reason.  I was thinking about how over the past several weeks so many of us have been following Henry’s tragic story, and it has become very personal to us, and painful, because Katie’s writing drew us in and she allowed us to become part of the story, to have the privilege to share her suffering.
But there is so much suffering and so much death, all around us, every day, that we cannot share.  This morning the headline story of our local paper told of the death of another teenager, this one a girl who was shot on her own front porch by a stray bullet as she tried to take her baby cousin to safety.  How many more have died from drive-by shootings, because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time?  And just last week two teenage boys died in a terrible car crash while on a road trip.  Car crashes are the third leading cause of death for teenagers, after all.  
Almost exactly two years ago, our family members in Maryland were stunned by the death of Brian, who had just graduated from high school and was headed to the beach to celebrate when his car was hit by a drunk driver–a driver who had killed with his car before.  And I still remember vividly the case of the Knoxville Catholic High School senior, Sharon Gerard, who died in a motorcycle crash on graduation night when I was still a sophomore. 
So many tragic and early deaths.  If you are reading papers in other states, you’ll have seen different stories, equally sad.  Or you have personal knowledge of similar situations–perhaps your family has been touched personally by untimely death.  We read the stories of others, and maybe our eyes dampen a bit as we say what a terrible thing it is that has happened.  But then we go on, because there is only so much pain we can allow ourselves to feel.
Death and tragedy and loss are, then, universal.  We all suffer them.  Yet to the extent that we experience them privately and internally, our losses are singular and peculiar to us alone.  Everyone feels them differently and we can never know exactly how another is grieving.  Nor can we know what private pain that person we glimpse in passing through the car window is carrying inside, but we can be sure that there is something.


I am extremely upset to hear the latest on the investigation into Henry Granju’s death.  I hope that the celebration of his life that his family has planned for tomorrow morning will not be overshadowed by this latest controversy.  Their already impossibly difficult journey keeps getting harder. 
I visited Katie’s blog while writing this post and discovered that no one even did the family the courtesy of sharing the autopsy findings with them before releasing them to the media.  Yes, Katie learned about the latest turn the investigation into her son’s death has taken from the internet, just like the rest of us.
Something is very wrong here.

A mother's plea for justice

Nothing can make up to his family for the loss of Henry, of course.  But that doesn’t mean that they don’t want justice to be done. 
News of his death finally hit the Knoxville paper this morning.  He was assaulted over a month ago.  Up till now I would have thought it was news if someone beat a teenager with a tire iron and left him for dead in a parking lot.  That it wasn’t news until the teenager died makes me think that Knoxville is either a lot more dangerous than I thought or that our authorities and news media don’t think assaults are newsworthy if they happen to people who “brought it on themselves.”
Henry’s mother publicly acknowledged that Henry’s addiction led him into danger, but that doesn’t mean that it was okay for him to be beaten.  It sure doesn’t mean that he deserved to die. EVERY life is precious.  EVERY life is sacred. 
Not only must we seek justice for Henry, we must protect others in our community who might fall prey to these thugs.  Please read what his mother has to say and consider telling local law enforcement and the media that we want these criminals investigated and punished for what they have done.  Thank you.