A Son's Death, a Mother's Fight for Justice, and Henry's Fund

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A Son's Death, a Mother's Fight for Justice, and Henry's Fund

By Maggie Ethridge 06/10/16

"Henry never wanted to be a drug addict. He was embarrassed and sick of himself. This wasn't at all who or what he wanted to be."

Henry's Fund
via Author

Katie Granju made her mark on social media in the 2000s—a writer at Babble and author of the respected book Attachment Parenting, she also ran a popular (now defunct) blog, Mamapundit. It was through Mamapundit that Granju announced to the world the horrible truth in 2010: her 18-year-old son Henry was hospitalized, struggling to survive a drug overdose and injuries from a beating. 

Henry Granju grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. He loved to play guitar, spent summers on the beach with his siblings and extended family, and was a tender, deeply felt young man. Henry smoked pot at 14, and in a scene recreated by his mother on her blog, he told his mother, who responded in what—at the time—seemed to her as the rational way: Granju engaged Henry in thoughtful discussion, and kept a closer eye on him. “In hindsight,” Granju tells The Fix, “it wasn’t nearly enough. But hindsight is so easy…” Nothing about parenting a child addicted to drugs is easy, or obvious. Still, Granju wants parents to learn from her experience, and take a harder stance if they find their child experimenting with drugs. 

As Henry grew, it became obvious he was struggling with opiate addiction. His parents and family—including his Aunt Betsy, who had raised him as more of a son than a nephew—intervened. Henry was in treatment for nine months at age 17, and turned 18 in treatment. He first went to a Wilderness Program in North Carolina, and then attended a therapeutic boarding school in Montana. A therapeutic boarding school has a setting like any other boarding school, but also has the features of a treatment program: therapy, psychiatric care, supervision and addiction resources. 

Granju offers, “In hindsight, I might have wanted to keep him in treatment closer to home.” According to Granju, Knoxville had no sober living homes available when Henry left boarding school, and so he came home, back into the nest of drugs and crime that he left. Although there isn’t a hard number for how many addicts relapse after rehab, it’s generally accepted in the therapeutic community that 30% stay clean through treatment—but that number does not indicate how many relapse immediately after. Granju says flatly, “Treatment is the best option we have, but your child’s odds are not good.”

The odds were against young Henry Granju. At 18, he was beaten in a small drug deal gone bad, before overdosing on the couch of his drug suppliers. As Henry lay, foaming at the mouth, hours passed while the inhabitants debated if they should call 911. Henry was hospitalized, and weeks later, died. In an interview with the Daily Beast, Granju said, “It was the most horrible, painful death that went on and on and on. He spent [a month] in the hospital slowly coming to the realization that his brain damage was killing him.”

A child’s death is the most profound blow a parent can endure, and the suffering beforehand, for both the addicted child and the family who loves them, is grueling. Granju says, “People who lose a child to drug addiction are already traumatized by watching their child get sicker and sicker.” But Granju never gave up on her son. As he lay hospitalized, she brought him his beloved guitar, which he strummed. Pictures of Henry from this time show tubes and wires leeching from his graceful body as he holds the guitar unsteadily, an unfocused look in his eye. 

After Henry died, the family immediately knew they wanted to do something. “When people hear Henry’s name, we wanted them to think of something positive and beautiful. We didn’t want to hide the fact that Henry’s death was drug-related,” Granju emphasizes. “That’s how we came up with the idea for a fund that would help pay for treatment.” And so, Henry’s Fund was born.

Henry’s Fund assists families in paying for drug addiction treatment for children ages 12-23. Granju explains, “We wanted to make sure that the money goes toward programs that have a great reputation, so right now we’re working with four different non-profit drug and alcohol treatment centers; the money is available for those programs. The staff at the programs decide how the money is utilized.” The family asked mourning friends and family to donate to Henry’s Fund in lieu of sending flowers or cards. 

Granju’s sister—Henry’s Aunt Betsy—was the obvious choice for executive director of Henry’s Fund, as she was not only Henry’s adoring aunt, but also holds a master's degree in social work. Betsy has suffered greatly from the loss of her bright-eyed, intelligent nephew, and the reality that no amount of love was able to save him. “I remember our last Christmas with him,” Betsy tells The Fix. “He came home for Christmas Eve. We could tell he was drug sick. But he sat down with his siblings and cousins and played with toys. Eventually he went to his bedroom, lay on his bed and sobbed. I went and held him while he lay in the fetal position saying I'm so sorry. I hate this. Within an hour he was gone, probably because he needed a fix.”

After Henry’s death, there was further trauma for the family. The day of Henry’s funeral, the first part of his autopsy results were released online. His parents had not been told. “That was a hard thing to wake up to,” Granju says softly. In addition, Granju found that the Knox County Sheriff’s office was not investigating her son’s death in a way that made sense to her. “To me, it was obvious that there had been a crime committed,” Granju says. “My child was given a deadly, illicit drug by two older adults, and was left to lie in his own vomit and suffocate over a period of 12-14 hours and they didn’t call for help.” 

Granju began blogging to her large audience, revealing every detail—and every detail missing—in the case created around her son’s death. “They refused to talk to me or Henry’s father. They wouldn’t interview people for information, I had to beg them to take Henry’s phone. I don’t know if they ever looked at it at all. A few months later, I retrieved it.” What Granju wanted was for the adults involved with her son’s death to be thoroughly investigated and hopefully prosecuted for not only providing Henry with drugs, but for failing to call 911 as he lay dying. This did not occur.

Instead, in an email made public and dated August 21, a Knox County assistant district attorney wrote, “Tell Ms. Katie to shut up.”

Granju did not "shut up," and kept pushing. In 2011, the police of Knoxville County arrested the three adults interviewed regarding Henry’s death on unrelated drug charges. 

Henry’s brothers and sisters have watched their Aunt Betsy speak on behalf of Henry’s Fund to kids in treatment centers. Henry’s Fund also provides guidance for parents seeking various kinds of supports for their children addicted to drugs. The fund is administered and overseen by the East Tennessee Foundation, and according to Granju, within 6 to 12 months, Henry’s Fund will have its own board of directors. 

The fund has organized three fun-runs, as well as a successful online auction to raise money for the services desperately needed in the Knoxville community. Granju hopes that eventually Henry’s Fund will be able to create a sober living home specifically for children and young people, to provide the service that was lacking for her own son as he left the protected world of therapeutic boarding school.

Granju tells The Fix, “Henry never wanted to be a drug addict. It tormented him. He was embarrassed and sick of himself, this wasn’t at all who or what he wanted to be. Till the day he died, that’s what he would have told you. He was a beautiful person, and far too young to be taken from us in this way.”

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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