The week that my son Henry died on May 31 of last year, a dear friend of mine named Ayun Halliday created a remarkable gift that 18 months later, continues to provide me with more comfort in my grief than I can even begin to express.
Ayun started a photo project during that terrible first week that she called “There in Spirit for Henry.” For the project, she encouraged friends of mine from near and far – as well as other people who didn’t actually know me or Henry but who wanted to send some love our family’s way – to take a photo of Henry’s name written out in some place that was meaningful to that person, and to then upload these photos to an online album she created.
There is no way to adequately describe the joy I took in seeing the first bunch of amazing photos that people contributed to Ayun’s online photo album. In the early days after Henry died, I looked at the pictures again and again…and again as I lay there in my darkened bedroom, curled up in a fetal position, 7.5 months pregnant with G.
I was so moved and comforted by the photos that Ayun had collected in memory of Henry that I began publishing them here on my blog, to share how beautiful they were with others.
And then an amazing thing happened.
OTHER people began taking special “Henry photos” and emailing them directly to me. Each one that has landed in my inbox since Henry’s death is remarkable and special and a treasure not just for me, but for J, E, C and G, as well as Henry’s Dad and younger cousins and grandparents, aunts, uncles and close friends. These photos have truly lightened our lives in an authentic, tangible way since Henry left our world.
Some of the photos have been taken in exotic locales, while many others have come with compassion from the heart of someone’s life in an “ordinary” American town and family very much like the one I live in with Henry’s little brother and sisters. But no matter where the photos have been taken, each and every one is very dear to me, as are the senders.
I believe that my son had the potential to make a difference in this world. I think he would have done things that mattered. And there was so much he wanted to see and do and experience in the life we all believed lay ahead for him. But because Henry died at only age 18, so much was left undone. There are so many people he never got to meet, and so many places in the world he wanted to travel but never got to visit.
Each time someone thinks of my Henry and takes one of these beautiful photos, I feel like he IS making a difference, and he IS getting to have an impact on the world.
THANK YOU FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY HEART TO EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU WHO HAVE TAKEN A PHOTO FOR HENRY AND SENT IT TO ME.
Perhaps the most special photo I’ve received thus far is this one, which came in an email from Monica Bielanko not long after Henry died. I didn’t know Monica when she emailed me her photo, and she didn’t know me. But she’d heard about Henry’s death from another blogger, and she and her husband Serge wanted to send a photo to simply express their sympathy and support, just because they’re nice that way.
When I received Monica’s photo, I noticed a link to her own blog in the accompanying email. I clicked over to check out her blog, and I became an instant fan of her writing about her little family of (then) three -Serge, Monica and Baby Violet. Monica and I struck up an email correspondence after I emailed her to thank her for her photo, and a few months later, I got to spend an evening with Serge and Monica when I was in Utah for work. We had a great time, and I felt an instant rapport.
To make a long story short, although we’ve only met in person one time (so far!), I now consider the Bielankos good friends. The essay Serge wrote last year about Henry, and about the uniquely awful tragedy of any very young man’s death is incredibly meaningful and special to me (as well as being a flat-out fantastic piece of writing all on its own).
And then, last February, (this is the best partI) Serge and Monica became parents to a new baby boy, whom they named…. Henry!!!
The fact that two people I like so very much have brought a beautiful new little Henry into the world is really amazing to me, and I smile every time I think about young Mr. Henry David Bielanko. I cannot wait to meet him in person.
The thing I really want to express to Ayun, and the Bielankos and to everyone who has taken time out of their busy lives and travels to think about Henry, take a picture and send it to me is that this growing collection of photos remembering and honoring Henry Louis Granju is one of the great treasures of my life. This collection of photos has become probably my most prized material possession, but what makes them extra beautiful is tht I can also share them with others.
And here, below, is the complete collection, as of today. If you cannot see the slideshow below because you don’t have Flash installed on your viewing device, you can also CLICK HERE to see the collection of photos over in their home on Flickr.
#henrystravels on Twitter and Instagram
It’s been a while since I published new “Henry photos” here on my blog, or updated the online album where you can see all of them in one place. There’s a reason for that; over the past 7-9 months, I was so preoccupied with pushing for action in the criminal prosecution against those who provided Henry with the drugs that killed him, and who refused to get him the help he obviously needed as he lay dying right in front of them over many hours, that I have allowed my mamapundit -at- gmail dot com email inbox to fill up until there are now many, many HUNDREDS of emails in it to which I’ve yet to respond, or even open.
But in the past 48 hours, I decided the time had come to try to get through all the emails, and see what was there. And to my delight and surprise, there are LOTS of new Henry photos that kind people have sent me during this period when I was so laser-focused elsewhere. The past day or two of opening these photo emails has been like Christmas morning as I first laid eyes on beautiful photo after beautiful photo that I’d been unaware had been sitting unopened in my inbox that whole time! For the past two days, I’ve been excitedly emailing EXTREMELY belated thank you notes to the senders, and sharing each of the new photos with friends and family who have been just as excited to see them as I have been.
I still have quite a few emails to open and read in my overflowing inbox, so if you have sent me a Henry photo in recent months (or emailed me about anything else that calls for a direct response) and you have not yet heard from me, I promise that YOU WILL hear from me soon, I am getting through all the emails slowly but surely as I have time each day, but in the meantime, I hope you will accept my sincere and abject apologies for my rudeness in taking so long to thank you for reaching out to me, or for sending me a photo for Henry. Please know that my sloth in responding in no way reflects the huge joy I take in your photos and emails and general kindness.
I will have many more new #henrytravels photos to share with all of you in the days ahead, as I get the emails opened, read and responded to, but here are a few new ones to kick things off, and let me tell you that these photos are so gorgeous and so HENRY-LIKE that I can’t stop looking at them and grinning and weeping a little …and then grinning some more.
Aren’t these AWESOME?!
(And if the photo you’ve sent isn’t among this first new batch I am publishing this morning, please know that I will be publishing yours as I post a series of new photos in the days and weeks ahead.)
HENRY IN KATHMANDU, NEPAL
HENRY WITH SOME LAZY WILD BOARS AT MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK IN UGANDA
HENRY AT MT. ST. HELENS
Also, Betsy and I are giving some careful thought to how we might – with the express permission of each photographer, of course – use this beautiful and growing collection of “photos to help raise awareness around drug addiction, and also collect treatment scholarship resources for the work of Henry’s Fund. If you have any creative ideas for how we might do a project like this, please share them via email or in the comments below.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to all of you – EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU – from me, and from Jon, E, J, C, G and our whole extended clan. You have all lifted us up so much during this painful passage. And please know – everyone reading this – that the best, most meaningful way you can honor Henry’s life and what he meant as a human being who made his mark for those 18 years on this planet is to help spread his story so that others can learn what drugs can do to a beautiful boy. Together, we can create a safer world, one where drug addiction and overdose are as foreign to future generations of our children what smallpox is to our own.