Susan's Blog

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Christopher, Gone

I remember feeling like no one understood the special pain I was in because I had an autistic child. In one of my interviews, I was asked a really good question: if I see the world divided into two kinds of people: those with autistic kids and those without. I did feel that way once. I used to believe that my pain and disappointment over Nat was something no one could understand. Then again, I believed that I could make everyone understand if I wrote about it. I would make them understand and they would not feel sorry for me — or Nat — but they would simply “get it.”

It took me a long, long time to realize that pain is pain. There’s no comparing yours with mine. It just is, and we need loved ones to get us through awful times. Each person is entitled to their own particular hell.

The story about Christopher DeGroot being burned to death by his parents epitomizes hell. This news item made me want to lie down and give up. I read about it on a fellow blogger’s site, crying, and then, a moment later, I jumped off the couch and hugged each of my boys. I whispered to Natty, “I love you, Darling.”

I have tried to forget about Christopher — even though I never knew him — but he haunts me. He was just a little older than Nat, and apparently quite “severe,” whatever that means. Aggressive, disruptive, difficult to read, difficult to manage; I’m sure these are the terms applied to him.

What else was Christopher, to borrow from Ballastexistenz? Who was he? What made him laugh? Did he love the ocean? Or love/hate it, like I do? Did he stim? Did he like Disney? Could he talk? Write? Sing? Did he have a thing for pillows, like Nat does? Or had he begun to actually notice people and want to have friends, like what’s happening to Nat? Was he sweet? Funny? Mischievous? Athletic? Dorky? Couch potato? We’ll never know. He’ll just be “that autistic kid who died a horrible death.”

I, too, have been through terrible times. When we didn’t know how to get Nat to sleep, when he was seven. When Nat attacked me, while I was holding Benji in my arms. When Ned had to wrestle Nat to the ground in public. When Nat’s school called me to come get him and expelled him.

But he’s my son, and though I may hate him sometimes — or perhaps more accurately, what he does sometimes — I also love him so much it hurts. My firstborn, who changed me irrevocably from little innocent me to a Mother. With Nat I first experienced joy that makes you cry, ecstasy and love that is physical but not sexual. I also experienced how to get past perhaps the most difficult thing in the world: death of certain dreams. And, perhaps best of all: I learned all about completely different ways of experiencing the world.

Christopher’s parents will never know who Christopher could have been and the world will never get to respond to him and interact with him and learn from him. He left this world in unimaginable pain and probably terror and confusion — I keep wondering what his last thoughts were. I can’t help it.

How can such horror exist?

I cannot get past that image, of a boy like Nat some might say was “trapped” by autism. But truthfully, the only thing he was trapped by were the locks on his door and his family’s inability to cope with their life’s pain.

I did not know Christopher, but I will carry him around in my heart. We all should. There’s always room for more.


This story broke my heart as well. It mentions a firefighter was injured. I can only figure that this firefighter cared more about saving this boy than his own parents.

Lenny Shafer’s newsletter reported 2 additional murders of children with autism. It’s very draining to try to put into words how I feel about these deaths. I have anger, sadness, and empathy all rolled up into a tangled mess in my head.

Christopher, I pray that you are now in a better place, free of your hell you must have been in.

— added by Cyndi on Thursday, May 25, 2006 at 6:17 pm

Hi Susan: I am not a mother of an autistic child, but I did have a son Christopher James who was born in 1994 w/disabilities, and a rare condition which he passed away from in 1996. He was and still is the love of my life. I found your site by googling the phrase “the mis-use of the word retarded” which you had referred to yourself in one of your posts. This has always been one of my #1 pet peeves. Sorry, long story short, I have become addicted to your site because in some ways, I relate in a way because of my son Christopher. I appreciate your honesty, your love, and all the other whirlwind of emotions you have for sweet Nat. You are real and raw and I admire your strength as a mother and as a woman.

The reason I am responding to this post is because I live in Oregon, where this young man Christopher lived and died. When I heard about this, I was so sick and angry. Anytime I hear of any kind of mistreatment of children, especially those who are disabled (I still hate that term) it burns me to the core. The “parents” are beyond my understanding. If they were that desperate, they could have put Christopher somewhere where he could have been cared for. The idea that they could come to this as a resolution to their “problem” is unimaginable. I too keep thinking about what that innocent young man must have been going through and it haunts me as well. Sometimes this world is just too painful – I just cannot imagine ever being that desperate.

— added by Jamie on Friday, May 26, 2006 at 12:19 am

I don’t think his parents were in pain or desperate, I think they were just cold-blooded. I hope they are paying for what they did.

— added by Camille on Friday, May 26, 2006 at 3:16 am

This story made me cry, nearly throw up, and scare a cat with how HARD I was crying.

I’ve worked with “difficult” autistics. I think the problem here is “difficult” parents.

If I had it my way, they’d die of burns too. At least they upgraded it to 1st degree, not 2nd degree, “manslaughter”. Wish they’d call it was it was…murder…

— added by Kassiane on Friday, May 26, 2006 at 4:49 am

What I don’t understand is how TWO people would agree to such horror. When the idea was proposed, why didn’t the other parent ask, “Burn our son to death? Are you nuts?” Aren’t there supposed to be checks and balances in a marriage? And to do it on Mother’s Day…very sick people.

May Christopher DeGroot rest in peace.

— added by Wendy on Friday, May 26, 2006 at 10:15 am

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