June 16, 2013
Mourning Alex Spourdalakis
Last week while on vacation I read a post about the murder of Alex Spourdalakis, a fourteen-year-old severely autistic boy who was stabbed to death by his mother and care-giver, who then cleaned off the knife and put it back into the butcher block in the kitchen. The two of them then took pills in what turned out to be a thwarted attempt to commit suicide.
I got that far in Diary of a Mom’s raw and beautiful post before I had to put my phone down and take a breath.
I’ve written in the past of other adults/children killed, either through premeditation or neglect, yet this case stunned me, perhaps particularly the part about cleaning off the knife and replacing it in the butcher block.
I cannot fathom any of it. Did they really comprehend the irrevocability, the finality of the proposed act? Did they feel their suffering exceeded Alex’s right to live his life, whatever form that might take?
We may never fully know. Perhaps his mother and caretaker no longer know either.
I finished Jess’s post and found I didn’t care to know their thoughts. I also felt increasingly agitated and uncomfortable as I turned the story over in my mind.
In fact, I was haunted by it.
I tried to imagine how anyone, how any mother, could possibly get to that place in regards to their child, and I just couldn’t. Nothing justifies murder of a child, even in the most impossibly difficult of situations. Nothing.
Still, I felt uneasy, uncomfortable in my condemnation. I thought about our most difficult days with my eldest son, who has severe autism. I thought of our beloved boy, who has gone through periods of intense aggression with both his parents and his teachers at school, despite behavior plans, despite medication, despite autism experts with decades of experience at our disposal to help us.
I thought about how there are moments with Justin where I literally watch the “veil of autism” descend and claim him, where a coldness emits from eyes previously laced with love. Over the years his father and I have suffered a multitude of bites and bruises, often for no reason any sentient being could comprehend.
I admit to all of you, at times I’ve actually been afraid of my own child.
The same child who also curls like a comma into my lap every single night so I can sing him our signature song. The child who throughout the day grabs my face with purpose, looks into my eyes with a brilliant smile, and graces me with a hug and kiss, an embrace enacted out of pure love. There is an unparalleled beauty to these moments. I cherish them.
Despite some harrowing periods however I consider our family to be fortunate in terms of his behaviors, as his need to aggress has mostly subsided with his acquisition of a means to communicate. That flutter of fear still remains entrenched in me however any time we travel alone, as I am aware at ten his weight comes close to matching mine, and in his height he takes after his father, a tall man by any standard.
There were times even at five that he overpowered me, with a rage undoubtedly fueled by frustration, when none of my tricks of the trade could placate him, and calm his tortured soul. As I drummed my fingers on my phone last Wednesday night I was transported back to those days- often flush with fear, despair, and the worst part of all- the thought that not only would these episodes not subside- they would only grow worse as he grew older and stronger.
I can remember feeling this way so clearly, as if those emotions are a second skin to me. Me, with my educator’s background, and a driving desire to help my son. Me, with my stable marriage and spouse who could fully support us as I stayed home to work with our toddler. Me, with my mom with forty years of special education experience.
Me, with all the advantages.
And no, clearly I never thought of abandoning or harming my son. But there were days I thought things would never get better. And those were dark days indeed.
Despite the prevalence of stories in the media these days of high-functioning autistics like my youngest son, there is the other side of the spectrum too, and it must be heard.
There are families who walk a road so excruciatingly difficult they bear no resemblance to my family’s path, as arduous as it has been. There are families who desperately need assistance just to get through the day, perhaps the next hour.
There is the other side. There is this autism too. And these families, these families who dwell in continual crisis, must somehow be helped.
I will of course never condone taking the life of a child, that inalienable right to breathe that Alex and others have been made to forfeit. The act of murder, in whatever form it takes, is and was unconscionable. It should not, cannot, be repeated.
I am so sorry for Alex., and those who’ve gone before him.
I don’t know how to end this. There’s no pretty bow for this post, no turn-of –phrase to finish it. I simply know that killing children has to stop, that somehow, somewhere, there must be another resolution.
My heart goes out to any parents who feel that autism as it manifests in their family is beyond their scope to manage. My heart goes out to any family without the resources, either social, educational, or financial with which to cope.
But most of all, my heart goes out to Alex, and his brethren in death.
You deserved better.
We will remember you.
For you, we will mourn.