Content warning – death (both people and pets), grieving, depression; passing mention (no details) of being spanked/hit as a child
This year, 2016, has been a particularly rough one for many people. More than a few beloved celebrities have died and many folks I know, including myself, have lost loved ones who were much closer to us.
So, I want to talk a bit about grieving. The next 4 paragraphs are about my recent losses and aren’t necessary to read if you’d prefer to only read the part following them that’s more specifically about grieving.
Just a few days after I reopened my interest in autism and began to prepare for my evaluation, my middle/high school best friend’s mother died. Her mother was my second mother (my friend being my chosen sister and her family being my second family) and she was, arguably, even more influential in my life than my own mother was. I haven’t seen her in nearly a decade and I wasn’t able to attend the memorial service either because I live thousands of miles away now. I’m still having a hard time with that one.
Then, the day before my first day of psychological testing, I found out that one of my close grandparents had died the night before. I did get to see them a month or so beforehand, at least, but still. That one hit me hard about a week after it happened.
More recently, both of our cats died in the last two weeks. The first one had a fast-moving cancer and barely lived two weeks after we first discovered she was ill. There was nothing the vet could do in the end. She was 6 years old and we’d had her ever since she was a tiny kitten.
Our second cat was 10 years old and we adopted her when she was a few months old. For some unknown reason, she had decided to venture out into the road. This was very atypical behavior for her, as she primarily stayed on our porch and in the back yard when she was outside. I was heading out yesterday morning and saw her lying in the road. She hadn’t been out there even half an hour earlier. Husband took her to the animal hospital, but there was nothing they could do but let her go painlessly.
I’m tired and sad and probably not terribly okay. I’m not sure though, it’s difficult for me to tell. I couldn’t sleep last night and then slept the morning mostly away after getting back from the gym where I hadn’t even managed to dress appropriately for the colder weather we had.
Grieving has always been a difficult thing for me. Typically I’ll get very tired and will lose many verbal words and most of my motivation. Then, about a week or two after, I’ll remember that someone I loved died recently and put the tiredness together with probable sadness/grief. I have trouble crying, especially if anyone might possibly see me, because that was something I had largely spanked/hit out of me as a child.
Watching my children grieve these losses, watching my husband grieve, and watching myself grieve has been a fascinating thing to me – difficulties dealing with it all aside.
Those in our family who are allistic (not autistic) generally have grieved openly, wanted to talk about it, wanted to participate in activities to memorialize the lives that were gone, and have expressed concern that those of us who are autistic aren’t participating/grieving enough.
Those of us who are autistic, on the other hand, have not shown much outward emotion and when we have it hasn’t been for very long. We have been reluctant to participate in memorialization activities and have required a great deal of alone time. We are also having a more difficult time dealing with other people in general, as evidenced by our shorter tempers, and with sensory input specifically.
And all of this has brought me back to my high school days when my best friend, the one whose mother died earlier this year, expressed concern about my apparent lack of grieving when a childhood pet of mine died.
That was another memory that hadn’t made sense until now. My grieving was evidently not particularly recognizable as such to my friend. Husband, likewise, has had difficulties with our autistic family members’ recent responses to these deaths.
But there is no one right way to grieve. Nobody should be forced to participate in grieving rituals or have those rituals withheld from them. Nobody who’s grieving should be expected to react in a specific way.
And eventually we’ll get used to our new normal, yet again. We’ll be okay, as long as nobody else dies for a while. I need a good long break from death at this point. I can feel a deeper depression lurking under the surface and I’d rather not go back there if I can at all help it.
Allowing someone to grieve in the way they need is really essential for their mental wellbeing – even if it’s not the way you yourself would grieve.