Autism Spectrum: Death Dying
Autism Spectrum Death Dying are hard to handle. Like everyone else, we deal with all kinds of losses throughout our lives:
- A pet,
- A friend,
- A co-worker or employer,
- A grandparent,
- A parent,
- An unborn child,
- An aunt or uncle,
- A cousin.
Living on the Autism Spectrum we eventually become aware that we process all things in our lives differently especially Death Dying. And, as we grow older, we learn that how we deal with losses may or not be accepted as proper mourning characteristics. Many judge us by how we show our feelings: too much and we’re too “melodramatic and emotional;” too little and we’re “cold and indifferent.” Actually, we are a mixture of feelings, just like everyone else. However, we honestly do not know what we are feeling, and may never know until days, months, even years gone by.
The Loss of a Pet
Pets are often our closest friends and companions, especially as children. They are our only source of unconditional love: they do not harm us, lie to us, abuse us. However, when growing up on a farm, that little pig that we are “given” to bottle feed and play with, disappears quicker than we want, and never told where they go. The pig is just gone. Same for the baby calf we also help to bottle feed along with the baby chickens we feed and talk to as they spend the day chirping and pooping. Bunny rabbits given as a live Easter presents, all soft and cuddly, also are around for a very brief time before they, too, go away, again with no explanation. And there are other pets: cats, dogs and birds. Some of never live without a pet.
Children, especially boys, love to go to pet stores. They see a variety of animals on display all clean, fed, groomed, peering at us through their small cages just begging to be taken home. These experiences, with regular trips to a well-designed zoological park, teach children about the feeding and caring of animals. Of course, most of that work is done behind the scenes and our children never completely take on the complete meaning of caring for an animal 24-7. That chore always falls to the parent, usually the mother. And, when our pets get sick and eventually pass away, that, too, falls on the shoulders of the caring mother.
Helping our children understand the loss of a pet is a delicate step. It is so important that we present the passing as a natural part of life while still allowing the child to experience grief within the circle of life. An adult with learning differences may or may not have passed those differences to their child. But, sadly, it is more the common than not.
A child living on the Autism Spectrum, will internalize the loss of a pet but may or may not show any grief at all. As a parent with learning differences, I feel tremendous guilt that I did not always handle the death of a family pet appropriately, recalling once how I shouted “You killed him!” That is NEVER acceptable for a child to hear, even if we are talking about a small gecko who died from the stress of too much handling outside of his environment. Never correct. I often wonder if that was the beginning of my son turning his losses and disappoints internally, forming a permanent wall of denial I can see to this very day.
The Loss of a Friend
During high school I lost several friends in car accidents. Ours was a rural, southern area where stock car racing was part of the culture. A real dirt track for amateur and beginning drivers was within five miles of my high school. Boys (and some girls, like me) grew up with dreams of owning a souped up, late-model car to show off. Having a father who repaired and painted cars for others provided me the only way to have any father-daughter bonding time. Cars were a big deal, but they were also killers. I lost several members of my high school class to car accidents, one killing five all at once. Several friends died in single car accidents, all due to excessive speed. This steady stream of memorial and burial services was a high school rite of passage for us all.
But my most tragic loss occurred my freshman year of college. My closest friend during my first job – the one who shared long shifts waiting on people in the area’s most popular restaurant, who gave me rides to work and with whom I shared our beloved shopping trips – that friend fell in love while I was away at college. She fell for a guy in uniform (a popular trend), got pregnant, endured her pregnancy without me or the benefit of a supportive marriage, and died in childbirth without my support. I don’t even remember what happened to the baby. I just remember feeling a loss, but little real emotion as my mother gave me the news just like she was reading the weather: no emotion, no sorrow, no comfort for me, therefore, I did feel any emotion, just sadness.
The Loss of an Employer
My first job (same as mentioned above), was for a family business where all members were actively involved. It provided me the foundation for my work ethics the rest of my professional life. That family replaced my own because I was treated like an adult: I felt needed, depended upon, and trained to become a professional. That first job meant everything to someone living on the Autism Spectrum, because it was a real challenge, more so than school, because we were also learning basic social skills, dealing with both the public and co-workers. And, that same family was there twenty years later to help with our own restaurant.
As an adult, married and launching a family business, this family was to whom I turned to for support and guidance. Their son, with whom I grew up in that restaurant, now helped my husband and me with our own new restaurant. His help was invaluable: he saved us thousands of dollars with his advice. After knowing him over fifty years, and sharing some of the most important times of my life, his passing last year was the most emotional I had ever felt to this very day.
The Loss of a Grandparent
Autism Spectrum Death and Dying when losing our grandparents is different depending on our age and that of the passing grandparent, whether they had been sick and if they lived close by or in another state. Upon their passing, one maternal grandparent was across country and the other half-way cross-country. My paternal grandparents were local but known only for our regular Sunday dinners with post-dinner musical jam sessions and holiday visits, both of which disappeared when I went away to college. The passing of my last grandparent was just a simple acknowledgement – I don’t even remember attending a funeral. The passing of my paternal grandfather, the mechanical inventor/fixer, farmer (and one of my childhood sexual abusers) left me with no emotions or memory of a funeral. I believe that is because I did not recall the abuse until my forties, after the birth of my son.
The Loss of a Parent
Parents leave us sooner or later. Sometimes it is sooner than the rest of our friends’ parents. My father’s passing was a process because he suffered several strokes and heart attacks from his lifelong cigarette habit and diet of southern killer food: animal fats, red meats, breads, desserts, vegetables cooked to mush in lard. His passing was inevitable, as we witnessed every stage of deterioration first hand: even his smoking while hooked up to oxygen tanks in his hospital room! Hard-headed, bi-polar suffering from un-diagnosed learning differences, he was a 6’4″, 214 pound force to deal with.
My mother just passed within the last couple of days. Sadly, we also experienced her deterioration as well. She insisted on consuming high fat foods, dairy, sweets and more, along with an addiction to every category of over-the-counter medications. Additionally, at the time of her passing she had spent the last ten years consuming a pharmacy’s worth of prescribed medication, all fighting her body’s natural ability to be healthy. Adding to this, my younger sister is a Pharmacist and never once stepped into to correct these abuses. Our mother also gave up exercising one day five years ago, falling that very day and breaking her upper leg. More surgeries and medication were prescribed. Her body continued to break down from all those poisons while also taking her mind and emotional stability. I was not sad with her passing. Instead I immediately thought, “finally, at last.”
I will not attend any ceremonies; I feel no need to grieve. I lived the last of her thirty months so angry with her choice of lifestyle I could not handle my anger and disappointment with her. I could no longer control my emotions around her. I chose, instead, to step aside and enable my two younger sisters, who did not live near my mother and me, to fly back and forth to handle her decline and passing. I feel nothing except relief for us all.
The Loss of an Unborn Child
Autism Spectrum Death and Dying takes on a totally different set of emotions when losing an unborn child, but my learning differences actually helped to buffer that pain. I suffered the loss of seven babies for whom doctors never gave an explanation. It was always “there is no definitive cause. Each mis-carriage is different.” Living on the Autism Spectrum, that was o.k. because I did not have normal emotions: I survived by omitting any emotions.
However, what I do know is that for one of my pregnancies, not yet known, I chose to take a very unhealthy action that will forever haunt me. I chose to meet my best friend and some of her co-workers at a local bar. At that time, a couple of beers at the end of a each twelve-hour day on my feet was normal, but drinking four or more drinks within a couple of hours was not. Upon leaving the bar, I drove the few miles to my other best friend’s house where I proceeded to be violently ill and immediately getting back in my car and driving seventy miles to my home! Not only was I driving while impaired, I put my body through such a violent state that my pregnancy froze within my Fallopian Tube, causing it to rupture, ending the pregnancy, almost taking my life as well. This was my third infant loss and he most physically damaging, so my emotions were already numb to everything about birth. After my surgery a nurse mistakenly brought me someone’s newborn to hold thinking it would “help me to heal.” I wondered why she did that – I felt nothing but annoyed. Each pregnancy loss caused me to wall off my feelings.
The Loss of an Aunt or Uncle
Losing our various aunts and uncles becomes more routine as time passes. Those losses depend on how close we were to them and their spouses, how closed they lived to us and how close their children were to us in age. Most of my uncles were distant, paternal namesakes for my cousins. My aunts were as well, expect for my father’s youngest sister who lived next door. I remember that she never met a stranger, never failed to drop everything and spend time with anyone that visited, no matter the day or time. She was a natural artist who married my uncle, a musician with his own band who also made custom steel guitars for almost everyone in music at that time, even Elvis. She was loud, funny, loved to dress up and cook fattening, delicious meals and cakes. Everything about her said unconditional love. She was accepting, supportive and the only one in my father’s family with that amount of love. Her passing was my saddest, but I still could not cry at her funeral.
The Passing of a Cousin
Being the first-born on both sides of my extended family, I have only lost one younger cousin. Living a couple hundred miles away, he had to take early retirement because of a series of inherited health issues. The passing of this cousin was just another reduction in the number of family members. I felt very little except sadness for his older brother: and the only cousin I was close to in both age and relationship.
Autism Spectrum Death Dying
Dealing with Death Dying of all my immediate family was due to poor health choices; my friends due to poor life choices. Those two factors make them easier to live with. My husband, however, experienced losses of a far more tragic nature:
- His father disappeared during World War II when my husband was just 5,
- He lost his sister to gang violence in his early twenties,
- His half-brother was killed in a car accident when my husband was also in his twenties,
- His mother passed away from severe Type II Diabetes after suffering the loss of both feet to the disease.
His losses seem so much more tragic than mine, but as an adult also with learning differences he too has dealt with each passing with acknowledgement but little grief or sadness, just acceptance. Moving on was always his saving grace. Losing anyone significant to us, family or not, is a real sadness that should be recognized. Sadly, those of us living on the Autism Spectrum do not have the mental ability to translate those losses like others. For that, I guess we should be grateful, because everything else completely pulls us off course.
“Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life.”
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