This is a rather sad post, not very festive. I wrote this for two reasons; the first being that it gives me a venue with which to sort out my own confusing swirl of emotions as I go through my first pre-grieving period as a known Aspie/autistic person. The second–and more important–reason for this writing is that I know there are several of you out there who are going through something similar, with friends/family members close to you, and I guess this is one way in which I can show support. ❤
I’m preparing for departure. I leave in two days to visit extended family and good friends in a bone-freezing winter wonderland.
I’m also preparing for another departure. One (actually, probably two) of those extended family members will be celebrating what is assuredly their last Christmas on the physical plane, in this particular lifetime. As some of you already know, my aunt has terminal cancer, discovered too late in early October, disclosed to us a month later, and she was given a timetable of about 3 months, with an extra month or two tacked on if she agreed to chemotherapy, which she did.
All each of us has, is our own perspective. I only have mine. And I’m not sure what that’s supposed to be.
I think that the best place for me to start is from the perspective of everybody else. My aunt herself is OK, I think. Her husband died 11 years ago very young and very suddenly, and I know she’s looking forward to reuniting with him on the other side of the veil. She lives (if one could call it that) with my very elderly grandmother, who is in the advanced stages of dementia, in a house that, although it’s my grandmother’s, she doesn’t remember buying and doesn’t even realize is hers. My mother, with her golden intuition that is both a blessing and a curse, knows to her bones that her mother and sister will pass very close together.
My grandmother doesn’t realize what’s happening. My aunt leaves for chemo once every two weeks and each time, she must answer my grandma’s question “where are you going?” with “to my chemo”, and the following conversation ensues:
“But you’re not dying.”
“Yes I am; I have cancer, mom.”
Each. And every. Time.
Although my mom hasn’t been particularly close to either of them, it’s hitting her, and I know that it will continue to, in wave after wave. The whole thing is surreal.
I’m trying to anchor myself. After all, I want to be on firm enough ground, mentally and emotionally, to be able to offer effective support when my surviving loved ones need to lean on me.
Where am I in all of this? I need a “You Are Here” map, but who are we kidding? I know where I am. Like my mom, I’m 1200 miles away, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for that dreaded text. Because we are indeed within the window now. It could come, any day, regarding either of them.
I honestly don’t know what to feel. On one hand, I’m happy for my aunt (which I know sounds bizarre), because she’ll get to see her husband again. I’ll be relieved for my grandma, too, because her current life is no life at all. But I’m heartbroken for my mom. She’s about to lose the rest of her childhood family all at once. And then, her own two children, neither of whom had children ourselves, and our partners and my father, will be all the immediate family she has left.
My Aspie brain is divided into two halves, which, on the surface, appear to be at odds with each other. The Logical Me says, “dude–death is an inevitable fact of life. No one is exempt, there are no exceptions, and no one will get around it. Death is part of life; it completes the Circle.”
Logical Me is right, of course. But I still need convincing. She senses this, and plunges forward. “Just think of what awaits us on the other side: love and light, and all of the loved ones who have crossed over before us. It’s a big-ass reunion! Without pain. Without fear. Without suffering.”
But the wise Logical Me forgot some Fine Print: there is suffering. Not for those who pass; it’s probably a huge relief for them–at least, I hope it is. But for those left behind, who are still living out the rest of their lives.
And that’s where Sentimental, Empathic Me butts in and hijacks the conversation: the part where it comes to feelings. The part that will feel the sorrow. The part that feels the void, a void that doesn’t ever heal completely, until we, too, cross over to join the loved ones. The part that absorbs, without effort and against our will, the suffering of others. My mom may not have been extremely close to her mom and sister, but they’re the only mom and sister she has. My mom and I are very close, and I know I will feel her pain strongly.
I’m also bracing for the tide of my own pain. My pain can be kind of funny; I often don’t feel it right away. After all, knowing what’s going to happen is simply an idea, a concept. It’s not real until I see it with my own eyes, until it actually happens. And even then, it can strike at odd times and hit me in unusual ways.
And when it does strike, it hits me on its own timetable and in its own form, with its own flair. Wave after wave of full-spectrum emotions, in vivid-but-dark color. They will surge, in tsunami form, time and time again, as memories I thought I had forgotten, as emotions I didn’t know I felt, as thoughts I didn’t know I had. Anything buried will rise up like magma, bubbling and exploding to the surface, however and whenever it damn well pleases, without any regard for what our to-do lists may contain.
And when it does, everything stops. It takes over, dominating and consuming everything in its path. Hijacking the entire psyche, demanding full attention. It’s times like that, that I have to go off by myself and commune with something, anything.
Sometimes I’ll think I’m not feeling much. In the past, I’ve wondered, “what’s wrong with me?” because I didn’t cry right away or because I didn’t express shock in the usual way. But those feelings are there, just the same. They take a different form and they act on their own schedule, but they’re there. A lot of the time, the only “bug” in the “system” is that I don’t realize they’re there. Sometimes, the only clue is that I have an overwhelming urge to go off by myself and be alone for a while. Or there might be a sudden depletion of energy, resulting in an overwhelming desire to get home and rest, for reasons I can’t explain at the time, until I realize: “oh yeah. Duh. Someone significant is going to die (or just died).”
Logical Me and Sentimental/Emotional Me will continue to duke it out, butting heads up until the anticipated transition happens, and also for a long time afterward. Trying to console family members, trying to say the right things at the right times while hoping and praying it all comes out “right” (as intended), trying to remain cerebral (especially in front of others) and contribute to the decisions of what to do next, how to proceed, trying to be there for people when they need me, trying to balance the right amount of affection (somewhere between too much and too little; either can do more harm than good, depending on the person), trying to piece together the chain of events that led up to all of this, and so on.
And when I have time to myself, the duel between Logical Me and Sentimental Me will probable escalate into an all-out battle. Trying to put puzzle pieces together, trying to consider the situation from every angle, shedding every kind of light possible onto it, trying to explain and placate and soothe and justify, sending myself gentle reminders, trying to muster the energy to process and cope, trying to understand, trying to analyze, studying the astrological calendar and trying to find patterns that could serve as warning bells if that pattern is seen to repeat itself in the future, trying to commune with the departed souls/spirits, trying to do anything to process it faster and feel better sooner.
But although nothing has happened yet, I know that it’s coming. The hurricane hasn’t hit shore yet, but the winds are picking up and the knowledge that something is out there is quite certain.
I’m honestly not sure what awaits any of us on this trip. It’s a trip my parents hadn’t planned on making this year. I’m not sure who’s going to feel up to doing what, or where we’re going to meet, or how long they’ll last before their energy runs out for the day, too.
And then there’s that confusing conundrum…when you know someone is dying and you’re seeing them for probably the last time ever…
How do you say Goodbye?
Awkwardness is the bane of existence for many Aspie/autistic people as it is, and this type of situation seems to highlight that awkwardness in every way imaginable. There’s a jungle of etiquette to navigate here. I don’t want to come off as too serious, because although my aunt’s eventual (and quickly-approaching) fate is no secret, nobody wants their last meeting to be filled with tears or sorrow. After all, they’re not gone yet–they’re still alive, and they don’t want to be treated as though they’re gone already. I also don’t want to come across too casual or lighthearted, because everybody knows that that would be artificial and forced, and it would also deny my aunt her feelings about her reality. Whatever she feels, she has every right to it.
When my uncle was dying of throat cancer, my little sister, an old soul in a young body, had come to visit from 2,000 miles away. As she was leaving, she gave him a big hug goodbye and said, “I’ll be back down here in June” to imply she’d see him again then.
He replied, “I probably won’t be here.”
Without missing a beat, the little wise one said, “then I’ll see you on the other side.”
My uncle liked that a lot. It had been the perfect thing to say.
Sometimes big sisters can learn a lot from little sisters. ❤