Someone with Asperger’s recently posed the question “How do we grieve?”. My initial response was ‘it just happens’, someone dies and we respond – if we’re sad then that’s grief. Then I thought I might have misunderstood. Maybe they don’t mean ‘how’ as in ‘how can I feel grief’ but ‘how’ as in ‘how does grief manifest itself (or is expressed) for those with AS’.
Firstly, don’t expect to grieve. I went to my first funeral as a child, excited because I was curious about what would happen, very much NOT grieving. It was a relative, someone I’d met a few times and I was one of few people in the church not crying or looking downcast. I felt I’d hardly known this woman and she hadn’t been very nice to me so what need for grief?
The second relation who died was much closer but still, it didn’t really affect me until much later. Now I might occasionally lament that he died when other, less likeable relatives, live on. It’s not really grief – I don’t think there was much of that – although I did cry a bit at the funeral.
Does this make me sound cold-hearted? Not so. I know for a fact I would be horribly upset if anyone I loved died. As a depressed teenager I would often worry about people close to me dying and just thinking about it would make me cry a lot. That is grief. Heartache and lots of crying.
As an adult I find myself reaching for stock responses to the news of people dying. If it’s someone I know then I really do feel bad for their husband or wife or children. If it’s someone I don’t know like a cultural icon, or a relative of a friend of a relative, then I might say “O dear” and try to look sympathetic. The same applies to people’s pets. I don’t really care because these people or animals have no connection to my life.
And there we have it, the three levels of Aspie ‘grief’. Nothing. Attempted sympathy (to be socially acceptable and not hurt anyone’s feelings). And full on.
I’m not looking forward to experiencing the third stage for real. The question of how to carry on is waiting on the other side.
I feel I should add something about grief that I’ve noticed in other people. Sometimes it goes too far and people lose their sense of proportion. It’s as if nothing else exists apart from this feeling and everything else has to bend around it. This is a good way to lose friends and miss out on life’s opportunities.
It may sound cold, especially from someone who’s never experienced real full on grief before, but there has to be a cut off point. I don’t mean you should stop missing that person. Just don’t let it ruin everything else in your life and don’t get cross when people try to help you move on.