6 mins read

Autism and a Death in the Family – Part 2

During the holidays, my family and I had to travel from California to North Carolina due to the sudden death of one of my siblings.

Our usual Christmas plans had to be suddenly adjusted. It was not the Christmas that we had planned.

I went to North Carolina on a red eye on the 23rd of December. I spent Christmas with my sister-in-law and her family and parents.

Before I left, my husband and I gave our son his “big” Christmas gift from the two of us. It was an EV3 Lego robot. This was THE present for this year.

I talked to my son several times while I was off by myself. He was celebrating Christmas with my husband’s family on the 24th, and then with my parents on the 25th (they did not travel to North Carolina due to poor health).

My son, his dad, and my other sibling were traveling out to North Carolina on the 26th.

While I was in North Carolina away from my son, he told over the phone that he missed me. Of course, I missed him as well. He enjoyed telling me all about his gifts and also said that he looked forward to seeing me in North Carolina.

What was going on at this point?

At this point, when I was away from my son, I did talk to him about how we were not on vacation while in North Carolina. We were there for a very sad reason, the sudden death of someone we loved.

I explained to him that especially Mommy was going to be needed to help out my siblings’ family. I was also going to need to be focusing on the loss of Uncle Pat, my brother.

My son said he understood, but I knew that he would only really get it once he was in North Carolina.

What happened after he arrived?

I picked up my husband, son, and other sibling from the Greensboro airport on the day after Christmas. My other sibling and his family had arrived in the area from Detroit earlier that day.

After dropping off their stuff at the hotel, we went to our siblings’ Greensboro house. We stayed late that night, talking, crying, and, yes, even laughing at old stories.

The next day was the memorial service for my sibling.

This is where, I think, the enormity of all of these sudden events really got to my son.

What happened at the memorial service?

We sat in front. My son was next to me on one side, with my husband flanking him on the other side. I gave instructions to my husband to take our son out of the service if it seemed like he couldn’t handle it.

These instructions were also for me. I needed to grieve. I wanted to be there and I wanted to think only of my sibling, and the terrible loss I was feeling.

Plus, I just wasn’t sure I could be an autism mom during this time.

I wanted my husband to step in and just remove my son from the service, if need be. For me.

The service began, and I began to cry.

Surprisingly, my son did not take my crying very well. He began to try to wipe the tears off of my face. My husband and I, as quietly as possible, tried to get him to stop.

After a few minutes, my son wouldn’t stop reacting to me.

My husband walked him out of the service.

A few minutes later, however, they returned.

I had moved over two seats in order to sit next to my sibling. I was still crying, not really bothering that much with the tears on my face.

My son saw me but was now respecting my crying.

However, he then began to cry.

And, he began to get mad at his own tears! He angrily swiped at his cheeks whenever they got wet.

That was surprising. As was getting angry at my tears.

What did I learn from this?

First, there are times when a parent needs to do something that is not autism parent. This was one of those times when I needed to be a grieving sister.

Second, I am very glad that my husband brought our son back into the memorial. The next day, at the church service, he was much better about letting me cry and grieve.

I’m glad he got through the experience, even though it’s not one that I wanted in any way, but it is a part of life. People are going to die, and some are going to die unexpectedly.

Third, I had no way of predicting how my son, or how any child his age, was going to react to a situation like this. I had no idea how I was going to react. I broke down in the church. No way did I see that coming.

Every individual handles grief in their own way.

Why did my son get so angry? This situation was unexpected in many ways. Our kids prefer the routine and/or things that they know they can handle.

My son especially doesn’t like it when his Mommy is upset. I knew that, to some extent. And, maybe this extra layer was just how he needed to deal with all of it.

Just today, one month since my siblings’ death, my son talked about my sibling and how sorry he was that he had died. Out of the blue. I thanked him for talking to me about it.

In my next blog, I’m going to stray a bit from autism-related information only to discuss how traveling across the country unexpectedly is not only difficult on kids with autism, but difficult for anyone—especially during the holidays.

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