2016 Top 5, #2 – Understanding Death Is Not Like a Disney Movie

My second most popular post in 2016 about understanding death and dying. Not an easy concept for DC to grasp.

Understanding Death Is Not Like a Disney Movie 

My step father passed away this week. DC adored his Grandpa and the feeling was quite mutual. When I had to look for a few old photos for the service, there were two that I was determined to find. The first was of DC on a bike with his Grandpa running along side him, holding him up.

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The other was from my brother’s wedding when DC was about 5 or 6. The photo was from the hotel room before the wedding. I was standing off to the side and there was DC and his Grandpa, in their tuxedos standing in front of the mirror, arms out to the side as if they were saying “Taa Daa! Look at us”.  As I searched and searched for this photo I remembered standing there watching this moment between them in front of the mirror and thinking I was about to take THE cutest photograph that had ever been taken, when my mother walked right through the shot. I had missed the moment with the camera. I realized that this photo that I had been searching for existed only in my head. All these years later, it is still right there in my head as if it was yesterday; as if I had actually taken the picture.

I was not sure how to explain his Grandpa’s passing to him. He has never lost anyone close to him before. I was not sure that he would understand. I have tried many times and in many different ways to explain this to him in the past, when people we knew had passed on,  but I was never sure that he really understood.

In his Disney movies, characters may die but usually someone comes along to give them a kiss to wake them up. (I truly believe that this was part of the reason that DC insisted on kissing him on the forehead more than once at both the wake and the funeral a few days later). As many times as I have tried, I have never come up with a good, understandable way to explain this to him.

That afternoon when he came home from work I made the attempt to tell him what had happened before we left to go to my mother’s house. I told him that Grandpa had been very sick and he was very old (I added that so I would not frighten him into thinking that if he got sick, the same thing would happen to him) and because he was just so sick, he died. I specifically did not use the phrase “passed away” so as not to confuse him with different words.

“Do you understand what that means, DC?”
“Yes”

“Grandpa loved you very much and he did not want to leave you. It was not his fault”

“Yes”

“This is not like your movies. He will not be able to come back, like Snow White. He died like Cinderella’s father. Do you remember that Cinderella’s father did not come back after he died? I am sure he wanted to come back but he couldn’t.”

“Yes”

His Grandpa had been suffering from dementia for the last few years and was well past the point of recognizing anyone, so DC really had not seen him in quite awhile. He would ask for him every once in a while when we went to my mother’s and Grandpa was not sitting in his chair. We explained to him that Grandpa was sick and was in his room at his new home where there were lots of people who could take care of him. I am not sure that he ever really understood that and I sometimes got the impression that DC just thought that Grandpa was upstairs taking a nap.

Both DC and I had birthdays in March. We had planned more than once to get together with my mother but she was sick herself for a good few weeks and did not want to infect DC or I with whatever she had. When we arrived at her house that night she brought out the gifts that she had been holding on to. DC opened his card and as he always does, read the card in it’s entirety out loud. Then he reached the signature and read: “Love, Hugs and Kisses, Grandma and Grandpa”.

He stopped and he looked at me. I could see he was a bit confused.  Then he said “Grandpa ‘is’ died”.

Honestly, I did not expect that. He really had been listening, paying attention and possibly understanding a little bit of what I had explained to him earlier. I told him that Grandpa wrote the card on DC’s birthday a few weeks back and that he was very lucky to have this card that Grandpa wrote for him before he died.

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(Of course, Grandpa was too sick to really sign the card, but DC really did not need to know that)

This seemed to make sense to him and he no longer looked so confused.

On the way home that night, I mentioned to Doug how I still was not really sure that DC understands what death means and how much I really want him to understand it.

Doug asked me why it is so important to me that DC understands. Why couldn’t  I just let him believe what he believes, the way he believes it and leave it at that?

I understand that thought process. I understand wanting to protect him from anything bad or sad, I do. So why is it so important to me that he does understand?

“Because one day I am going to die and I want him to understand that it is not something one wants to do.  I never want him to think that it was my choice. I NEVER want him to think that I just left him.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016 Top Five Posts, #5 – The aftermath…..

Happy 2017!

2016 was not a banner year for many and I will admit that it has been THE worst year that I, personally, have had in quite a long time – quite a very long time.

Instead of running a post with a list of my top 5 (or 10) posts in 2016 – I think I am just going to begin 2017 re-running the top 5 – one each day. Hopefully by the time I finish, I will maybe feel like writing something new. I have not really been in the mood for that either lately.

Full Disclosure; I did not receive (or it is possible that I deleted it accidentally) the official WordPress end-of-year notification so I am going strictly by my stats and by the stats alone, there are 3 that were not written in 2016. Technically the post below is # 8, but #5 in new posts.

The following was written after my step-father’s funeral.

 

 The aftermath…..

 

NY May 6-8, 2011 080I wrote about the passing of my step-father and DC’s understanding of the situation in an earlier post (Understanding Death is not like a Disney Movie). Not to diminish how difficult it may have been on anyone else in the family, but this was a very difficult time for DC and this blog for the most part is about DC and the way his autism affects him and his life. It is about the way we go about things and the way he handles situations.

I have said before that I do not always look for accommodations for DC –  I want him to try everything. There are times when the “regular” way of doing things need to be adjusted a bit.

If he needs to stand in the receiving line with me, then he does.

Everything does not have to be done “by the book” or the way it has been done for years. Adjustments can be made and those adjustments should not be looked upon as failure. I understand that people who do not know any better actually think we can “train” our kids to do everything the way that they think it should be done or the way it has always been done or better yet, we should be able to train our children to control themselves at all times. No, but we can try to help them manage situations and manage the anxiety.

If DC needs to flap or cluck like a chicken, then he does.

It helps him. I will try to find a spot where his flapping will not cause damage to anyone or anything.  Letting him do these things helps him to calm himself down. Keeping him from doing these things to release his anxiety will only cause something more epic or disruptive later when he just can not control himself any longer.

Knowing my son, I decided that it would be easier on him and everyone in attendance, for him to stand in the receiving line with me at the wake on Friday. Yes, it would be a lot of pressure and hours of people shaking his hand or hugging him but I thought that might be easier than having him sit with Doug with nothing to do for hours. This was a brand new situation for him and I know my son. If sitting away from me, eventually he would begin yelling “Vickie*, come here please” or running through (trying to, anyway) the receiving line to get to me. If he couldn’t get to me or was redirected from trying to crash the line, he could have gotten quite loud. Standing with me in the line was definitely the lesser of two evils. If it got to be too much for him, Doug was there to take him outside for a break if need be. Because she gets it, my friend Carrie actually thought to bring him a few Kit Kats when she came through the line.

If he needs to eat Kit Kats in the receiving line to help get him through this, then he does.

I have to hand it to him though; he didn’t even try to open one until there was a lull in the line.

I have to say that he did exceptionally well. I could see that it was difficult but he held himself together. He was a bit agitated but really pretty much in control. Of course, he had to work hard to stay in control and he was very relieved when it was over.

Knowing how much he fought to keep himself together and what his reaction would be going back into the same situation the following morning, I talked with him at length about what would happen the next day. I explained that we would have to go back to that same room in the morning but we would not be there very long before we got back into the car to go to the church. I knew going back there was going to be very difficult for him. DC really does not have a great sense of time, so explaining that we would only be there for an hour does not really mean much to him – a little while, and not very long, seemed the way to go. But as much as he seemed to be listening to me and understanding, I was very worried about the next morning.

On Saturday morning, the family met at the restaurant where the reception would be held later, to meet the limo.  He began to get anxious as soon as we got into the limo and the rain only added to his anxiety. I told him to do whatever he had to do while we were in the car – flap, yell, whatever. He did not want to hear any of it. He was in full blown anxiety mode before we even made it through the door of the funeral home. I asked him if he wanted to sit with Doug – he didn’t. He wanted to stay with me, but he could not control himself. I took him out to the lobby to let him get it out of his system – I asked him if he needed to flap – “NO”, I asked him if he needed a hug (more for the pressure than the actual hug) – “YES”, but it did not help. Each time he said he was ready and we went back in, it began all over again and back out to the lobby we went. We were still in the family only viewing part of the morning before the general public came in. For me, his “semi-meltdown*” would have been much easier if it had happened in a room full of strangers rather than just family (if that makes any sense). Over and above my growing anxiety over trying to keep him together, all I could think about was we were now trapped there without a car. What if he just could not pull himself together? I began thinking about our options to get back to the car during the second time-out in the lobby. Thankfully by the third lobby trip he seemed to begin calming down and we were able to go back inside for the duration. Once again,

if he needed to be in the receiving line with me, then that is where he was going to be

and if he needed to have his “Babes in Toyland” book with him, then that is what he needed to have.

He made it through the viewing and we got back into the limo to go to the church, still anxious, but he was able to control himself for the most part. The cemetery in the rain was not easy but we were not there very long. Arriving at the restaurant and seeing that our car was still there made him feel much better, less trapped I think and he was back to his old self.

This was a long couple of days for him and I really debated about going to my mother’s house on Sunday. Once again I did not listen to that little voice in my head and we went. He was already on the edge. Then came a comment “smiles and ice cream”, which led DC to believe there was ice cream. After convincing him that there was no ice cream, next came the insinuation that pizza was part of the food order that was going to be picked up. Although dinner had been ordered and was waiting to be picked up, pizza had never been part of that order. Was this supposed to be funny? A Joke? I can not even offer an explanation about this but not only was there no pizza, but there was not one single thing that he would even think of eating…. That was the end, the very end. He’d had enough. This “semi-meltdown*” was worse than the morning before.

People who are not around him on a regular basis are often surprised when/if they happen to witness an outburst but they happen all of the time, maybe not to this extreme anymore, but they do. His behavior was actually a surprise to the people in the house.

Really?

THIS IS AUTISM!*

I have never tried to mold him into someone else’s idea of “normal”. I have spent years trying to help him navigate situations in a way that he can handle without too much anxiety and disruption to others. For those who did not get the memo; there are going to be outbursts and times when he just simply can not control himself. THAT IS AUTISM! This was more extreme than usual but it is certainly not something that has not happened before.  He knows what is happening and he knows he can not control himself, which only adds to his anxiety and makes him feel that much more worse. Keeping him from doing what he needs to do to get over it also makes matters worse. Unfortunately he was past the point of hugs (pressure) and flapping.

Then came the full sentence with correct pronoun “I just want to go home”.  Asking to leave Grandma’s house is a very big deal for him. It is not something he would normally do, ever. But I got a full sentence with the correct pronoun. I knew he was serious… so that is exactly what we did.

He had a very difficult time the following day (Monday) and the next, especially in the morning. In other words, the mornings were brutal. By Wednesday we were pretty much back to our normal morning issues but not anything close to what we had been through during the days before.

I am sure that in addition to the anxiety of a whole new experience and a very long weekend, he also has many feelings and emotions about his Grandpa’s passing that he is not able to express. We talk about it often and I hope that if he does not completely understand, continuing to talk about it will help him understand eventually.

*****

*Vickie – Yes, DC does call me Vickie at times. He knows that he is an adult and assumes that he should call me by my “adult” name.

*Semi-Meltdown – I use that term because DC hasn’t had an actual full blown meltdown in years. I can only compare to what his meltdowns were like when he was younger and in comparison, this was “semi”. Although I did not go into detail about his actions, it was getting to be very close to the full meltdown.

*THIS IS AUTISM – This is HIS Autism. As the saying goes: “If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism”

*You better believe that we stopped for ice cream on the way home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The aftermath…..

NY May 6-8, 2011 080I wrote about the passing of my step-father and DC’s understanding of the situation in an earlier post (Understanding Death is not like a Disney Movie). Not to diminish how difficult it may have been on anyone else, but this was a very difficult time for DC and this blog for the most part is about DC and the way his autism affects him and his life. It is about the way we go about things and the way he handles situations.

I have said before that I do not always look for accommodations for DC –  I want him to try everything. There are times when the “regular” way of doing things need to be adjusted a bit.

If he needs to stand in the receiving line with me, then he does.

Everything does not have to be done “by the book” or the way it has been done for years. Adjustments can be made and those adjustments should not be looked upon as failure. I understand that people who do not know any better actually think we can “train” our kids to do everything the way that they think it should be done or the way it has always been done or better yet, we should be able to train our children to control themselves at all times. No, but we can try to help them manage situations and manage the anxiety.

If DC needs to flap or cluck like a chicken, then he does.

It helps him. I will try to find a spot where his flapping will not cause damage to anyone or anything.  Letting him do these things helps him to calm himself down. Keeping him from doing these things to release his anxiety will only cause something more epic or disruptive later when he just can not control himself any longer.

Knowing my son, I decided that it would be easier on him and everyone in attendance, for him to stand in the receiving line with me at the wake on Friday. Yes, it would be a lot of pressure and hours of people shaking his hand or hugging him but I thought that might be easier than having him sit with Doug with nothing to do for hours. This was a brand new situation for him and I know my son. If sitting away from me, eventually he would begin yelling “Vickie*, come here please” or running through (trying to, anyway) the receiving line to get to me. If he couldn’t get to me or was redirected from trying to crash the line, he could have gotten quite loud. Standing with me in the line was definitely the lesser of two evils. If it got to be too much for him, Doug was there to take him outside for a break if need be. Because she gets it, my friend Carrie actually thought to bring him a few Kit Kats when she came through the line.

If he needs to eat Kit Kats in the receiving line to help get him through this, then he does.

I have to hand it to him though; he didn’t even try to open one until there was a lull in the line.

I have to say that he did exceptionally well. I could see that it was difficult but he held himself together. He was a bit agitated but really pretty much in control. Of course, he had to work hard to stay in control and he was very relieved when it was over.

Knowing how much he fought to keep himself together and what his reaction would be going back into the same situation the following morning, I talked with him at length about what would happen the next day. I explained that we would have to go back to that same room in the morning but we would not be there very long before we got back into the car to go to the church. I knew going back there was going to be very difficult for him. DC really does not have a great sense of time, so explaining that we would only be there for an hour does not really mean much to him – a little while, and not very long, seemed the way to go. But as much as he seemed to be listening to me and understanding, I was very worried about the next morning.

On Saturday morning, the family met at the restaurant where the reception would be held later, to meet the limo.  He began to get anxious as soon as we got into the limo and the rain only added to his anxiety. I told him to do whatever he had to do while we were in the car – flap, yell, whatever. He did not want to hear any of it. He was in full blown anxiety mode before we even made it through the door of the funeral home. I asked him if he wanted to sit with Doug – he didn’t. He wanted to stay with me, but he could not control himself. I took him out to the lobby to let him get it out of his system – I asked him if he needed to flap – “NO”, I asked him if he needed a hug (more for the pressure than the actual hug) – “YES”, but it did not help. Each time he said he was ready and we went back in, it began all over again and back out to the lobby we went. We were still in the family only viewing part of the morning before the general public came in. For me, his “semi-meltdown*” would have been much easier if it had happened in a room full of strangers rather than just family (if that makes any sense). Over and above my growing anxiety over trying to keep him together, all I could think about was we were now trapped there without a car. What if he just could not pull himself together? I began thinking about our options to get back to the car during the second time-out in the lobby. Thankfully by the third lobby trip he seemed to begin calming down and we were able to go back inside for the duration. Once again,

if he needed to be in the receiving line with me, then that is where he was going to be

and if he needed to have his “Babes in Toyland” book with him, then that is what he needed to have.

He made it through the viewing and we got back into the limo to go to the church, still anxious, but he was able to control himself for the most part. The cemetery in the rain was not easy but we were not there very long. Arriving at the restaurant and seeing that our car was still there made him feel much better, less trapped I think and he was back to his old self.

This was a long couple of days for him and I really debated about going to my mother’s house on Sunday. Once again I did not listen to that little voice in my head and we went. He was already on the edge. Then came a comment “smiles and ice cream”, which led DC to believe there was ice cream. After convincing him that there was no ice cream, next came the insinuation that pizza was part of the food order that was going to be picked up. Although dinner had been ordered and was waiting to be picked up, pizza had never been part of that order. Was this supposed to be funny? A Joke? I can not even offer an explanation about this but not only was there no pizza, but there was not one single thing that he would even think of eating…. That was the end, the very end. He’d had enough. This “semi-meltdown*” was worse than the morning before.

People who are not around him on a regular basis are often surprised when/if they happen to witness an outburst but they happen all of the time, maybe not to this extreme anymore, but they do. His behavior was actually a surprise to the people in the house.

Really?

THIS IS AUTISM!*

I have never tried to mold him into someone else’s idea of “normal”. I have spent years trying to help him navigate situations in a way that he can handle without too much anxiety and disruption to others. For those who did not get the memo; there are going to be outbursts and times when he just simply can not control himself. THAT IS AUTISM! This was more extreme than usual but it is certainly not something that has not happened before.  He knows what is happening and he knows he can not control himself, which only adds to his anxiety and makes him feel that much more worse. Keeping him from doing what he needs to do to get over it also makes matters worse. Unfortunately he was past the point of hugs (pressure) and flapping.

Then came the full sentence with correct pronoun “I just want to go home”.  Asking to leave Grandma’s house is a very big deal for him. It is not something he would normally do, ever. But I got a full sentence with the correct pronoun. I knew he was serious… so that is exactly what we did.

He had a very difficult time the following day (Monday) and the next, especially in the morning. In other words, the mornings were brutal. By Wednesday we were pretty much back to our normal morning issues but not anything close to what we had been through during the days before.

I am sure that in addition to the anxiety of a whole new experience and a very long weekend, he also has many feelings and emotions about his Grandpa’s passing that he is not able to express. We talk about it often and I hope that if he does not completely understand, continuing to talk about it will help him understand eventually.

*****

*Vickie – Yes, DC does call me Vickie at times. He knows that he is an adult and assumes that he should call me by my “adult” name.

*Semi-Meltdown – I use that term because DC hasn’t had an actual full blown meltdown in years. I can only compare to what his meltdowns were like when he was younger and in comparison, this was “semi”. Although I did not go into detail about his actions, it was getting to be very close to the full meltdown.

*THIS IS AUTISM – This is HIS Autism. As the saying goes: “If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism”

*You better believe that we stopped for ice cream on the way home!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Understanding Death Is Not Like a Disney Movie

My step father passed away this week. DC adored his Grandpa and the feeling was quite mutual. When I had to look for a few old photos for the service, there were two that I was determined to find. The first was of DC on a bike with his Grandpa running along side him, holding him up.

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The other was from my brother’s wedding when DC was about 5 or 6. The photo was from the hotel room before the wedding. I was standing off to the side and there was DC and his Grandpa, in their tuxedos standing in front of the mirror, arms out to the side as if they were saying “Taa Daa! Look at us”.  As I searched and searched for this photo I remembered standing there watching this moment between them in front of the mirror and thinking I was about to take THE cutest photograph that had ever been taken, when my mother walked right through the shot. I had missed the moment with the camera. I realized that this photo that I had been searching for existed only in my head. All these years later, it is still right there in my head as if it was yesterday; as if I had actually taken the picture.

I was not sure how to explain his Grandpa’s passing to him. He has never lost anyone close to him before. I was not sure that he would understand. I have tried many times and in many different ways to explain this to him in the past, when people we knew had passed on,  but I was never sure that he really understood.

In his Disney movies, characters may die but usually someone comes along to give them a kiss to wake them up. (I truly believe that this was part of the reason that DC insisted on kissing him on the forehead more than once at both the wake and the funeral a few days later). As many times as I have tried, I have never come up with a good, understandable way to explain this to him.

That afternoon when he came home from work I made the attempt to tell him what had happened before we left to go to my mother’s house. I told him that Grandpa had been very sick and he was very old (I added that so I would not frighten him into thinking that if he got sick, the same thing would happen to him) and because he was just so sick, he died. I specifically did not use the phrase “passed away” so as not to confuse him with different words.

“Do you understand what that means, DC?”
“Yes”

“Grandpa loved you very much and he did not want to leave you. It was not his fault”

“Yes”

“This is not like your movies. He will not be able to come back, like Snow White. He died like Cinderella’s father. Do you remember that Cinderella’s father did not come back after he died? I am sure he wanted to come back but he couldn’t.”

“Yes”

His Grandpa had been suffering from dementia for the last few years and was well past the point of recognizing anyone, so DC really had not seen him in quite awhile. He would ask for him every once in a while when we went to my mother’s and Grandpa was not sitting in his chair. We explained to him that Grandpa was sick and was in his room at his new home where there were lots of people who could take care of him. I am not sure that he ever really understood that and I sometimes got the impression that DC just thought that Grandpa was upstairs taking a nap.

Both DC and I had birthdays in March. We had planned more than once to get together with my mother but she was sick herself for a good few weeks and did not want to infect DC or I with whatever she had. When we arrived at her house that night she brought out the gifts that she had been holding on to. DC opened his card and as he always does, read the card in it’s entirety out loud. Then he reached the signature and read: “Love, Hugs and Kisses, Grandma and Grandpa”.

He stopped and he looked at me. I could see he was a bit confused.  Then he said “Grandpa ‘is’ died”.

Honestly, I did not expect that. He really had been listening, paying attention and possibly understanding a little bit of what I had explained to him earlier. I told him that Grandpa wrote the card on DC’s birthday a few weeks back and that he was very lucky to have this card that Grandpa wrote for him before he died.

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(Of course, Grandpa was too sick to really sign the card, but DC really did not need to know that)

This seemed to make sense to him and he no longer looked so confused.

On the way home that night, I mentioned to Doug how I still was not really sure that DC understands what death means and how much I really want him to understand it.

Doug asked me why it is so important to me that DC understands. Why couldn’t  I just let him believe what he believes, the way he believes it and leave it at that?

I understand that thought process. I understand wanting to protect him from anything bad or sad, I do. So why is it so important to me that he does understand?

“Because one day I am going to die and I want him to understand that it is not something one wants to do.  I never want him to think that it was my choice. I NEVER want him to think that I just left him.”