He didn’t “get it,
the “loss thing,”
when my aunt died mid-April,
and I lost my second mother.
Didn’t “get it” when I lost my first.
This was not the only time
he was lost in oblivion and
puzzled by my tears.
He didn’t see me hurting
from the loss of my lineage,
and his lack of empathy for my grief
as he made me meet and greet
a friend the next day, as if all was normal.
This time I balked, bolder and older,
and he agreed it was time to ponder
and talk with his mentor.
When he came home
one night days later,
full of hugs of apology,
and tulips on the kitchen counter,
it was a breakthrough for us both.
It took a few days
but what came out
brought tears upon tears.
Not having grown up
with emotional displays
he didn’t “get” the meaning of loss.
With no models of grief
he didn’t know how to feel it himself
nor how to give solace,
not just lip service,
to those who had lost.
I cried for him.
How very sad, as a child
he didn’t know the love I knew.
He, a sensitive child,
in an icebox family
fraught with frigid emotion,
and warm, deep affection only
from his great-aunt, Dot.
He brought me pink tulips,
flowers of a contrite heart,
and held me close
and kissed me
with lips full of apologies
but I was the one
who felt sorry for him
for the years he knew not love.
Twenty-eight years ago
God told me “Love this man,
trust him and have faith in him,
and hold him to your heart.”
Many moons later, I love him light-years
more than the day we met
and in then-unimaginable ways
has our love strove for the stars.
He has brought me:
kindness and gentleness,
generosity of spirit,
goodness of heart,
and healing humor.
What I have taught him:
the glories of love
and agony of loss.
From the beginning
the seed of love was sown
for better or worse
deeply within the parched,
but fertile soil of my imperfect heart.
And he has cultivated the growth
of a stalwart, staid evergreen,
amid the blooming two-lips of forever love.
There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.
By Dalai Lama XIV
Pema Chodron says Pain has its virtues.
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), an Autistic Spectrum Disorder on the mild end of the spectrum, is often characterized by a supposed lack of empathy. What it really means, and many professionals still do not know this, is that there is a different kind of empathy. An empathy in which we, Aspies, are so overrun with feelings that our system crashes– to use a computer analogy.
For example, my aunt is on death’s door and my cousin calls to give me the news. Suddenly she starts crying hysterically and shouting that her mother can’t die and leave her, that she needs her mother, and conveying a powerful sadness. I start crying, too, and try to say some words of comfort or of wisdom acquired from losing my own parents. All pales and I am reduced to stuttering. Why does this happen? I am overcome with her feelings and feel them myself. And the computer freezes up. System crash– whereas, a Neurotypical (NT) would know what to say and be sympathetic and empathetic and help my cousin. I make vague attempts that wind up as feeble words. Does that mean I am an unfeeling person? No. Ineffectual, yes. And maybe seen as heartless despite my attempt to convey love and sympathy for what my cousin is going through.
Another example shows me as a monstrous teen. I am 15 and my mother gets a phone call and starts crying hysterically. I immediately know it means that Grandpa is dead. I adored my grandfather and had a very special relationship with him. In some ways which I will not go into here, too special in a not-good way, especially for so young a child. I know there is no room for my grief. It is only my mother’s that counts. There is no one to go to with the devastation I feel inside. So how do I express it? Do I cry? No. I say to my father, “I guess we won’t be having hamburgers for dinner.” A totally callous remark. And my father chastises me for being “unfeeling”—for my lack of empathy, when all the time I am in great pain inside. This on the surface is what Asperger’s lack of empathy looks and sounds like. Underneath the surface there is a chaos of feelings rampaging within. Now an NT might actually feel less deeply, but would act and say something appropriate and certainly wouldn’t make a remark like the hamburger one. It is not that I wanted hamburgers– I hated them. To this day, I don’t know why that remark slipped out.
Things like that still happen. I did not get officially diagnosed with AS until age 61, though I knew I was autistic decades before, having worked with autistic children on the serious end of the spectrum. Aspies feel emotion and shut down, just like an overloaded computer. It does not mean that they have no feelings nor empathy. It is a different kind of feeling and empathy. And I have noticed a tremendous reservoir of feeling for animals that can be expressed more easily, for animals are so less threatening and more straightforward than human beings. If I were more intelligent, I would become a vet. Now, whenever I can the chance with an animal, I give Reiki, which many animals respond to quite naturally. It is definitely easier to give Reiki to an animal rather than to a human being. My husband is the one exception. He is a special case, lumped in with non-humans simply because I am so comfortable with him, a high-functioning Aspie himself.
I learned to try to pass for normal– in some ways, quite successfully. I became an expert observer of people though I could not, and still cannot, interpret what I observe. But I owe my success to my mother having a mood disorder which got passed down to me as Bipolar Disorder– and to my father being an alcoholic. Why? Because in order to survive, to minimize fear and pain, I had to become a keen observer of my mother’s moods before she lashed out at me. I would scour her face for every nuance of mood although I still seldom knew what was to come. This extreme vigilance served to protect myself. Similarly with my father. I would study him, scrutinize his behavior when he came in the door on the rare nights he came home when he said he would, and did not stay out drinking. Just because he came home early did not mean he was not drunk. A facial expression, a different gait wherein he tried to walk normally, the way he said hello, would give it away. I became expert at detecting drinking, often knowing long before my mother did that he was drunk and would tell her. She wouldn’t always believe me. I was terrified of my father when he was inebriated. Once, as a very little girl, I heard him sick in the middle of the night and my mother was with him in the bathroom, semi-hysterical, yelling at him for my father was obviously out of control. I felt sick myself, tried to drown out the sounds with a pillow, and was scared to death I would have to run to the bathroom and be ill also. This turned into a life-long phobia and obsession. I loved my father but when he was drunk I didn’t want him anywhere near me. And sometimes, especially when drinking gin, he could be mean. Were his true feelings coming out—“In Vino Veritas” or were they just drunken ramblings of a disturbed mind? For he did have a disturbed mind, an outcome of a tragic childhood and he used alcohol to self-medicate his demons. His father was an alcoholic, too.
Pain has its virtues. I learned to study people and became so astute that it hid my Asperger’s symptoms for years. Female Aspies seem to be better at hiding their disability than males. I learned to study people but I still cannot decipher what expressions mean. I can see something happening on the face but am often still not be able to tell what it means. This just increases what is already acute social anxiety and is hard to translate into socially appropriate responses.
“Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.” Certainly my childhood was not a tragedy by any means. But parts of it were tough and those parts made me strong.
Next time you see an Aspie act without empathy, especially a child, you might check in with them to see just what they are feeling. I would wager that they are feeling a great deal and simply cannot process or express their feelings.