Death and an autistic’s response

Posted: June 5, 2011 in autism, depression, medicine
Tags: , , , ,

Does grief affect someone with autism differently than neurotypicals (those without autism)?

I went to assess a pt who was in end of life and met the pt’s daughter in the hall. She was shaking and saying her mother hadn’t breathed in over a minute. While the nurse tried to calm her down I listened for breath and lung sounds, which there were none. I informed the daughter and she started crying. I started feeling the strong sense of composure and cold detached logic, which I pride myself on, collapse. The wall around my emotions I had been building since my grandmother’s death 3 years ago just gave way and I felt the daughter’s grief affect me on a personal level. As I saw the daughter cry I began identifying with her pain and knowing how deep it runs which tore me apart inside. I felt tears start to well up in my eyes, I tried to say my condolences, hugged her (which I did even though it causes me physical pain because I know neurotypicals need it in times of grief) and quickly escaped the room.

It all seems odd to end up this way as I have spent countless hours focusing on my death, planning it, trying to predict it’s after effects. I looked at death in a logical way, as in an event that is expected end point of any life. Yet I was not prepared for my grandmother’s death and it ended up changing me forever. After the event I didn’t really talk and I started sleeping the days away. I had typical grieving reactions such as thinking I heard her voice or seeing her out of the corner of my eye. I cried for months and found it very hard to not wake up thinking of her. I couldn’t even watch TV shows or commercials that contained grieving people or I would become very upset.

Fast forward 3 years later, and things have become like what Johnny Cash said regarding his brother’s death “I kept talking but everyone stopped listening, so I stopped talking about him”. In this time period, it feels like I have built a wall, a defense system against tragic events effecting me personally. While this may seem cold, it is required if you are a doctor in a field with death being a normal expected event, for example: In my ICU rotation we had someone die around once a day and if I had opened myself up to the experiences of the family because I would have not made it thru. I thought the barriers I had formed over the years were near complete as I had gone thru patient deaths unscathed. Yet, when this patient’s daughter, who I have known only for 6 months, started grieving my defenses completely failed.

I suppose I should have predicted this, for the wall itself is in part a charade. If I was completely healed from my loved one’s death, couldn’t I bring myself to visit her grave? Couldn’t I think of her and things we did without crying? Would I avoid talking about her for fear of the emotional response it will bring?

So I would say yes, in this case an autistic man grieves like any other man.

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Comments
  1. Kamil says:

    2-3 years ago I got to the place you once were, secretly planning my suicide in details, even though most of days it was hard not to take a messy shortcut to end shit sooner. It was logic, and reassuring to have a plan. I had concluded that I had no other options. Then I asked help, because I was afraid I was getting to weak to stick to the plan, which required months of patience as I wanted to leave no traces behind and none looking for me. An hour long I explained that to the lady on the phone, during an emergency intake. At the end she told me that it was a lot for her to take, and then I felt how detached I was, in contrast. That was the first time I actually told someone of my plans, and the first time I felt that there were maybe other options. Thinking about not dying brought panic back so I struggled for months after, resigning myself to a miserable but useful life (I had read ‘Stay’ a wonderful book against suicide).
    Then I met another autistic person, who happened to also had decided to live single and alone forever. With her and for the first time in my life I felt I belonged, I fell in love with her autism, with her and then with autism.
    Cheers from Holland.

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