Friday, August 7, 2009

On Grief

My father died this morning.

This is not a comfortable thing to write. It took me nearly six hours from when I left the hospital to get to the point where I could even start. Although you can't see from reading this, the first sentence of this entry took me several minutes. I stopped writing and simply cried for a while after the first few words.

Dad was in the ICU of the Cleveland Clinic, Florida and was scheduled for a surgery to repair what I suspect was a renal aneurysm (and why is it that people think I don't understand medical terminology? I'd much rather if they didn't dumb things down "for me"; so much information is lost when they do...). The operation would have been today.

My father's heart was already giving out on him. I knew that it was just a matter of time.

That didn't prepare me for the sight of my father's corpse.

I won't cover what that was like. There are some horrors that words fail to adequately express.

My mother was there when it happened. I wasn't -- I was at home, asleep. I was planning to visit again after my practicum today so that I could be there for him before the operation.

For obvious reasons, neither the operation nor today's practicum will be happening. I wish I'd spent more time with him yesterday... but it's too late to do anything about that.

I also wish I hadn't been sick last week. In a true perversion of the sort that pops up from time to time, I managed to catch a throat bug from one of the kids at my practicum and was sick throughout most of the week. I didn't visit until yesterday, when I was informed that I was no longer contagious. At the time, I told Mom that I'd never be able to forgive myself if I gave him something and that made him worse. As it turns out, I shouldn't have worried.

My last words to him were that I was going to class, and that I'd see him tomorrow (well, today, strictly speaking). I wish I hadn't said them.

I think that everyone has regrets at times like these. I'm no exception. I just wish they didn't hurt so much.

Then again, I know why they hurt so much... and wouldn't change those reasons for the world.

I won't pretend that my father was perfect. To do so would be to insult his memory. I won't -- can't -- do that. He was as human as anyone else. He was stubborn, often cantankerous, and frequently forgetful... among other things.

I loved him. It's difficult to express how much it hurts me to use the past tense in that statement. Part of me is still in denial.

It's tempting to react with anger, to lash out at something -- anything -- for my loss. I know better. The medical personnel at the hospital did everything they could for him.

It just wasn't enough. By all accounts, they'd warned him that sitting up was dangerous for him in his current condition because it risked bursting the aneurysm. While I'll probably never know for sure (there won't be an autopsy), it looks like that's precisely what happened.

And, according to Blogger's timestamps and my system clock, I've now spent more than five hours writing this. It's been somewhat over eleven since the events I describe above. Not all of this time has been spent trying to type this up, but the vast majority has. It's just that difficult.

I won't be blogging much in the next few days. I won't even have much access to the Internet. Dad wanted to be buried up in his hometown in Andrews, South Carolina.

We'll be granting his request. We even managed to secure a plot next to his father's grave for him.

Emotional turmoil aside, I suppose I've been taking things about as well as could be expected. I cried, of course. I joined in with my family's prayers over Dad's corpse even though I'm not exactly religious. I came home and cried myself to sleep... and wasn't really feeling that much better when I woke up four hours later.

I'm grateful for the way my mom's taking charge of things. I've had to run some errands and take care of some things related to the arraingements we're making, but the lack of demands has let me work through things somewhat.

Writing this blog entry has helped, too.

I've also broken out what I semi-jokingly refer to as my "comfort research". By this, I mean the set of articles I have (but haven't read yet) that I'm fairly confident will be easy (emotionally speaking) to read through and will also be enjoyable and informative.

Or, to put it another way, I ransacked Michelle Dawson's and Morton Gernsbacher's CVs, grabbing every yet-unread article and book chapter from them that I could. I don't have everything (yet -- gotta love the ILL system), but good, unbiased research is, for me, extremely effective stress relief and a source of great comfort (especially when the articles aren't biased in their interpretation of findings!)... the main problem being that rereading an article is of much lesser effectiveness. I've also found a few articles by Meredyth Edelson that look quite promising. I'm not quite sure what I'll do once I've exhausted them, but I'll make do somehow.

I suppose this may seem to be a fairly unique way to deal with this sort of grief if you look at it from a superficial standpoint. The truth of the matter, however, is that it has a lot in common with more "normal" coping strategies. Many people, when grieving, seek comfort from a favored activity, a favored location, a favored food... the list goes on and on. I will admit that the specifics are unusual in my case, but that's about it.

The question becomes one of whether or not an outsider -- someone who doesn't know me or understand autism -- would understand the reaction... and what they'd make of it.

In any case, it's now been around thirteen hours since Dad died. It's been more than seven since I started writing this. I'm tired... and, frankly, I have arraingements to make.

I was planning a couple of blog entries for the next few days, reviews of a pair of articles which I think are pretty significant for the autistic community (even though one of them isn't on autism). They will have to wait. Hopefully, I'll be able to get to them next week.


  1. Alexander,

    I'm so sorry for your loss and that you didn't get to spend the time the past week with your father that you would have liked to.

    Your way of handling it is just that: your way. We all find our way through grief and cope the best we can. You sound like you're doing that as well as can be.

    Taking comfort in research you haven't had the chance to read makes perfect sense to me. I suspect it has nothing to do with your ASD and everything to do with being a scholar. It's something I would do as well, reach out to something I find enjoyable, comforting and life-affirming: the pursuit of knowledge.

    You will be in my thoughts this next week as you go through both these last rituals and the rawness of your grief.

    Sending you hugs and positive thoughts,


  2. I am so very sorry for your loss Alexander. Everyone grieves in their own way and in their own time. When my mother died-she left a copy of this letter written by Benjamin Franklin for us to think about. I am not religious..but I found it an interesting perspective-I thought that I would share it with you-

    "a man is not completely born until he be dead: Why should we grieve that a new child is born among the immortals? A new member added to their happy society? We are spirits. That bodies should be lent us, while they can afford us pleasure, assist us in acquiring knowledge, or doing good to our fellow creatures, is a kind and benevolent act of God -- when they become unfit for these purposes and afford us pain rather than pleasure -- instead of an aid, become an incumbrance and answer none of the intentions for which they were given, it is equally kind and benevolent that a way is provided by which we may get rid of them. Death is that way."

  3. I'm very sorry for your loss, Alexander. I don't have any words of wisdom, can't think of anything to say that would be any comfort. This is a time for grief, experience it, and eventually that grief will lessen.

  4. Just came by and saw the sad news. Very sorry to hear about your loss and my thoughts are with you.

  5. Alex, I'm sorry I didn't know about it when it happened... but if you ever want to just talk about him I'll be glad to listen.