One of the reasons we moved back to London was to be closer with our parents, our children's grandparents. Another is, my mother-in-law, Elaine, was fighting cancer. She put up a good fight for 6 years, but ultimately succumbed to the disease on the 26th of December. The day after Christmas, and the day before the anniversary of my sister's death. My sister fought acute lymphoblastic leukemia for 5 years. What really angers me is that, in the 30 years since my sister's passing, science still hasn't found a cure for cancer. 30 years. With all our scientific advancements. Still no cure. The closest we have are cancerous mice being infected with the AIDS virus. Sure - they're cured of cancer, but now they have AIDS. Mice with AIDS do not a human cure for cancer make.
Over the past few weeks, John and I have been grieving. The way you'd imagine a 'typical' person would grieve - if there really is a typical way of doing so. We cry, we reminisce, we get angry at the loss, and we comfort each other. But for the boys, it's much different. It's more internalized. They lack the words to express their pain in a fashion that comes so easily to others. On the surface, Dylan seems to struggle a bit more. He's always had struggles with emotional regulation. At times, he seems unaffected by it all, others, he spends his time hiding. And other times, he cries at the least provocation. His way of 'handling' grief is to swallow it down like a huge pill, and represses it by ignoring what happened. I have learned how damaging this form of grieving can be from my childhood. I wish there were a way to help him better handle his grief, but I am at a loss. I am not the best example of how to grieve as a child.
Dylan was very close to Elaine. She'd have him sleep over almost every weekend since he was 2 or 3 years old. Unfortunately, as her cancer became worse, sleep-overs became a thing of the past, but Dylan always held the hope Grandma would get better and things would return to normal. She'd take him to museums and plays, and is the reason Dylan is in theatre today. She helped him learn to swim, hired tutors to help him with the ability to write. She enrolled him into sports, but was never upset when he'd quit - she always knew something would 'click', and took a chance on an acting camp. Now Dylan is in his second year of theatre as a permanent cast member at the Original Kids Theatre Company. The best we can do now is to talk about grandma, both the good, and the sad.
Lucas is another chestnut. When I told him grandma had died, Lucas asked 'why?' We reminded him of how sick she was, and how she's resting in heaven. Whenever we mention her having passed, he always asks why. I don't think it's that he doesn't understand that it happens, but rather why it happens. When we remind him grandma is gone, he stares off into space, but I can see sadness in his eyes. When we get him back into focus, he shrugs and says "That's ok" - words he says to comfort himself. Some people would see that as perhaps cold, or uncaring, but grief affects autistics differently than neuro-typicals. Some autistics display a flat affect, noted in both their faces, and reactions. But it belies their inner pain. Neuro-typicals tend to assume these reactions are a lack of empathy, but they couldn't be more wrong. Autistics have empathy, and sympathy - sometimes, too much of it to handle, so they clam up, and suffer in silence.
Eventually, the pain of Elaine's loss will ebb for all of us - it'll never go away, but the pain will sting a little less as time passes. We will hold onto the wonderful woman she was. How she touched our lives, and those of others. She was truly phenomenal as a wife, mother, grandma, and mother-in-law. I am grateful I've known her for half my life.
If there's one thing of note, it is this: autistics hurt like everyone else. They may not be able to show their inner pain, but never assume autistic do not feel pain, empathize, or sympathize. They may even feel things deeper than a neuro-typical. Autistics deal with their pain in their own way, and it's not always the socially accepted way of mourning. And if there is one person who would smile and accept the way the boys choose to mourn, it would be Elaine.