Autistic Grieving

By Mette Harrison: For Complete Post, Click Here…

When my daughter died seventeen years ago, I hadn’t yet had an autism diagnosis, but my grief was so different from what most other seemed to experience that it was one of the signals of my neurodivergence. I was mostly numb to my sadness, surprised when people around me wept openly, though it seemed like I was the one who should have been falling apart. People asked to help me with laundry and childcare and I was frustrated and upset at the idea that I would want to spend less time with my children or that I would want to give up the soothing daily tasks that gave structure to my life.

Nine days after my daughter’s death, I signed up for an Ironman triathlon set for the next summer and then my life revolved around training. Every day I woke up and was able to check off my training for that day. I kept thinking that if I just moved forward that I would be able to process my daughter’s death. I kept expecting that I would stop grieving. I read obsessively about the stages of grief and could not figure out why none of them seemed to apply to anything I was feeling.

I remember for years after my daughter’s death that I would watch crime shows about grieving loved ones and I would always be frustrated at the displays of grief that everyone seemed to show. Unless they were the murderer, of course, because anyone who shows an atypical grief response is probably a criminal — or that seemed to be the strange hidden message. If you didn’t break down in tears publicly, if you were able to continue daily tasks, then something was wrong with you. By the same token, if you carried your grief for decades afterward, then there was also something wrong with you.

While neurotypical people would be confused as to why I was still grieving, often even more intensely then I did when my daughter first died, I was angry that they couldn’t understand why I was never going to get over her loss. I stopped even trying to do that because it was so distressing to me. I would try to write and explain why it was that instead of being healed by the passage of time, every year, every holiday that passed without her presence, seemed to make my grief greater rather than smaller. It was like I was doing the opposite of the grief stages, moving further and further from “acceptance.”

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