LIFE ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM: GOOD GRIEF
By Brian Lafferty
This is the last of a four-part series on loss and grief from an Autistic person’s point of view.
December 16, 2011 (San Diego) – It’s now been over a year since Mom died. It’s unbelievable how fast those 365 days have come and gone. As I sit and write this, I think a lot about what happened during those 365 days. More importantly, I think about what I’ve accomplished.
The funeral took place on Thursday, December 2. It was a beautiful ceremony. I saw people I hadn’t seen for as long as almost twenty years. Mom had touched the lives of all she knew and I sensed that well in all the people who attended the rosary and the funeral.
Oddly enough, I didn’t cry. At my Grandpa Bill’s funeral in 2005, tears streaked endlessly down my cheeks. At Mom’s funeral, I felt sad but not a single tear was shed. I’ve tried to figure out why, but I guess it all boils down to the fact that there isn’t an answer to every question. Still, I sometimes wish I did cry. I don’t know why, but I do.
The following month was, as the Counting Crows song goes, a long December. I got back to reviewing films. It helped lots that my colleagues were very supportive. But it was a rough time, to say the very least. I was depressed as heck and on Christmas day I had to force myself out of bed.
On that night, I was crying as I turned off my bedroom light and went to bed. I looked up and asked Mom, “How can I live my life if you’re not in it?” After a bit of sobbing, my eyes slowly closed and I went to sleep.
The next morning I felt different. I felt like a new man. I was no longer sad, and getting out of bed was a cinch. To this day I believe Mom heard me. I think she spoke to me while I was sleeping. As I’ve said before, Mom always had a way of saying things in a way that made me feel better. I will never know what she told me, but it was as soothing and comforting as anything she would have said to me if she were alive.
I knew that these newfound positive feelings were going to be temporary. They left me some time to think about my future. I was (and still am) living at home with my Dad. Dad just turned sixty-five and I wouldn’t be able to live with him forever. I had to get a full-time job.
That’s why I decided to become a paralegal. I have always had an interest in the law, an interest that dates back to my second semester of community college; I took a class on criminal justice.
Becoming a paralegal meant I had to be certified. That meant I had to go back to school. I enrolled in an online paralegal certificate program. I started in March and I finished the program in September. The more time I dedicated to getting certified, the more I knew I found my calling.
The house felt empty without Mom in it. I felt it most on days Dad worked, especially when he worked twelve-hour days. Thank goodness I have wonderful neighbors whose houses I can go to and a wonderful second family in Rancho Peñasquitos, the suburb I grew up in.
This feeling of emptiness added up. That feeling of greatness following Christmas eventually dissipated and I had another hump of depression to climb over. This time I was well prepared. I took a much-needed vacation, which afforded me the best opportunity to grieve.
Grieving for me was more subconscious than conscious. There was never a time when I said to myself, “I’m going to spend the day grieving for Mom.” I mostly hung out with close friends and worked diligently on my paralegal certificate coursework. When Dad wasn’t home, I would sit idle on the family room couch thinking a lot.
It was during this time that I somehow began shifting my memories of Mom from the negative ones to the positive ones. I think being alone and on vacation gave me a lot of strength. This strength was solidified during a vacation to see my aunt, uncle, and cousin in Sacramento. When I returned home, I was no longer feeling sad most of the time.
That’s not to say I don’t ever feel sad now. There are days when I briefly feel sorrow. But I am no longer mired in depression and I feel so strong and confident that even a recent bout with bronchitis couldn’t break me.
(This case of bronchitis, which began the day after my birthday and the worst of it lasting for a week, is the reason for the recent lack of film reviews and the delay of this piece. I’m happy to say I’m 100% recovered)
When I look back on the year following Mom’s death, I’m amazed at how much I’ve accomplished during this trying time. My proudest achievement is my paralegal certification. Another achievement is the positive changes to my physical health. Since August I’ve lost almost thirty pounds (although ten of those pounds were lost due to the bronchitis).
I kept noting to myself how, as the anniversary approached, I wasn’t feeling depressed or sad. I realized just now that a lot of it is the weight loss. It is true that if you feel good physically, you’ll feel good emotionally.
I’ve made a lot of progress and I wish Mom were here to see it. I know she’s watching somewhere, but it’s not the same. I do know that wherever she is, she’s proud of me and she loves me very much. I can feel it in my heart.
I love you, Mom. I always will.
Brian Lafferty is a young adult living with Autism. He graduated cum laude from California State University, Fullerton in 2009 with a degree in Radio/TV/Film. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.