A journey through grief with autism.

Alan Greenwell

4-Minute Read


empathy /ˈɛmpəθi/

noun: empathy

the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

A lot of my time at the moment is trying to see things from Tams point of view. Trying to understand what he is feeling, what is going through his mind, what is causing him to act a particular way. This is all with the hope of an outcome that I can do something to help him.

Tam has been through a lot. For a typical kid with verbal skills it would be a lot to process but their verbal skills would allow questions and answers, which would lead to a development of understanding of the events they saw.

To be specific in Tams case he was with me and Bev one minute waiting for a taxi, cuddling his mammy and the next minute being lifted off his mammy and watching her having CPR performed and then mammy being taken away. Then hours and hours in a hospital and then never seeing his mammy again. Then for days and weeks watching his daddy cry and having lots of strangers coming and going.

Since all of that happened he has kind of expected that he continue the normal stuff and I have little clue about how much he understands. I know he misses his mummy a load, I know he cries for his mummy. It is only through being present and listening to his language of doing and being that I will ever get to understand him and what he is going through.

On a bad day I think he has forgotten his mummy and because of his limited experience he maybe thinks it is normal. Maybe he thinks people just come and go. I cry on those days. Then on a good day he does things that shows me he is missing mammy and that he loves her with ever fibre of his body. I cry on those days as well.

Over the past year and 9 months we have made progress. Tam at times will be looking at the pictures on the memory wall and he will grab me and press my throat to ask me to speak and tell him stories about each photo. This leads to an hour together just sharing memories of when each photograph was taken. At that moment we share our love and empathy for each other.

Until recently while Tam has made progress and I have tried to make my own progress, he can fall back into a pattern of behaviour that makes it fell like things are going to be like this forever. At these times I remind Tam of all the things I would tell a child who would communicate and wait for the time when we move forward again. Its about all I can do.

There is one part of Tams behaviour that has stayed pretty constant and that is separation anxiety. At best he has to know where I am and will follow me if I get up to do something. I worst he is like a 3D shadow that has to be in physical contact with me all of the time. Just to be clear all of the time means when I great from school until (if I am lucky) he falls asleep or goes back to school the next day. Sometimes my arm is sore from him nipping me if I move to far.

So what is my point? I think my point is that no matter who you meet in your life never jump to conclusions about a person and their actions. Watch them, communicate with them, ask them if they are ok or can you help them before painting their behaviour with a label. I see far too many people painting Tam and me with labels and if they stopped and showed some empathy they might get more out of their day, or least they would just move along and mind their business. Neither me or Tam want peoples pity, we just want to get on with our lives and rebuild. So be more empathetic to the people around you, you life will be richer for it.

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