ASD and Grief

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Our family dog of 13 years passed away in January. I had full intentions of writing a blog on grief as it is something that has caused major dissonance in my life. However, writing about something so incredibly important like this takes all my heart and exposes vulnerabilities that I usually hide from everyone.

However, our beloved dog is going to be a trajectory loss that is beyond what I can understand in human behavior. Over the years, understanding other’s individual perspectives has been a focus for me. A term that explains the unique phenomenon that humans experience: Sonder. It is the profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passing in the street, has a life as complex as one’s own, which they are constantly living despite one’s personal lack of awareness of it.

In this moment I am very aware of the sonder my children are experiencing. My oldest suffers from chronic depression and this was their first dog, picked up on Valentine’s Day 2011 and traveled the country with us. Beauty was the best dog that little kids could ask for. Our intention was to have one child and eventually breed the dogs for kids of her own. Well, life has other ways of persisting. I had two more children and she cared for them as though they were her babies. By the time they were grown up enough for us to breed her, she was already middle aged, so we decided that she should just enjoy her life and didn’t risk it. This decision would ultimately be her demise because she would pass from pyometra.

When I was a child, being aware of how emotional I was, my parents never let me have pets, only fish. I never had to experience pet loss until my first dog in July 2011. Yes, only months after we got the puppy. It hurts deeply to lose a second dog, even though Beauty was my husband’s and children’s pet, I loved her. I unfortunately often got the raw end of the deal with her as I had to clean up after her misgivings. Though I never blamed her for her garbage panda tendencies.

It’s been about 6 weeks since she has been gone and my children seem to have reached a place of closure. My middle daughter longs for another dog, but we leave for a grand once-in-a-decade vacation in the coming weeks, so there won’t be a replacement for some time. In the past, I made the mistake of trying to replace a pet and it only led to more grief and anguish in the long-term.

I know that grief of a lost pet is not comparable to grief of losing a parent, but I can’t say that I don’t think about Beauty every day. Every day when she doesn’t greet me at the door. Every day when I don’t have to pick up the garbage. Every time I go to give scraps to someone who isn’t there. I can’t very well offer advice on grief because I have not historically ever handled it well. I go from being overly reactive to disassociating from others. I am not sure there is a certain “right” way to grieve, especially for someone who experiences hyperactivity within their mind but watching my middle daughter gives me hope.

Even when I am thinking about other things, my mind will loop back to the loss and sadness. Watching my middle daughter find peace in creating art as a tribute to Beauty. She had painted ceramics and several portraits of her since she passed. She even wrote a story about how she hopes to meet her best friend again someday. I take lessons from her grieving, because she has found a constructive way to honor Beauty and makes the world more beautiful and brighter when she does. Even in adulthood we can take lessons from our children on being better versions of ourselves – so today, I wrote a tribute to Beauty.

From the moment you came into our lives,
you were a good girl.
You traveled across the country,
with our family as it grew.
You may not have ever had puppies,
but you treated my babies as your own.
From the shores of California,
to trails in Sedona,
the Grand Canyon in Arizona,
the beaches of Florida,
to end your days frolicking through snow in Pennsylvania.
Nearly 14 years of your love, fierce loyalty, and happiness.
There will never be a replacement.
Enjoy your time jumping in the eternal creek in the sky.

Anne Brown

Anne spent most of her life feeling misunderstood until she was diagnosed with Autism later in life. Everything started to eventually make sense, even more so, when her family was all diagnosed with ASD and they begin this new journey together. She wants to write about all of this because sometimes one’s struggles are silent and only through efforts towards inclusion can we all be more comfortable to communicate our struggles. And as someone who is rejection sensitive, she often fails to communicate her struggles because she anticipates that her struggles will lead to further rejection and the cycle continues. She hopes that sharing her vulnerabilities leads to at least one person better understanding themselves or an Autistic loved one. She is looking forward to sharing more specifics about her struggles as a neurodiverse family residing in Pennsylvania.

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