Dealing with Loss: Autistic Reflections on Bereavement

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We had come back from visiting my grandparents, and I recall a phone call we had maybe a week later. I was seven years old.

Know how your parents would come ask you to “say hi” to whichever relative they had on the phone, as if you were able to have a cogent conversation with an adult? It was awkward. And because this was me, it was more awkward.

My grandparents said they missed me.

Me, being autistic me, related the best way I could.

“I remember you, but I don’t miss you.”

They kinda laughed, and I recall my parents saying, as if to emphasize for some punitive record, “Well, he remembers you.” They didn’t take me to task for that one, though I’m sure they considered calling an adoption agency or an extraterrestrial child rehoming service.

As of last week, both of my grandparents are now gone.

My grandpa died nearly 20 years ago, pretty much going to bed one night and not waking up the next. He was as sharp and clever, never having declined. Here one moment, and gone the next.

While I was shocked by the news, there just wasn’t that emotional crater I’d expected. With my grandparents living out of state, my day-to-day wasn’t as affected.

My grandma lived on for another two decades, albeit less and less so as the years passed. Until last week.

Having grown up on and around military bases and personnel, I wasn’t really accustomed to seeing people gradually decline in age, body, and mind. My most impactful memory was grandpa just *being gone* without cresting down a hill.

Seeing Grandma slide — and then hurtle — down that hill over the past 10+ years: it was a different experience altogether. One’s exit from life is not always endowed with swift, graceful passage.

When I read that Grandma died, I texted my mom back, went to work, and mostly trucked through my day.

There just wasn’t much of a reaction. That’s not because I’m autistically soulless and callous — anything but. We are creatures of routine, and we process things — even major things — through an architecture of our day-to-day. I was fortunate to have amazing grandparents, just not so much to where they were part of my day-to-day.

It’s sad that we suffer in many facets from this “difference in expectation,” but I hope to shed some light here: we are not going to react in the same emotional register as you will.

Grandma had been, in a way, long gone already.

In talking with my folks this weekend, I shared that the Grandma I knew — the one that went on LEGO shopping trips, baked English Muffin bread, took me suit shopping, taught me how to drive, and made for interesting dinnertime company  had passed long ago, and I’d made that peace and processed it already.

As I reflect, I think of my quote from earlier. I’d amend it for today.

“I remember you, and I do miss you, Grandma. I miss who you were. This is something I process differently than others do. I hope you understand. I’ll always remember you.”

This was a more personal reflection here; I would hope that it helps lend some grace and insight into how autistic people cope with loss and bereavement very differently than you may expect. To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks.

 

 

Eight Words That Kickstarted The Life Autistic on YouTube

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I can’t believe I’m doing this.

I have every reason not to. Not enough time. Bad lighting. No good equipment. No time, period. A weirdly de-nasal voice. I’m a better writer than personality. I don’t have that many great storiesMy advice is terrible. My experience is too niche.

But after meeting with my mentor this month (a brilliant creator in his own right), he shared an eight-word phrase that finally put me over from “simmer” to “boil.”

The YouTube step has been a long time coming. And I’ve dug my heels in, like, well, y’know, how we autistic people can do.

People have said things. I’ve gotten comments about my presentations at work (“You present like you’re a YouTuber, and I expected you to end with ‘Be sure to Like and Subscribe“), my analysis delivery (“I’m surprised you’re here and not on YouTube”) and about my blog, from my brother (“Bro, you should just do YouTube”).

I began to notice a bit of a trend here.

And while I’d kept it in orbit as an idea meteor, it didn’t start hurtling into my atmosphere until my latest meeting with my mentor: Brandon Vaughn, a professed and practiced statistical impresario and musical aficionado who dual wields two Ph.Ds and sports tie-dye tees as a uniform. He’s as close as you get to a real-life Doctor Strange, but with a lot less mastery of mystic arts, but a lot more grace and humility. He’s the best.

After talking a little bit of shop and some other work changes, he dropped an honest assessment on me and my career, the last eight words of which rang long after:

“You’re an interesting character, and I don’t see you being a company man.

No, I’m not leaving my company. Yes, I’m proud of my career. But I’ve had to reckon with some honesty about where I’m at, what this season is like, and where I’m finding the room to grow.

And that growth, right now, is in what I share on autism and how I share it.

Brandon helped me realize where my message (on the autistic experience and more) would connect with people on a different level, in an area that didn’t lean so much on my own writing skill, but through a medium that might resonate more relationally. 

“That’s why I think you should consider something like YouTube, honestly,” he said.

I think I’d heard that before.

So we’re just “gonna do it.”

The Life Autistic will be on YouTube. In fact, it’s there now. I don’t have all the details or the schedule or the content. And while I’m kinda worried and not looking forward to the ebb and flow of disappointment, discovery, and delight, I am glad to be giving this a go.

And while I don’t have anything just yet (but soon!), feel free to — sigh — Like and Subscribe to Hunter Hansen – The Life Autistic on YouTube.

thanks 🙂

I’m excited about embarking on this “pivot to video” journey in sharing more about autism – but don’t worry, we’ll still be keeping the posts coming here! To learn more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic here and on YouTube — or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks!

 

 

Autistic Obsessions & Interests: Here’s What You Do About Them

There’s a reason I turned out to be a half-decent cook.

I’m not stellar, but I can poach eggs better than Alton Brown (I love the guy, but he cheats with custard cups, and I don’t), make Gordon Ramsay’s Beef Wellington off the top of my head (hint: get ready to cook a gallon of water out of mushrooms), and improvise off enough basic ingredients to get through a dinner on a whim.

It’s not an “autistic” strength, but it was definitely an autistic fixation that got me into this mess.

Growing up in Iceland, the TV options were about as scarce as trees there. You’d have to be exceptionally committed to laziness (as I was) to make “lazy afternoon TV watching” work.

But when Iron Chef popped up, I was captivated. I remembered it coming up as an answer on Millionaire (another obsession), so I watched my first episode: the abalone battle, a Morimoto loss. It engaged my autistic creative circuitry, so off I went to try to make something similar in kind. But we didn’t have abalone. We didn’t even have albacore. 

My parents were great, but they weren’t culinary enthusiasts or much for virtuoso cooking excursions. With five kids, we went for whatever meals would feed the most of us for the least amount of money and complaints. And that wasn’t going to be “Seared Abalone with Basil Reduction and Foie Gras.”

That nascent interest became a bit of an obsession, only more broad: instead of zeroing in on the win/loss records of the Iron Chefs (which, OK, I got into that) and the histories of the rivalries and ingredients (yeah, that too), I got more practical and actually tried “IRON CHEF’ING.”

It began disastrously. 

I once attempted to season a pan by searing black pepper. By itself. On high heat. While my parents said that I invented a passable homemade pepper spray, the culinary output was found wanting.

Over the weeks and the years, I built a shameful résumé of failed experiments (black pepper on ice cream), undercooked duds (turning Chicken Kiev into Chicken Sashimi), near-misses (soggy walnut “crusted” shrimp), and culinary war crimes (stir-frying sliced short ribs, for which I should have been tried by The Hague). 

Though I should have been doomed to spending my adulthood slaving over nothing more than a hot microwave; instead, I turned out to be a serviceable wannabe chef through my autistically-sparked and continued obsession.

There’s a version of this where none of that happened, so here’s what I’d love to pass on.

Some autistic obsessions can lead to key skills and lifelong passions — here’s what you do with them:

Allow for failure. My parents, relatives, and family never did the safe thing and shut me completely out of the kitchen. Despite my many misses, they afforded me chances for some “hits.” And since it meant they didn’t have to do all the cooking, that was an added bonus. I’m glad they let me fail.

Nurture the practical aspects. Since I was nearly a working professional earning my own income at age 14 during this Iron Chef obsession, I was on the hook for funding my own fixations. But it would have been cool to have had this encouraged as well. While things like a Allez Cuisine! – An Iron Chef Retrospective book would have been nice, I’d have loved some practical items: chef’s knives, fancy ingredients, tools, a gift card to a butcher shop, things that would have helped fuel the “doing” aspect.

Create lasting experiences. It took “surviving until age 16” before I finally got to go to a “legit fancy restaurant.” I’d have loved more amazing experiences to refine and shape my obsessions and encourage creativity. So, for God’s sake, if you have a train-loving kid: by all means, take your kid to the damn train museum! Find a connection at the Union Pacific for a ride-along with an engineer. If they’re into sharks, hit up that aquarium, have them take part in a feeding, tuck them in a diving cage for an up-close experience — create the experience. 

Autistic obsessions, interests, and fixations aren’t a distraction from life — they’re a integral part of our life! I enjoyed sharing this slice of my life, and I hope it helps inspire you to do more for the similar interests of autistic people. To discover more about autism from an autistic person’s perspective, follow & subscribe to The Life Autistic – or follow the more whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing content on Twitter / Instagram. Thanks.