We will all lose something or someone precious, eventually. In an effort to learn how to better process the complex emotions attached to loss I might read about grief more than the average person. People with high functioning autism/neurodiversity (that’s me) feel all the things that a neurotypical person feels. In fact, I would say we feel very deeply. It’s one of the reasons we tend to be hypervigilant, with a strong sense of social justice. We tend to process loss and grief differently or, rather, we struggle to process – which can lead to meltdowns, fixations, and an inability to move forward.
We get stuck. Everyone gets stuck, though. Don’t they?
This is not a post about ASD, but I find it’s helpful to begin with where I’m coming from so that we can start the conversation in/around the same place. Grief is a complex emotion. Here is what I’ve worked out for myself as I’ve moved through the different stages of grief after sudden loss, and maybe sharing it will help someone.
There are different kinds of grief and different ways to grieve.
Grief after a sudden loss feels differently than grief after a prolonged illness takes a loved one. Both are excruciating to work through but the shock of losing a loved one unexpectedly compounds things a bit. It breaks your heart over and over again. The trauma of the loss is relived, in other words, making it especially difficult to process/work through.
Consider also that the ways in which we, as individuals, process our own grief differs. There is not one correct way to grieve, it looks different for all of us – even within the same family or social group. It’s helpful to do our best not to judge other’s behavior after a loss by our own idea of what grief looks like. Their grief is not yours to measure so, at least in this respect, stay in your lane. You are not the grief police.
There are different kinds of loss.
Everything has a beginning and (probably) an end. You meet your soulmate, spend years close as can be – and it inexplicably ends. You are allowed to grieve a loss. You lose a job, your spouse leaves you, your dog escapes the backyard and doesn’t return, a fire destroys your home, a parent has dementia and one day they no longer recognize your face. These are all examples of traumatic, sudden loss. We should allow ourselves to grieve them as such.
Going through the 5 stages of grief after a sudden loss in not always a linear process.
In my lived experience, these stages don’t always follow this order. Meaning you can be in one stage and going into the next and then regress. Cut yourself some slack, don’t try to rush through the stages. Grief is messy and imperfect. Feel your feelings; sit with them. Cry or scream or call/text someone. Acceptance is the last step. I have to be honest about it, though. Grief doesn’t really go away. The pain lessens, but it becomes a part of you like a tattoo. You carry it always, and it’s heavy. Grief lives in our memory – I’d say more vividly than any other emotion.
Ways to cope.
Everyone grieves differently but there are basic routines that can help us to function through our grief.
Eat. I find it helpful to start eating on a schedule so that my grief doesn’t lead me to poor health. Nobody can afford to not take care of themselves during a pandemic. Eat at least 3 times a day and drink a ton of fluids. Set an alarm on your phone that tells you when it’s time to eat. While you’re at it, take a multi-vitamin, vitamin c, and zinc at breakfast.
Shower. You probably just want to sleep, but take a shower (then sleep if you want). Even on my worst day, it helps me feel a bit more human. A routine task will keep your mind off the sadness in the short term, the steam will help clear your sinuses. Crying can give you a terrible sinus headache (excess mucous can even lead to ear/sinus infection).
Do something even if it’s “nothing.” Find a task that allows you to be distracted, empty your mind or, alternatively, allows for hyperfocus. Autism isn’t really a super power but I do have the ability to apply hyperfocus. I can tune everything out and just work on one thing for an extended period of time. Applying order to disorder calms my mind. Other days I need to be distracted so I scroll Pinterest or go learn something (amazon prime or netflix some documentaries). Do what works for you, so that you can get out of your own head – even if it’s only for a little while.
Talk or just listen. Talking with another person who knew your loved one (or just listening) can help. You might even laugh out loud then feel a wave of guilt. This is okay. I’ve always included guilt in the (my) stages of grief because it washes over you any time you have a moment of normalcy. Something stupid on TV makes you laugh and you wonder how that was even possible inside the grief bubble in which you’ve cocooned yourself. You MONSTER. But, I promise, you are not a monster. You are human. Realizing, while in the depths of your grief, that life around you continues to move forward after traumatic loss is a particular cruelty. ♡