Friday, July 3, 2009

Funerals R' Us

As I write this post, I'm at a funeral. It's happening right now, right here in my living room/library. Next to me is the deceased, and we've got Enya's And Winter Came playing on my laptop.

Perhaps an explanation might be helpful.

When my grandfather died last week, we talked to Betty and Boo about what that meant. We gave them the choice of attending the funeral or not. They knew my grandfather had been in poor health (some of you may remember Boo cheerfully greeting my grandfather on Christmas Day with a hearty "My mommy says you're going to die soon!").

Perhaps not surprisingly, especially given a sort of preoccupation with death and the afterlife on my side of the family, the kids were very interested in attending the funeral and ... well, in a morbidly curious kind of way, were sort of looking forward to it. Especially when I mentioned a limo was involved. They asked to ride with my mother and me, and my mother (and the funeral director) agreed.

So on Monday, when the limo pulled into my mother's driveway and the car seats strapped in, the kids eagerly hopped in. I'd seen this move before, I realized.

"We're gonna be fame-ous! We're gonna be fame-ous!" they chanted in sing-song voices.

I then realized what was going through their minds and whipped around, exorcist-like, from my seat in the middle of the car.

"This is not an episode of Hannah Montana!" I reminded them, with my best stern mommy face and voice (and before suppressing a smile). You got the limo out front, the hottest styles, every shoe, every color ....

At the services, their mood changed. Betty was bashful with relatives whose names and places on the family tree escaped me. Boo assumed the role of honorary funeral director, solemnly escorting each mourner up to my grandfather's coffin. He stood, almost at attention, beside each person as they paid their last respects, his small hands clasped behind his back. This was noticed by more than one relative, and hopefully provided a bit of comfort to some. Occasionally, when it became a bit much, he would mentally escape by reading a page or two of Captain Underpants, the book he brought along. (He meant no disrespect, Pop-Pop. I know you understand, and given your wry sense of humor, you probably were grinning along with us.)

I watched as he paid very, very close attention to the service and rituals, and I thought, uh-oh, I know what's coming.

And true to form, after we returned home it started.

Boo has several repetitive play schemes he regularly engages in, and one is a hypothetical television show called "Super Cars." Coincidentally, on the day of my grandfather's funeral, Natalie Portfield, a character on "Super Cars," also passed away.

Boo proceeded to write out memorial cards with Ms. Portfield's date of birth and date of death. He wrote a funeral service. He drew pictures of Ms. Portfield that represented the video montage we had at my grandfather's funeral.

This was all in preparation for Natalie Portfield's funeral, which would, Boo announced, be taking place this weekend.

In the meantime, he talked a lot about heaven and asked a lot of questions, questions about how one could be in heaven while one's body was in the ground. About how is it possible that my grandmother (on my dad's side) could still be with us at 96 while my maternal grandfather, at 91, died. This is illogical to the Asperger mind (and probably some of ours), as young people are not supposed to die before older ones.

And so, Ms. Natalie Portfield's funeral was the one I'd just attended.

This is one of those damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't potholes along this autism road we're on. There's no GPS for navigating death when you're on this particular spectrum of life, and so we do what we can and what we must. Hell, if I could come up with a GPS for autism, I'd be able to retire at 40 and spend my days blogging.

I know some may offer a critical commentary on my parenting skills by allowing an almost 8-year old to attend his great-grandfather's funeral (and if that's your mindset, don't even bother leaving a comment because it will be drop-kicked into the great recycling bin of cyberspace). Think what you wish, as our parenting strategy has long been one of do what we can, do what works for our son and our family, and naysayers be damned.

All that I can guess is that there is something that Playing Funeral gives him that helps Boo make sense of this tangle of feelings. To a kid, death seems abstract to begin with - passing away, being in heaven with God and GrandMom-Mom - but to an Asperger mind, how can this possibly make sense?

So I will continue to sit by his side with him this weekend and Play Funeral (while keeping the child psychologist's phone number on speed dial.) For now, it is easier to go with this, to let this ride its courses, to accept it and join with him than to reason with him that this is just pretend, that maybe we'd rather do other things (like write blog posts about our child's obsession with the death industry) instead of Playing Funeral.

No. We'll sit together in thought and in reflection. And while Playing Funeral, when Boo echoes my grandfather's pastor's words verbatim from Monday's service and implores us to pray with me one more time, I will be doing just that.

The photo accompanying this post was taken by me, early in the morning on Tuesday, June 30 (the day after my grandfather's funeral). It's how the sky appeared at that moment as seen through the windows of our family room. I'd zoomed in on the sun peeking through the dark clouds. Here's another one of the full view.


Niksmom said...

Oh, there is so much richness in this post, my friend! The Hannah Montana...OMG, I laughed so hard! I could just picture it!

I think it should be left entirely to the individual family to determine what their child/ren are able to handle. Personally, I think Boo's "playing funeral" will, ultimately, help him make sense of it all. Of course, if he starts to have any bizarre behaviors then, of course, you might be concerned. But, really, I think kids can handle so much more than adults give them credit for.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Niksmom. I think letting Boo role-play a funeral is pretty damn healthy. Good for you. And good for Boo.

Gwendolyn B. said...

You know, this doesn't sound any different from what a child without autism would do. (I've got an 8 yo nephew.) All in all, this is a beautifully written post. You'll all be in my thoughts . . .

Lori said...

I think your son did what he needed to do for himself and who cares what anyone else thinks. The way you and he handled things worked and no one was screaming crying throwing a fit & being completely afraid. Hmmmm. Go figure!

Loved the post!!

Susan said...

I think you are doing a great job by letting Boo process this all in a way that is meaningful to him. I personally like that you aren't trying to talk him out of playing all sounds very therapeutic. He is really working through all of the details. Good job to all of you. He may even bring some clarity or extra meaning to the rest of you as well.