These are new grounds for me, this helping a child navigate grief. More specifically, helping an autistic child who is non-verbal, navigate grief. I don’t know how much he understands, or what all he really comprehends about the whole situation. I don’t know what questions he has, or what he is feeling. I don’t know what is going through his mind. I don’t know if he is experiencing the normal stages of grief -or if he is handling things in his own way -the way he does everything else.
I just don’t know.
I watch him, carefully, for some sort of clue. I look in his eyes when the opportunities arise, I watch him carefully open the containers that hold the items I have packed away. I watch him look through, selecting one or two things before hiding them away under his own bed -where he puts his most beloved treasures. I wonder what is going through his mind. If he wonders if he is next. If he wonders why his best buddy is suddenly just gone. Didn’t they have something special? Wasn’t he supposed to be there for ever and a day?
What goes on inside his mind -is beyond me. I try my hardest. I really do. I understand the importance of body language and tones. I know from the way he screams if he is happy or upset. I know from the way he twists his arm if he is frustrated or just tired. I know that when he starts picking at his eyes and hair that he is having a hard time understanding something. That he is frustrated. I know that when he slides under his bed -he doesn’t want to deal with people. That he wants to be left alone.
I know that he won’t eat in public, that he prefers to go with no pants and that he is his happiest when he has space to be himself without interference. But I also know that the bond he and Dylan had was something that can never be replaced and something that will always leave a hole. I know that he used to wait by the window, watching and waiting. That he followed Dylan around like a lost dog, that the small bits of favor that he showered on him went much further than any other action. He would do just about anything to be with him, to be acknowledged by him.
I know that if he could, or did, speak -he would have said that when he grew up he wanted to be just like him. I know that Dylan knew this -and while he was your typical teenager in many ways -he often would comply and shower a little bit of affection on his younger cousin, who might as well have been his brother. They shared many moments together and apart…
…and I am not sure how to go about healing the wounds I know were left behind.
All I can do is watch from the sidelines. Try and gather clues from the way he reacts. Try and be understanding when he has bad days -knowing that he too, is struggling in his own ways. Ways that are perhaps, much harder because he cannot verbalize what he is feeling. I can’t offer him help because I don’t know the extent of his suffering, even though I know it must be deep.
He loved him -and he was loved by him. They fought, they bickered, they argued. With each other, against each other, and behind each other. But they also had a bond that was unbreakable. In ways that I thought would carry them far. If for nothing else, they had each other. Regardless of what happened -they would have each other. They would have each other’s backs -in good times and bad, and that would carry them far.
Just not far enough.
While one boy got his final wish -to depart this world and no longer be shackled with the pain and aches that this world could not heal, another is left to grapple with his absence. I don’t know how to explain all of this and more to a boy who still looks out the window, waiting for his hero to step off the bus. So instead, I sit with him. I watch the horizon, knowing full well that he won’t be returning, but wishing -for just a moment, that perhaps -he will.
If for nothing else, to bring some answers to a boy who thought and still thinks, the world of him.