There have been two significant deaths to me recently. My grandfather died just before Christmas. And Judi Chamberlin (the first psych survivor I saw besides myself who challenged the leadership in that community by the likes of Szasz, Laing, Breggin, and other professionals who upheld many of the destructive power structures within psychiatry while claiming to be rid of them — she wrote a really good book called On Our Own) died this weekend.
And yet again I am coming up against my instinctive responses to death, that don’t seem to be all that standard. (Note that these are instinctive reactions and have been totally unchanging regardless of my religion or lack thereof. The second one especially is not a view or belief, it’s an involuntary reaction on the same level as most people’s assumption that their house looks the sane every day unless something specific changes it.)
For one thing, my memories of people who have died do not do that peculiar transformation I see in other people’s minds. That is, I remember the people the exact same way I remembered them in life. They don’t transform into saints, the bad memories don’t go away, I do not suddenly see them as all good and no bad. I know that this steps on a massive taboo. I did not know how massive until I saw people judging my entire character on the fact that when a particular person died a while back I did not suddenly cease to criticize the dead person’s actions (even though the dead person had called for dreadful things to happen to people like me, and even though the dead person continued after death to have the level of influence that would make those bad things more likely).
Whereas I find it incredibly disturbing that when people I know die, even people I mostly like, suddenly they are transformed in eulogies into people who never existed. Sometimes the eulogies even turned those people into the opposite of who they were in life — a total gossip will be described as never having an unkind word to say about anyone. This strikes me as frightening, disturbing, and disrespectful, but then my way seems to strike most people the same way. (Hint: If I were really the monster some people have made me into for viewing things this way, I would not care about how disturbing I find it to disrespect the dead by turning them into people they never were.)
So that was thing number one about my reaction to death that seems to be weird.
Thing number two is related but different. This is that not only does my memory not suddenly change the person into someone they weren’t, but that my memory does not change at all. The person is still there as far as I am concerned. I continue to use the present tense, not just by habit but because as far as I am concerned the person still exists even when I am fully aware of the fact of their death. I have heard of something superficially similar happening during denial but this is not denial. It happens whether I am grieving a good deal or grieving not at all. I simply don’t see the person as gone. I don’t see people who died thousands of years ago as gone either, I just see them as… temporally inaccessible or something. I grieve for our inability to inhabit the same time-area as each other anymore, but I don’t grieve for their nonexistence because they seem to exist, just somewhere (or rather somewhen) I can’t share with them now.
The first thing makes me into a terrible person in some people’s eyes. The second just seems to make me strange. But both of them are just how I am, I can’t imagine what it’s like to be otherwise. I mean I won’t go to a funeral and talk about how much I can’t stand the dead person, but I see nothing wrong with discussing their faults somewhere else (and I see a good deal wrong with actually changing descriptions of who the person is and what they have done just because they are dead — it’s one thing to refrain from talking about the bad points with people who are grieving, but actively claiming the opposite? Just… no, that erases the person more than death ever could).
And as for the second thing (which I find more interesting by far)… what is it about me that doesn’t respond the same way most people seem to when death occurs? I have talked to a lot of people and very few respond the way I do, or even understand my response. And I don’t understand theirs either. Why is it that most people process death so differently? Why does death seem to me almost as if it didn’t happen? Is there something about death I just don’t understand?
(And before anyone asks, I doubt that either one of these has to do with autism. Many of the differences between me and others on both counts are things I have observed both within and outside the autistic community. I have only met a few people who see both the way I do.)
Oh, and I am not printing comments that claim I am evil or something. It’s one thing to discuss different viewpoints about death in this situation. It’s a whole different ballgame to use my personal reactions to two recent deaths of a relative and a role model to castigate me for not mourning “properly”. Heed the difference, I will not tolerate the crossing of that line.