Sunday was a sad day in our house. Katie (our 10 year old neurotypical daughter) discovered that her fish had died earlier in the week while we were on vacation. This fish had been given to her by my sister and he was all hers–as was the responsibility for caring for him. I will admit that I was the one who cleaned the fish tank, but that would have been hard for her to do alone. There were also many mornings that I fed him when I found the poor little fellow sitting in the dark presumably unfed during the morning rush. But, he was her pet.
When she came to us crying I resisted the urge to comment on the big responsibility pets are. Nor did I mention anything about the natural consequences of habitually not feeding one’s pet, although those are both thoughts I had. I just held her and told her I was sorry. This response has come from many years of repeating platitudes to ease other’s grief and then hearing those same comments in my own moments of grief. I have come to realize that there is much comfort in the heart-felt hug and sometimes in silence.
Stephen, on the other hand, wanted to try to cheer his sister. He offered these words of comfort, “well, at least you don’t have to worry about feeding him anymore.” Needless to say, it didn’t help.
Sometimes it is difficult for all of us to know what to say to someone who has experienced a loss or a tragedy. How much harder it is for individuals with Asperger Syndrome who don’t easily recognize that their comments might be offensive to others. So, I think some time very soon Stephen and I will have a talk about times when it is most appropriate to keep our thoughts to ourselves and just offer a comforting hug.