Last night, Brooke’s fish died. It was sad. Allison had been around an improbably long time. Even as her tankmates had fallen away one by one, she had managed to carry on. Long after she should have expired, she was still happily swimming. We’d become convinced that she was invincible. She wasn’t.
Brooke cried. She told me that she was going to miss Allison. That she wanted her back. She told me that she felt sad.
I hugged her. I told her that I understood. Katie came in and hugged her too. As silly as it may sound, we all cried together. It was sad and death, any death, is far too raw a topic right now.
Brooke asked to flush Allison. I asked her if she’d prefer to bury her, but she said no. It was important to her to do it her way. And to be the one to pull the lever. That mattered.
We said goodbye and thanked Allison for being such a good fish before she disappeared into the great beyond.
Brooke came into my room for a while afterward. We cuddled together and she said that she was still sad. I told her that it was okay to feel whatever she was feeling. That losing a pet is never easy.
Katie came to me with a quiet question. “May I offer to buy her another fish, Mama? Please?”
I texted Luau at work to make sure he was on board before saying yes. Her face lit up when I told her to go ahead.
“Brooke,” Katie said gently, “would you like me to get you another fish?”
Brooke turned and looked at her with just a hint of a smile through her tears. “A whole lot of fish?” she asked.
Katie smiled at her sister. “Maybe two or three, okay, Brooke?”
They hugged and I cried again.
“You’re a damn good big sister sometimes,” I said as Katie walked by me back to her own room.
“Most of the time,” she said, then added,”At least when you’re looking.”
“Right,” I said, chuckling as I pulled her into a hug. “But when you’re good, you’re really, really good.”
The rest of the night passed without incident. Brooke was sad, but she was okay. She picked out her tiny advent gift from the elf hanging on her door and then read through her yearbook, just as she does every night before bed. My girl was alright.
Nearly five years ago, Brooke’s frog, Tayley, died.
I had broken down that night and called Dr Dreamy begging for his help. I had told him that I didn’t know what to do. That she was overcome and overwhelmed and I didn’t know how to help guide her. This is what I’d written that night:
She came toward me and butted me lightly with her forearms, still held out in front of and away from her little body. “Fight! Fight! Fight!” she yelled. I was taken aback. I had absolutely no idea how to react. “We’re fighting!” she continued as she came toward me again. “Fight! Fight! Fight!”
It couldn’t have been more obvious that she wasn’t trying to hurt me. She was stopping just shy of me or at most, touching me lightly. But her stance was painfully, frighteningly aggressive. Her entire body was ready for action. Even her jaw was set and tight. She was expressing SOMETHING.
“Fighting is MEAN.” she said loudly. “Do we fight?”
I snapped out of my daze long enough to answer her, “No, baby, we don’t fight.We love each other.”
I was lost. I had no idea where I was in the room. I’d lost my compass. I was watching this little person who I love more than life trying to tell me something, but for the life of me I didn’t know what.
Five years later, she has five more years of life experience than she had then. She has five more years of practice at self-regulation. She has five more years of gathering tools for identifying her own emotions. None of that can be discounted.
But the biggest difference that I see, that I have seen in nearly all of the amazing progress that my beautiful, incredible girl has made to date, is in her ability to communicate how she’s feeling, what she needs, and what’s important to her.
As human beings, every single one of those things can be eliminated, mitigated or, at the very least, alleviated to some degree by our ability to communicate how we’re feeling, what we need, and what’s important to us.
It doesn’t make the challenges disappear. But it helps. Sometimes immensely.
There are so many vital areas of research in the field of autism and around the ways to best support autistic people. If I were queen of the world, the search for (and the universal adoption of) alternative methods of communication would be Priority One.
And if I were a mom of a young child newly identified as autistic, the exploration of every possible method of communication that might be appropriate and effective for that child would absolutely, positively be Priority One.
Because sometimes, simply having a safe and reliable way to convey, “I’m sad” can change almost everything.
In memory of Allison, she was a heck of a fish.