Some people think that children with Asperger's do not know empathy and compassion. That is so not true with my son. Though sometimes he is in his own world, he is aware of others. Whether he knows what to do with the empathetic emotions is another thing.
My father was dying. I needed to know how to prepare my son. My pediatrician at the time simply said, "I know you are a good mom. You'll know what to say and how to say it." Jeez, how do you explain death to a 6 year old? I tried the children's desk at the library but there were no appropriate books for his age level. I guess if it's not a pet people ignore the death. (I was determined to make my son understand and remember his grandfather. I was 8 when my maternal grandfather died, my memory is that my mom cried a lot and he was gone. No explanation. Until I was MUCH older. )
In the week before my father's death we found a dead bird in front of my parents' house. My son and I buried it in the yard. I explained about death and how some people are buried in the ground. Later that week we passed a cemetery. He asked what it was and why there were such nice rocks there. (Rocks are one of my son's obsessions.) I explained what a cemetery was and why there were "rocks" there. He asked me what would happen to Grumpa when he died. (My son was there for the entire time my father was ill and dying and when he was finally placed on hospice. We had already talked about my father 'going to heaven.') I didn't know what else to say, so I told him the truth. Grumpa wanted to be cremated. I explained that since Grandpa was going to heaven when he died, he didn't want his body buried in the earth like the bird. He wanted to be turned to ash. (This was enough of an explanation for my son. Thank goodness.)
Anyhow, my father passed away early on a Sunday morning. My mother, my son and I were at his bedside. My one sister was there too. When we finally got home, it poured rain and stormed. It was like the heavens were crying with us. We made phone calls to notify those who needed to know about dad.
In the evening, my mother asked us all to go to Mass together. I remember sitting in the pew trying not to cry. Everything there reminded me of him. My poor son knew we were sad, and understood about my father. He was very touch seeking and sought to rub my arm for comfort. I am the opposite and when he strokes my arm it gives me the creeps. But I knew he needed the sensation for self-regulation, so I 'tolerated' it. I even made sure he had a piece of satin ribbon for his pocket in case my arm wasn't nearby. It was tough as the usher was a family friend, I could tell he was going to ask about my dad. When my mom tearfully burst out "(My husband) died early this morning". I guess she figured being proactive she wouldn't be asked many questions. My son squeezed her hand right before she spoke, and held it until the end of Mass. This was the grounding that she needed, especially since this was the first time she said that my father died out loud.
The rain finally stopped as Mass ended. In the Catholic Church, the Mass ends with "Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord." We felt a bit better. As we walked out of Church, my son saw a rainbow in the sky. As we drove back to my parents' house, the rainbow seemed to follow us. My son pointed this out to us all. When we got out of the car, we again saw the rainbow over the trees. We all turned to walk into the house, but my son stopped us all. He grabbed my mother's hand, pointed to the rainbow and said "Look at the rainbow. Grandpa is going to Heaven now."
When we turned, there was a small cloud that strongly resembled angel wings slowly moving up the edge of the rainbow. I will never forget this. I even snapped a photo with my ever present camera. And yes, you can see the small cloud wings traveling up the rainbow in the successive shots.
I looked over to my mother to see if it was too upsetting for her. Instead I saw a calm look on her face and a small smile. I couldn't even shed a tear (though as I type this I am crying, trying to not short out my computer), I too felt at peace.
Once again, my son (who at the time was not diagnosed) was able to sooth us all. This time he knew right what to say...
(Side note: my father's ashes sit in a box on my parents' headboard and have ever since the funeral director delivered them to the house. When my son is asked about his father figure/grandfather he now tells them, matter of fact "Oh my grandpa, he is in a box on the shelf." I don't even bother to explain anymore other than to tell the inquirer "He's right.")