Eulogy to my Grandma

My last surviving grandparent is no more.  She lived for 96 years.

A strong, active, productive person, a farmer’s wife for many years, who kept children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren supplied with beautiful quilts and knitted outerwear.

My favorite scarf, great for braving northern chill, is large and long and warm and knitted by Grandma.  We are all kept warm in the winter by her quilts and afghans.

My ex-friend Richard, when he stayed with us, I gave him one of Grandma’s quilts to keep him warm as he slept on the couch.  He took it with him when he and his family moved into their own place, so I finally had to get it back from him again.  He protested because it was large enough to cover him and his wife, and was very warm.

“But my grandmother made that quilt!” I said.

“Have her make another quilt,” he said.

But he finally gave it back.

We visited Grandma every holiday, or she came to visit us, bringing her little white dog.

Some of the Michigan roads near her house were still dirt; when I was little, she put me in her bike basket and pedaled me over those roads and the gravel shoulders of the paved roads.  When I got older, she put her little dog in the basket instead.

The roads to her house were full of hills that made your stomach jump up as the car dipped down.  Because of this, the road signs constantly switched from “Do Not Pass” to “Pass With Care.”

When I was a toddler, they put me on a tractor in the open barn door.  I felt high above the ground, scary and exhilarating at once.  My parents still have the picture.  This was no small tractor.

In 1984, she cut her hair like Mondale’s running mate, the first woman to run for Vice-President, Geraldine Ferraro.  She and Grandpa had always been Democrats, which annoyed my Republican dad.

She joined a Nazarene church before I was born, and went there until she moved to Texas.  She loved church, and whenever I visited, she took me there.  I had friends in the Sunday School, and one year I went to Vacation Bible School there.  A church bus picked me up along with other country kids.

She loved garage sales; many of my toys were sale finds, or she would make old doll torsos into air fresheners with knit dresses.  She knitted clothes for my dolls as well.

She put on quite a spread, such as egg nog and candy popcorn balls for Christmas and lots of candy to stuff yourself with for Easter.

I remember visiting her every summer for one or two weeks, staying in her 100-year-old house with the large red barn in back and fields which she could no longer work.

My uncle worked the fields now.  But she kept a kitchen garden, where she brought me along to pick and shuck peas for that night’s dinner.

I ate fudge bars while reading books, went to the big walk-in attic to play with old toys, a chalkboard, and books that once belonged to my father and uncles, wrote my own newspaper with comic strips such as Perdita the ant, and imagined the trees in the whispering leaves of the oak tree were people with their own stories.

I had my first experience of deja-vu there, looking up at the ceiling from a chair which she had only just moved, and realizing I had dreamed of this before knowing she moved it.

Grandpa’s Woods out back were beautiful, but I was scared to go there because the adults warned me of deer flies.

Sometimes I slept in one of the bedrooms upstairs, imagining them populated with various monsters and ghosties, whom I could identify individually.  Once, I heard caterwauling from my window.

Some of my mental stims began one summer while I slept in the big upstairs bedroom.

Sometimes I slept on the porch, with air coming through the many screened windows, while a mosquito buzzed in my ear, cars whizzed speeding by on the road (it was customary to speed down that road), and I realized that the number 8 and its various multiples were my favorite numbers.

In the dining room I would juggle the little white poodle mix’s toy balls, and realize that country silence was a deafening roar.

There were many glass shelves covered in neat knick-knacks, antiques, probably from the 30s, 40s and 50s, one a lady’s head probably from the 30s, another a tractor.

One year, she put a brand-new bathroom in the attic, since she often worked upstairs on her quilts, there was plenty of room, and the stairs were high and steep.  Finally, there were two bathrooms, and nobody had to wait for other people anymore.  But the water still tasted the same upstairs as down, that strange well-water taste.

She took me with her to visit Grandpa’s grave, where she tended flowers.  I once found an anniversary card in which she wrote to Grandpa that she hoped to reach 50 years together.  Unfortunately, he died right before they made it to 50.

There were dragonflies and damselflies; I learned to ride a bike on her large, round gravel driveway; trash was burned in a barrel out back.

The motorhome was out there, too, a small and old Winnebago, which smelled like old apples and broke down any time we traveled with it.  Grandma and my mom cooked in it, even though they had to use a stove so ancient that you had to light the gas with a long match.

The first year we took it to Texas, which I think was 1983 when I was 10 (my grandpa had died on my birthday that year), we could barely go 20mph on the Interstate.

My dad looked at the inner workings underneath the floor, and discovered that Grandpa had turned the battery over–on purpose, we believed–so the motorhome would not go faster.  (He had a thing against speed.)

Dad turned it over, and we finally stopped getting passed by every single vehicle on the Interstate.  We were still slow, but not nearly so slow.

The heating system was one big pipe coming out of the front section blowing engine heat; this totally sucked because we were traveling in winter and it took forever to get out of the northern states while going 20mph on a good day.

That motorhome was so notorious that the story was told at her funeral, along with her memoirs for the family history.  And yet she kept it all those years, traveling in it, and sleeping in it sometimes during the summer.

Unfortunately, the last memory I have of her is from 2007, the last time I saw her, because she moved to Texas and my husband and I did not have the means to go visit.  She also was too old to go back up to visit us once she had moved.

We expected she would not last much longer, because she was very old and her mind was going.  My mom says it was Alzheimer’s/dementia.

My once-strong, independent grandma, who would get up at the crack of dawn and work work work all day, could barely take care of herself.

She had lived next to one of my uncles nearly all her life, but he and his wife (always a difficult woman) were now estranged from her.  She moved to the warm near one of my other uncles until she died.

The ashes, delivered a day late, were not ready to put in an urn in time for the funeral.  The preacher read from her memoirs, but there was no body.

Later that day, I discovered the package with the ashes, waiting to be properly dealt with, at my parents’ house.

My grandmother, once a tall, strong, independent woman, full of talent and skill and opinion, was now in one small box.  My parents say it must weigh about 25 pounds, even though it’s so small.

That’s when it hit me.  Her spirit is not there; this is just her body, not “her.”  But that was once her.  And now it’s all in just a small box……

 

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My Mental/Visual/Touch Stimming: Could it be Asperger’s?

To me, NVLD and/or Asperger’s is a fascinating look into the differences in how our brains work.  I find the differences awesome, and hope that one day they will be accepted, not labeled “disorders” which must be “fixed.”

They also explain many things about myself that never made sense before, make me “normal” among people who have these same “abnormalities.”  It makes me okay the way I am.  They’re also not related to introversion, so can’t be explained away that way.

NVLD/Asperger’s quickly became, back in 2000, one of my many long-term, obsessive interests, because finally I had a reason for why I do the things I do, why my brain works the way it does, why others don’t do these things that seem perfectly normal and logical to me, or which I’ve always done but not known why.

For example, I have various little things I do which I’ve done since childhood, but they’re so subtle that I doubt anybody notices but myself.  They seem to increase when I’m going through anxious periods.

For example, sometimes I’ll feel my heel strike a crack in the sidewalk, and I don’t feel right until the opposite heel strikes a crack in the sidewalk as well.  I’ll stare at tiles and find patterns.  I alphabetize my music and movies.  I’ll stare into space, or my eyes will cross, as a form of relaxation when visuals are getting a bit overwhelming.

If I’m folding laundry and a sock or towel hits my leg, oftentimes I won’t feel right until I hit one against the other leg as well.  I do the same thing with my fingers.  I keep nibbling on the inside of my mouth without realizing it.

It doesn’t always happen, but as I noted, seems to increase in times of anxiety.  For the past 2 years, while dealing with a very emotionally traumatic situation, I’ve been doing these things more often, and added a couple of new ones.  Now my eyes vaguely cross a lot, intentionally.  Not sure why.  I try to stop it because it gives me a headache, but do it anyway.

I recall, as a kid, one day just looking at the ceiling and deciding I would start doing one of my stims, which I have never stopped doing: counting, looking for even numbers in things, such as tiles on the ceiling.

I count letters in words in titles or signs, hoping for even numbers of letters or words as my eyes sweep back and forth over the word in various patterns, doing this until it “feels finished.”  I look for symmetry.

I prefer round letters and numbers because they make easier patterns; I’ll even make a pattern with an individual letter or number.  As a child, my favorite number was 8 and numbers related to 8, such as 16–because 8 is a round number.

I’ll do the same thing with letters or numbers or pictures or other objects, my eyes sweeping over an object back and forth an even number of times to form an even pattern.

I do it to titles on books, to words on a page I’m reading, to tiles on the floor, to the iconostasis (wall with all the icons) at church, to the golden objects (crosses, etc.) on the altar, to the incense holders hanging.

I count them, see there’s this number on one side, this number on the other, back and forth, until finally the service begins.

I see a line or a word and think of the capital letters opposite other capital letters, the lowercase letters in contrast, try to form a pattern with the capitals on the outside.

An embedded web video stuck on an endless loop (such as in forum avatars or on page 3 of the below-linked forum discussion) can drive me crazy, as I start wanting to see it go through the loop a certain number of times before I turn it off.  I don’t even know how many times; just until it “feels finished.”

I’ll often look at a word or phrase again and again after having just read it, until I’m “done.”

And my brain has done these things for as long as I can remember.  It’s usually not at all related to anxiety, though anxiety can increase the frequency of some of them.

Riding in a car also sometimes drives me crazy as I start forming patterns with every sign and wire I see.

Sometimes I will sit and stare, a kind of “rest,” or just let my eyes go unfocused (crossing them, apparently) because it’s restful.

As a child in Kindergarten, and even now, I see numbers as male or female.  Male: 0, 1, 4, 5, 7.  Female: 2, 3, 6, 8, 9.  Yet 16 is female, and so is 20, even though they are mixed.

It’s something about the way they look.  I’m not sure what, exactly, because 0 and 5 are round, same as 3, 8 and 9, and 2 has a straight line just as most of the “male” numbers do.

Thoughts will circle in my head until they’re said in just the right way or I feel them in my throat the right number of times (something about, I haven’t really “thought” it unless I can feel the word in my throat).

Certain phrases will go through my head again and again and again until they interfere with other thoughts and activities and seem about to drive me crazy.  (These are not “voices in my head,” but my own thought-voice.)

It’s words I hear or read, or a few near-constant stock phrases which have been with me for years/decades (such as “Lord have mercy” since I became Orthodox, and “please forgive me” before that).

(In fact, Orthodoxy encourages stimming on “Lord have mercy” as a spiritual exercise.)  Sometimes I’ll start humming to get an unpleasant thought out of my head.

Up until now, no one has known about these mental/visual/tactile stims which I have done all my life.  Because they’re mostly in my head, nobody knows they’re going on.  Only recently have I told my husband these things go on in my head constantly.

I’m not sure if NLD has traits like these, but Asperger’s does; a quick Google search on “mental stimming” brings up a forum discussion on this very thing.

Some of these things will go endlessly through my head so much that I barely notice it, or they die down for a while, but start up again in periods of depression or anxiety or deep thought.

A blogger with Asperger’s describes stimming here, and one of his commenters described my thing with sidewalk cracks here:

However, I do the crack thing, I have to step on the cracks, or i have to step on a crack with my left foot, then step over the next crack with my left foot so that my right foot touches the next crack. I must say, you’re right about looking insane when walking. I have jumped to get to the next crack, and every time I walk it’s different. Sometimes it is not stepping on the cracks, sometimes it’s stepping near the cracks. It’s very calming.

Apparently people with normal brains stim too, so I don’t know what the difference is between “normal” and “Asperger’s” stimming.  Needs more research….If what I do is normal, then NLD is more likely, as it’s more mild than Asperger’s.

Everybody stims, Aspies and NTs alike and usually they’re unaware of it.

Aspies tend to stim more often than NTs and it tends to be more for stress/anxiety relief.

Most aspies won’t be aware that it’s a relief mechanism, they’ll probably just tell you that it feels good.

Virtually any kind of repetitive behaviour without a specific point other than “feel-good” can be a stim. The difficulty involved in stopping the stim and the frequency at which it occurs is what distinguishes an aspie stim from a neurotypical stim. –Gavin Bollard’s comment, Life With Aspergers: What is Stimming

 

Here a blogger, who after her children were diagnosed realized she herself had grown up undiagnosed with Asperger’s, writes that she can never stand still.  She shifts her weight back and forth from one foot to another.  She was sure lots of people do this, until she started watching, and saw almost nobody doing it.

I do this in church.  Since I go to a liturgical church, I can say with certainty that I’m not moving to upbeat praise and worship music (which tends to make me want to avoid swaying, anyway, in defiance at musical manipulation).

When I’m not in church, but standing at a corner waiting to cross the street, or standing in line, I rock back and forth on my feet.  I just can’t stand still without a lot of effort.

My husband does this too, so the question arises: is this common or isn’t it?  Some comments I find on blogs are that everybody stims; it’s just a question of how socially acceptable the stimming behavior is: making strange noises vs. tapping your pencil, for example.

Here the same blogger goes into detail about stimming and where she thinks the line is drawn between “normal” and autistic/Asperger’s stimming.

I don’t know, but I do know that I’ve done most of these stims since childhood.  I am getting some new ones, however, due to excessive anxiety, which is quite annoying.

Threads on this from the Asperger’s Wrong Planet forum, with which I identify so strongly that I keep saying, “Yes!  Yes!”:
Mental Repetition of Phrases/Words?
Mental Stimming

I started watching Mozart and the Whale and I realized that the guy in the movie, Donald, when he is looking around he notices things and makes combinations and associations in his mind, which is also what I do.

I do it at home and also when I am sitting somewhere in public. While seeing him in the movie, I realize that when I am doing this my eyes must be moving in a way that must come across as very bizarre to other people.

…Anyway, do u have the same thing? do you look around and make combinations all the time and observe lines, numbers,colors etc —How do you move your eyes?

Why, yes, yes, I do.  Yes, I trace things with my eyes, as well.  From that same thread, I also identify with this:

For instance, looking at a sentence on a billboard, I end up counting the letters and spaces so I can find the figure or space that is the middle of the sentence, the fulcrum of symmetry if you will.

Or if say a sentence has an odd number of words, like 3 or 5, i cut the sentence in half and count how many letters I’d have to add to one side or the other to make them symmetrical.

In case you didn’t notice, I have huge issues with symmetry and constantly striving to achieve it in everything I observe.

You’ll note these threads also comment on perseveration, which is related to the same things going around in your head all the time, or a child with Asperger’s getting so latched onto a subject/interest that you can’t get him off it.

I do that constantly, whenever I’m going through some emotional issue, or I’ve gotten interested in some new thing, such as ancient Egypt when I was 12 (or re-interested in some old thing, such as my curiosity in NVLD/Asperger’s taking a rest for months and then popping up again and I have to do more research on it), or I’m so deeply interested in a writing project that I think about it while doing other things.  It keeps going whether I want it to or not.

It’s always been this way.  No matter what it is–perseveration, or mental stimming, or visual stimming–my mind is constantly very busy.  It makes it hard to fall asleep sometimes.

Perseveration is the reason I would research as much as I could into whatever I was writing about; of course, before the Internet exploded, it was hard to find good materials.  Now, I have them at my fingertips.  It’s a perseverator’s dream!

When I got curious about Orthodoxy in 2005, I became so obsessed with it that I bought books, printed hundreds of website pages, went on forums, spent months–maybe a year–researching it heavily before visiting the local Orthodox church in November 2006.  My research filled a whole box when it became far too thick for its accordion file.

Related to perseveration and thoughts constantly replaying in the head:

Inability to get over it.
I blame the long term aspie memory for this. Many of my present actions are shaped by my past experiences. I find the past very difficult to let go of and it permeates into everything I do.

I’m terrified to let people near my stuff because of something that happened when I was in year 5 at school.  I’m difficult and resentful in certain situations at work because of a problem that happened four years ago (that everyone else has forgotten).

It’s even becoming something of a catchphrase of my wife’s; “Get over it!”. Of course, that’s just the point… I can’t. —Life With Asperger’s

One of the most effective coping mechanisms I employ is “conversation recording” where I attempt to remember an event in its entirety for later analysis.

In aspies with particularly well-developed coping mechanisms (typically, older aspies), event recording is virtually “second nature”. It often occurs without any conscious decision on our part.

When an event is “recorded”, a lot of things, particularly tone and body language which are not accessible at the time are retained.

The funny thing about this type of retention is that although a lot of input is captured, it usually isn’t available to me until I review the “recording”. Something I may not do until hours or days later – and often, unless I have a reason to do so, not at all.

I’m in the habit of reviewing “recordings” whenever I get an unexpected response from people or whenever I deem that a conversation is important and could be carrying more information than is immediately obvious. —Life With Asperger’s

Yep, I do that.

A lot of things come back to the aspie memory. Aspies often have very clear memories of events and quotations.

In conversation, they may drop a remark which links back to a particular memory but even if the NT was present at that event, it could have been years ago, or the particular part of the event to which the Aspie is referring may not form a large part of their memory. —Life With Asperger’s

There’s no doubt that vivid memories (trauma) are remembered both by animals and people. There’s also little doubt that these memories, both negative and positive affect our future actions.

Where I think the aspie differs is that key memories don’t necessarily need to be large or traumatic in order to be “vivid”.

“Can’t move on” is a phrase that is often associated with Aspergers. In fact, I’m sure it appears somewhere in the official criteria.

The inability to move on is due to a number of factors including; change resistance, routine, insecurity and memory.

Children with aspergers seem to take things in like sponges and retain them forever. They revisit those memories over and over again and after a time, even the smallest and least traumatic of them can become a major influence on their lives. —Life With Asperger’s

How can a having a good long-term memory be responsible for depression?

The key to understanding this is to approach it from the point of view of an NT [neurotypical, or “normal” brain].

Most of the time, it seems to me that detailed memories just aren’t available for NTs without external assistance. By external assistance, I mean the use of video cameras or photo albums.

In the movie One Hour Photo, Robin William’s character says, while looking at birthday snaps, “Nobody takes a picture of something they want to forget”. I think that this is particularly relevant to the issue because it means that NT’s tend only to remember the good things in any detail.

The Aspie however, with their long term memory often has perfect recall of past events and conversations. They will spend hours analyzing a conversation that occurred years ago and will often take negative feedback on board even if it was provided in the heat of the moment.

The long term memory of the Aspie therefore can be their worst enemy for dredging up guilt and other negative emotions.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not entirely where the lines are drawn between Asperger’s and Obsessive Compulsion. It is obvious that people can suffer from Obsessive Compulsion without having Asperger’s Syndrome but I’m not convinced that it works the other way around.

To be specific, I think that the Asperger’s condition carries with it certain obsessive compulsive influences which manifest themselves in different ways. —Life With Asperger’s

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