Friday, October 7, 2011

It Hurts Me Too

When things go wrong,
go wrong with you
it hurts me too.

-- Tampa Red, and many other blues artists since

For many years, Joy's been slow to show us if she's feeling pain. I wrote about it at the end of 2008 in terms of high pain-tolerance. She used to pick up a whole handful of splinters without batting an eye, and back in '08 would let me dig them back out with minimal reaction. (By the time of the "handful of splinters" post in 2010, she was starting to object to such operations somewhat, though still not reacting obviously when the splinters went in.)

Things are changing on the pain-reactions front, though. Now when Joy gets a splinter, she grabs for me to show me right away. She cries more readily at pain, does a much better job of indicating where the "owie" is, and wants an adult to rub it / kiss it / make it better.

There's been a change in how Joy reacts to Rose's pain, as well.

Time was, Rose would burst out into tears, and Joy would have "inappropriate" reactions that would be difficult to process with everyone involved. Joy might try to swat Rose, or burst out laughing, neither of which were reactions that felt particularly supportive to her sister!

But earlier this week, we had three occasions in short succession on which Rose began to weep, and Joy responded by crying real tears as well.

Rachel Cohen-Rottenburg has been doing some wonderful work about empathy, founding the site Autism and Empathy and fighting the good fight against those who maintain that a lack of empathy is inherently a part of autism. I haven't been able to give the site the attention it deserves, nor the level of thoughtful comment, but I've been following along as I can. And I had to think of Rachel's work in context of what I'm seeing in these interactions between Rose and Joy.

"It hurts me too."

The sad occasion this week which caused Rose to weep so frequently was the passing of our bunny Ellie. Ellie has been our final remaining house-bunny since the death of her partner Phoebert a year ago January. Ellie was only a year or two younger than Phoebert, definitely an elderly bunny, and we had decided against getting her a new companion because we were ready to try a pet-free home. (Claiming back the space, the time spent on weekly box-and-enclosure cleaning, the food-and-litter expenses, etc.)

We actually thought we were going to lose Ellie 6 weeks ago, when she stopped eating her bunny-chow... but she was still willing to eat greens, and so we went with a hospice-style approach where we gave her all the greens she liked as long as it made her happy in her final days... and she perked back up! But she was definitely in decline, and things went so fast this past Sunday it became clear that this was really it. So Ellie and I made one final trip to the vet on Monday.

Rose & Joy both got to pet Ellie's remains. We had a burial in the back yard.

I'm less worried this time around about what Joy does or doesn't understand. She probably "gets" quite a lot more than we're tempted to think she does. I've been more concerned about Rose, who has been reading The Giver by Lois Lowry in school -- it's a dystopian novel about a would-be perfect society, in which one of the mechanisms for keeping things perfect is "releasing" imperfect infants and the infirm elderly by means of lethal injection. I was steeling myself for the conversation that connected Ellie's final injection to The Giver, and maybe even to Joy?! But I don't think the connection was made... which is something of a relief. Rose is growing up fast, but maybe it doesn't need to be that fast.

JoyDad and I have had rabbits in our home since 1994. Ellie's departure is the end of an era.

Good-bye, Ellie-bun. We miss you.



Suze said...

This made me weep a little, too. (In a good way)

AuntieS said...

It is interesting that Joy's outward expression and increase in sensing and responding to physical pain seems to go along with an increase in sensing and responding to emotional pain around her. And, maybe, it is also connected to the general increases in verbal responses and communication that you have experienced with Joy in this past year. Somehow, I imagine it is all inter-related in Joy's brain and body.
I'm sorry that Rose's sadness has provided an opportunity for Joy to demonstrate some empathy, but I hope that it helped Rose to feel that her sister was sharing in her sadness and pain.
I am sorry, too, for all of you, for the loss of Ellie. In my logical brain, I know that pets are just animals and not on the same level as our human family and friends. But, then, the emotional brain jumps in and insists that our pets are part of our family, and that they become important in our daily lives and routines and in our hearts. Hugs to all of you for the loss of your bunny who was family.

Anonymous said...

Rose and Joy, i'm sorry for the loss of your bunny. i'll never forget the day my beloved Thumper passed away.

just tonight Hope fell while getting out of the bathtub. she cried for about 5 minutes. rhema cried for her for an hour. it touches me so.

Anonymous said...

Your girls' emotional development, so well told, strikes a close cord with our past.

Sincere sympathy to your family.

I like our last bunny real well, but he was supposed to find another retirement home when our daughter went to college. The nest is not completely empty.