“When we were young, we were small, but we didn’t know it.” Lucy Shwartz
This is from the theme song by Lucy Shwartz for the TV show Parenthood. It was on for 6 seasons and just ended. I didn’t know about the show when it was on. I just found out about it recently and went on the hunt for it. I was able to see the 6 seasons on a combination of my Fire Stick, Netflix and On Demand. (All 6 seasons were available On Demand, but that requires one to watch commercials and I am not a fan of that activity!) They have also used the song Forever Young by Bob Dylan as the theme song.
The season 2 finale is called Hard Times Come No More. I would put this episode near the top of episodes which have had a lingering effect. One of the children has Asperger’s. Someone once said “Autism is no excuse for bad manners.” Likewise, that’s how I feel about a stroke.
In Hard Times Come Again No More there is a great example of the response of the child with Asperger’s. (His parent’s are his caregivers.) Intense emotional experiences are difficult for people with Autism/Asperger’s. This is very true when the emotional experience involves other people and is not related directly to the needs or desires of the person with Autism/Asperger’s. In this episode, Max (the child with Asperger’s) is unable to relate to the feelings his aunt is experiencing when his cousin is in the hospital after a car accident The disability in being able to connect with other people and to develop an understanding of how someone else might be feeling is difficult and at times even completely alienating. Dr. Roy Sanders says of one of his patients (and an avid “Star Trek” fan) told him that “having Autism/Asperger’s is like being a Vulcan living among Klingons.”
Many people generally get a feeling of connectedness, satisfaction, and comfort when sharing in intensely emotional situations – especially those involving grief and/or death. For people with Autism/Asperger’s, they just don’t get those same positive feelings that reinforce the interaction. In fact, a person with Autism/Asperger’s will usually find encounters with others who are sharing feelings and comforting one another to be confusing and even frightening. The whole process simply makes little sense to them and there is certainly nothing that is pleasant or reinforcing about the situation. Trying to get a person with Autism/Asperger’s to understand and empathize is to reach the very core of their disability: social and emotional connectedness is the very thing that they are unable to do, or at least not able to do very well. Teaching empathy to someone with Autism/Asperger’s is almost like teaching a pig to sing – it is a waste of time and annoys the pig (at least most of the time).
This was not meant to be an Autism/Asperger’s summary but rather to enlighten us all about something. I notice in that episode, Max’s father explains why he needs to be empathetic with his aunt about his cousin’s situation. My take on all this is that we can learn empathy. I was taught this as a child and Matt has this as a priority also. That has not changed with the stroke. It was important to me before the stroke. If anything, I am more empathetic after the stroke. The source of my stroke was an AVM which I had at birth.
I’ll see if I can explain sympathy and empathy. One accepted definition has sympathy denoting feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune and empathy denoting the ability to understand and share the feelings of another (having shared the same or a similar experience). Here’s an example of sympathy and empathy which has to do with sports/ML Baseball. When a player of a team gets hurt, they go on the Disabled List for a number of days. While I don’t wish an injury on any body, when it is a rival team, I am not sympathetic. (I know that’s heartless!) The team usually goes to their farm (training) system and calls up a player who can help the team somehow to fill in that spot on the roster. It’s not necessarily a replacement. I don’t know if any of us can be replaced. I have empathy for the team and all they need to decide in their effort. I like a good competition.
I’ll briefly detail why I loved the show Parenthood. Each TV show I watch provides a unique learning experience or a reason why I watch. It’s a boo-boo show and I usually cry at each episode. This is a good thing, as it gives me an excuse to cry. I said before they use two different theme songs during the course of the show. Any body or show that features a Bob Dylan song has to be pretty good. There are four generations portrayed in the show. This is an important part for me as you see the interactions between family members. Again it points to the fact how we are a part of something. I’ve talked about how I love Ray Romano. He plays a very different character in this series. I really wanted to see him in another role. I learned heaps about Autism/Asperger’s watching the show. The family loves baseball and has a closing scene which takes place on a baseball field! This is fitting since baseball is important to the family and one of the first scenes is about a baseball game. Parenthood is/was a great show! They had a great take on families and had several clichés.
That being said, there are ways that people can learn empathy. (Matt and I both think empathy can be taught.) In that season 2 finale of Parenthood the father explains to the son who has Asperger’s why empathy is important. We can “learn the rules” for how someone should act in an emotional situation. It’s not just caregivers or survivors, we are all ambassadors of good manners! As I’ve said before, it brings other things to light other than the stroke. Like everything else, one of the keys is persistence. I’ve been blessed to have a caregiver and partner like Matt, who loves and supports me. I have good cognition, a pretty good memory and an awesome partner.
One of my favorite lines from that episode (puts things in perspective) … “Boo Freaking Hoo”! Another title of an episode that I really like is “Put Yourself Out There”. I think that puts it all together. Here’s a great story about empathy and putting yourself out there. Matt has relayed this to me that when I was in ICU, my visitors were limited to “family”. When a friend heard this he said “I’m her brother” and he was let in. I love this concept because we often get hung up and only do what we think is right. In this case, he stretched the truth a little, but not much as we have new rules for family (and he definitely fits in that category!) I think this is great and a perfect way to show empathy. I describe empathy as maybe not having had that happen to us but we feel the pain. Most people (fortunately) have not had a stroke but wish to show their love and support. We feel the pain. That’s exactly what he did in this situation. I’ve said before my mother put together a wonderful book for me of all the cards and good wishes I received when I first had the stroke. Most of the time I was in a comma and couldn’t appreciate it, but years later (today), I see it and love it!
Do you remember Song of Long Ago by Carole King where the lyrics include this? “Cry, cry for someone, who just can’t be happy, and be glad you can feel enough to cry.”
Glad I can feel enough to cry