Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Beautifully-Brief Life

On the afternoon of Saturday, June 4th, I had the chance to know a friend I had never met before.  Unfortunately, we finally became acquainted when it came time to perform a eulogy at his funeral.  I did not have a chance to know him or help when he needed the most support.

It is no secret in his community or on his mother’s blog that James Ryo Kiyan’s death was self-inflicted.  I did not press for specific details, but will only say that he went off into the woods in the Shenandoah Mountains.  If there is anything comforting to say about this situation…Ryo made this decision while surrounded by the beauty of nature.  He felt safe in a world unfettered by the misunderstandings and irrational fear that often comes from living on the autism spectrum.

I remarked in my eulogy that Ryo was a man who did not receive too many breaks during his brief life, but did the absolute best with his challenges.  There were plenty of unfortunate circumstances contributing toward his decision to give up forever and damage the souls of those who care about him.  But there was one in particular that probably did the worst damage.

Navigating the world with Asperger’s syndrome is like walking on eggshells laced with poison.  Those with the “mildest” form of the condition face the most severe challenges because people don’t identify them as having a disability.  Therefore, the uneducated often react with contempt and/or irrational fear.  It also does not help that these incredible individuals lack the awareness of social boundaries in almost every single environment.  It never gets easier.  And it never will get easier…ever.  The only thing that gets easier is the fear of consequences after having faced them again and again.  Or overanalyzing behavior to figure out how to give oneself a fighting chance.  I have learned how to “back off” in reasonable increments of time to walk the fine line of benign persistence and full-blown stalking.  In my opinion, I also have the right to send elaborate birthday cards to obscure acquaintances because I mean well.  But after a few terrible experiences I have started writing at the end of the card, “I have Asperger’s syndrome and sending cards to acquaintances is how I choose to communicate with people.  If this makes you uncomfortable then that is fine.  But I really have to hear it from you.”  I am unable to let go or change my flamboyant eccentricities.  I am able to compromise and occasionally compromise on the original compromise.  Maybe if Ryo had learned some of these strategies then he would have had more of a chance to survive.  We sat in those pews knowing it could have been different.

Ryo developed a strong infatuation with one of his attractive, single coworkers at the Sullivan County Division of Planning & Environmental Management.  They even spent time having lunch at an Inn and relaxed in her apartment.  Even with Asperger’s syndrome, Ryo probably understood this connection would probably not graduate to a romantic one.  But he wanted to hang on for dear life to the morsel of friendship that did exist.  The woman just wanted to keep things professional and the innocuous crush felt perturbing.

The inability to let go can function as both an invaluable asset and ultimate destructor.  In my eulogy, I mentioned, “When something was broken…Ryo wanted to fix it.”  He wanted to fix the misunderstandings and show the woman there was nothing to fear.  The harder he pushed…the more fiercely she pushed away.  Ryo also suffered from cancer, which drained whatever energy he had left.  His essence will live on in our crusade for mercy and common sense.

It pleases me that everyone enjoyed the eulogy and I had a wonderful day with his incredible family.  I hope this is the final eulogy I’ll ever have to give at this type of funeral.  Please check out the blog of Ryo’s mother, Caroline Crane via the link: I won’t let this go and neither should you as we dignify Ryo’s unfortunate choice with action.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Eulogy for James Ryo Kiyan – A Brilliant Man with Asperger’s Syndrome

Thank you ladies and gentlemen for allowing me to speak here today.  I have not delivered too many eulogies in my life and this one is probably going to be the hardest I’ll ever had to perform.  I did not have the privilege of knowing this incredible man who left our hearts and souls prematurely.  Our physical paths crossed too briefly when we both attended a barbeque last summer at the home of a mutual friend named, Kate Palmer.  But from learning about him through the blog entries of his mother, Caroline Crane, and seeing all the people who have come to honor him today…I desperately wish there was an opportunity to turn back the clock and reach out to him.  Especially if I had known the level of anguish he was battling.  I have heard enough wonderful things about him to speak at this service honoring his contributions, stunted potential, and friendships that were cultivated with all of you.   

Despite being blessed with the support of his incredible mother, Caroline Crane, many of you in he congregation, Ryo was someone who did not receive too many “breaks” in his life, but seemed to do the absolute best he could with his social challenges.  As most of you already know, these challenges revolved around an undiagnosed case of Asperger’s syndrome or mild autism.  Yet he persisted with the passion of an underdog in a constant search for mercy in a world that often treated him like a square peg grindings its way into a round hole.  A world that reacted with fear and ignorance when that was easier than giving him the benefit of the doubt.   But for most of his life, Ryo never gave up, which is one of the factors that probably exacerbated his misery.  When something was broken…he wanted to try and fix it.  When a misunderstanding occurred, he attempted to resolve it.  When there were unanswered questions…he fought for closure.  When someone was afraid of his benign eccentricities…he put all his energy into helping them absolve that fear.  His determined soul was not built for a society that often preferred to give up in favor of what is easiest.   

Ryo never stopped looking for a community to would show unconditional acceptance or at least differentiate between Asperger’s syndrome & malicious behavior.  Even if this meant moving across the country in search for a better life in Los Angeles, Ryo took these actions and more. Ryo was a survivor in both the metaphorical and literal sense of the word.  Even during the grueling, six month regimen of chemotherapy to treat his bout with colon cancer, he refused to give up on work and life.  As his mother, Caroline, wrote in a recent blog entry, Rather than be dependant, he asked the oncologist to go easy on whatever sedative they added to lessen the discomfort. He wanted to stay awake both for driving and for work. His fellow staff members knew he was being treated, but only one, who had been through it himself, really understood the physical and emotional toll.

There were several factors contributing to Ryo’s unfortunate choice, although it is not fair to blame specific individuals for his departure.  But what I do know is things could have, would have, and should have been resolved with a semblance of dialogue and additional compassion.  I will not let this go and hopefully you won’t either as we search for answers and most important…prevention of future tragedies.   Ryo is someone who I would have liked to know better and he could have made a profound difference in my life. The irrational fear and constant misunderstandings that plagued his life are something I can relate to because we share the same diagnosis.  I can also empathize with the feelings of profound helplessness and sometimes wanting to give up in the worst way possible.  Ryo is definitely a man I would have wanted in my life who could have offered hope during dark periods.  In return, I would have done my best to return the favor.  Let the Ryo’s of today and tomorrow know there is an entire congregation of individuals who care about them and will help them fight for ourselves.