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.

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