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The Insulated Jar

My husband took his own life three weeks before Christmas, 1999-- four weeks before Y2K. He did it in the middle of a day that was, by all outward appearances, normal. He put his coffee mug and newspaper down on the kitchen table and, not waiting to finish the book he was reading, not waiting to move his laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, checked out.

When people ask me about it, I usually give a short answer: he was suffering from depression. Well, yes, but the depression had come on very suddenly, and it wasn't something he normally suffered from. No one saw it coming. Everyone who knew him was blown away.

His suicide wasn't a "cry for help"; there was no chance of failure. He did all of the classic things: he waited until my son and I left the house, wrote a note absolving us of any guilt, took off his glasses, went into a small uncarpeted room that our son never went into, closed the door, sat down on the floor, put the barrel of a shotgun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.

We had been together for 20 years, married for 18. I don't know a kind way to say this, but I had known for a long time that my husband was "emotionally handicapped". Because I had never heard of Asperger's Syndrome, I had no clue as to the cause.

Several years before my husband's death, while waiting for our son to come out of an orchestra rehearsal, I spent a few minutes reading over the shoulder of a mother who was doing graduate work in child development. What I read sounded like a description of my husband: uncomfortable interacting with others, reluctant to make eye-contact, adverse to change, stuck in routines. I asked her what she was reading, and she said it was a description of Asperger's Syndrome. When I asked "What's that?" she said it was a mild form of autism.

I dismissed it at the time; my knowledge of autism consisted of my having seen the movie "Rainman", and I knew that my husband, a successful and highly respected mathematician, was no Rainman. For years I tried to put my finger on just what, exactly, was wrong with him. A year or so after his death, I again ran across the words Asperger's Syndrome, on a message board, where a poster claimed to have AS, and blamed it for his being hyper-sensitive to noise.

Bells rang, whistles blew. My husband was so sensitive to noise that our son had grown up playing basketball with balloons because they were quieter than balls. I started to research AS online, and all the pieces fit. From my husband's addiction to routine-- eating the same sandwich for lunch every weekday for eight years, stacking his handkerchiefs and wearing his t-shirts in a certain order, to his need to control his environment-- insisting that the blinds in his study be open twenty-four hours a day, that everything on his desk be at right angles, to his inability to interact spontaneously with strangers-- he was an "Aspie".

When our son was two years old I had a terrible revelation: my God, I thought, Michael is more mature than Fred. And yet I knew that didn't really explain the situation, because to say that my husband was less mature than a two-year-old was to suggest that he was emotionally similar to a one-year-old, and that was nonsense.

Consider a profoundly retarded twelve-year-old. It might be said that this child has the developmental skills of a two-year-old, and yet, are they similar in any way? While they might know an equal number of vocabulary words and have an equal ability to count to five, they're nothing alike at all. Remembering my own son at two years of age, I recall standing in the kitchen while he sat on the floor and scribbled. He looked out the window and said What do you see? I pointed out some object, and he followed up with a barrage of questions. Before he knew the word Why he invented his own query by inverting Because. He said What is it for doing? What is it cause-be? And he didn't just want facts; he wanted aesthetic and moral judgements: Is it pretty? Do you like it? This is not the behavior of a profoundly retarded twelve-year-old.

My son lived for feedback at that age. Supposing he had gotten none? Might he then have appeared retarded at the age of twelve? I think so. I believe my husband suffered from an inability to register emotional feedback, and consequently he did not develop emotionally as a "normal" person does.

Some people believe that those with AS, or any form of autism, have no emotions. I and others who have lived with an Aspie know otherwise. Not only did my husband have emotions, he had a good sense of humor, although his sense of humor and mine were very different. It was the lack of feedback, not because it wasn't provided, but because it couldn't be absorbed, that retarded his emotional development.

What would cause a person to be unable to register emotional feedback? This brings me to a point at which a reader might well hit "back" on the browser, because it is based on my interpretation of the nature of life, of existence, if you will. I believe we are all part and parcel of a unified field of consciousness, call it the Mind of God if you're religious, or call it a spirit world. We are all, while encased in physical bodies, separated from one another spiritually as the air in a glass jar is separated from the air around it-- part of it, but unaware of it, or of the existence of it in other jars.

Ahh, but we're not unaware of each other, not really. Because the glass isn't insulated; when the air outside is warm, the air inside is warm; cold outside, cold inside. When we ask someone What's wrong? and they say Nothing, we know better. Through emotional feedback we learn to recognize facial expressions, to relate them to emotions. Because of feedback, we can interact on an emotional level.

I think one tragic symptom of AS is the inability to sense not just the emotions but the spiritual essense of others. This is said in various ways in descriptions I've read of AS: it's said that Aspies "lack empathy" or that they "don't believe others have minds of their own." These are descriptions of the symptom, but my own explanation grasps for the cause. While all of us are "psychic" to some extent, if being able to sense others is a psychic ability, there are those with more ability than others, and those with less. I believe that tragically, those with AS are "psychically blind"-- the jar is insulated.


This is very moving - very personal to me. My husband is very much like this in many ways, and I've just been studying Asperger's this year. Thank you for sharing this and helping open my eyes and comfort my soul. There is nothing he can do to change certain things, and nothing I can do either. But understanding on my part helps ME!

I am very sorry for your loss, and deeply moved by your quest to comprehend. You make such a good point when you say "the jar is insulated". May God bless you and your son.

Hi , I have only recently become aware of AS. I truly believe my soon to be ex husband has this condition. I relate to many things that you mention, the lack of emotional response and empathy can be so devastating. The constant routines and paranoia about change is very exhausting. My ex though, is an excellent Spiritual medium, and I do believe his (as yet and probably always will be ) undiagnosed AS is why he is so sensitive and able to contact the spirit world so easily.
Thankyou for posting this

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 7, 2003 1:11 PM.

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