Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Question Authority

(or anyone else who has the answer)

     My husband Michael was a hard hitting hippy—a Crested Butte (a small Colorado mountain town) living, free love professing, vegetarian. He had a full beard and long hair and lived out of his truck for a time. That was before I met him, and after he left Crested Butte.

     When we did meet, he had a full time job, neatly trimmed hair and beard, and the best blue eyes I’d ever seen. I thought he was beautiful.  He entertained me with adventures from his “early” days in Crested Butte, his spirit singing to the part of mine which longed to be whimsical and free.  But most of me was entrenched in middle class values, and a Protestant Work Ethic that would have made Martin Luther proud. Michael loved tofu, and I loved steak, but somehow our relationship was lovely and easy, and it worked.

     Michael drove a blue Toyota pickup, with a prism hanging on a string tied around his review mirror. He often burned incense in the cab of his truck to headache producing quantities, and there was a bumper sticker on the back of his truck (along with the Grateful Dead skull with top hat and dancing bears) which stated “Question Authority.”

     Although never a fan, the Grateful Dead stickers didn’t bother me. But the “Question Authority,” did not sing to my Middle America values.  I was raised to not question authority of any kind. Michael questioned everything. And I eventually learned that it is always better to know—to be informed—than to be clueless, left in the dark, ill-prepared for the inevitable. 

    Michael was an honest guy…so honest that at times his truths left my face blazing red. He had no sense of decorum whatsoever. The top of my embarrassment meter was often reached. He used to tell me, “if you don’t want to know the answer to the question, don’t ask the question,” (I never asked him if my rear end looked big in a certain outfit… didn’t want to know the answer to that question.).

     I weighed his words carefully—considered each consonant, rolled around each vowel on my tongue— and still do especially now, dealing with two teen-aged boys. As it turns out, I agree with the whole question authority thing. And believe me; I have heard answers I wished I would have never heard... and most of the time those answers are not coming from the teen agers.

     Michael’s last appointment with the Oncologist was something I will never forget. I could see that my husband was quickly declining, that the cancer was racing on at life taking speed. But Michael, always believing that he would beat this disease, did not want to accept that he was dying. I needed Michael to come to terms with his own decline. I needed him to break the denial, and recognize that he was not winning the battle with cancer. I needed him to tell our children that he was dying. 

      I questioned authority that day. I asked the doctor point blank if Michael was going to survive this cancer, if he was going to beat it. I did not want to know the answer to this question, and yet I had to ask it.  The answer was “no.”  The doctor then told Michael that he needed to go home and tell our children that he was not going to make it.  

     Michael’s father was with us for this appointment. I told them to go ahead and go to the car, as I needed to take care of something first. After they left the office, I found the doctor and asked him the next hard question—again a question I didn’t want to know the answer to—“How long does he have?” 

     Michael died a week later.

     If I hadn’t asked those hard questions, I would have never been prepared for his death. Our children would have not been told, thinking that their dad would be okay, and then feeling betrayed when he died. Because of the questions asked, we were prepared. We didn’t get the answers we wanted, but we had to hear the answers anyway.

     It is those questions, the ones whose answers you don’t want to hear, which could be the ones to save your life, or help your child, or take care of a parent. If we go into the future blinded by our own denial, or fearful of the answer, we may miss opportunities to be prepared, say good-bye, or get the information we need to make good informed decisions. 

     Survivors understand that asking the hard questions brings necessary information.  Survivors know that even though they may not want to know the answer, they still ask the question. Survivors realize that you don’t have to be a hard hitting hippy to “Question Authority.”