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Questions that should not be asked

November 8th, 2005 · 7 Comments

In The Relationship Chronicles: Pondering THE QUESTION, Jory Des Jardins described what happens to her and her boyfriend when they attend weddings.

Clearly all of them were quite different, though all of the ones b-friend and I were able to attend together were very similar for one reason–the Question. The question every unmarried couple who’s in their late 20s or 30s and been together at least a year hears at a wedding: So, when is YOUR day?

We no longer get embarrassed hearing this question, but we still haven’t figured out any decent answers.

Questions, questions. I remember going to weddings with Ted’s friends from college and getting asked THE QUESTION. Of course, the next question after marriage is When are you having children?

People mean well when they ask these questions. At least I think so. Perhaps they are curious. Perhaps they have their own questions and hope your answers will enlighten them as they make choices in their own lives. Perhaps they think they know you well enough to tread on tender territory. I try to extend grace to these inquisitors.

But if I learned anything from our time of infertility, it was that some questions should not be asked. Such as, when are you having kids? Or as someone said to me, incredulous (I paraphrase) why haven’t you had kids yet? Or the related one: when is your baby due, as poor Jen heard recently?

Even though I’ve gotten accustomed to awkward and rude questions, I was shocked to discover that people ask parents of Down Syndrome children whether or not they knew about their babies difference (see Patricia Bauer’s op-ed piece found via Sam Crane via 11D). What is the implication? Why ask such a question? To emphasize that the parents should have chosen to terminate the pregnancy instead? To imply that the child is less valuable? Questions about possible marriage or pregnancy plans, as uncomfortable as they are, can’t compare to the severity of this one.

One of my brothers was developmentally disabled. Years ago he was labelled “mentally retarded”. So I have an acute sensitivity to those who are different. I treasured Patricia Bauer’s piece. And Sam Crane’s post, written as the parent of a disabled child.

The question, then, is: how do we expand society’s vision and understanding of disability, how do we undermine the tragedy narrative and replace it with a common humanity narrative that encourages a wider social acceptance of and (this is crucial) support for disabled people? It is not so much a problem of absolutely forbidding abortion of disabled fetuses, as it is creating a society in which disability is so warmly accepted and sustained that parents would see any child, disabled or not, as a loving, and loved, member of the family.

My brother died a few years ago after suffering from his third brain tumor. His first tumor, and its effects, gave him his disabilities. He had a hard life. I remember after the fittings for the tuxedos for our wedding, he asked my mom when he would get married. Hard questions he asked of life.

Yet I miss him. He made all our lives different. But we are better people because he was alive. My college professor didn’t believe me when I said I had never thought of the possibility that my brother could have been aborted. His life, although different, was incredibly precious, perhaps even more valuable, because he barely survived his first tumor. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without my disabled brother. He shaped all of us. I wish he was still here to be with my children. I’m grateful he was here. If you ask me a question, ask me why I miss him.

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7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Julie // Nov 8, 2005 at 1:09 pm

    just checking that my comments work

  • 2 Andy Georges // Nov 9, 2005 at 4:26 am

    Very good thoughts. People should be more thoughtful. But mostly it’s only after something befalls those close to you, you ponder about which questions to ask and which not.

    I totally agree with your pov on your brothers life. Life is precious.

  • 3 Tamar // Nov 10, 2005 at 3:08 am

    The mind boggles at such insensitivity. I should imagine that discomfort or ignorance are some of the reasons for it. Mostly *we* ask questions pertaining to our own life experiences, because even if we think we have walked in some one else’s shoes we can never know what *they* feel like. We can only imagine what *we* feel like.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about your brother.

    A beautiful post.

  • 4 Bob V // Nov 11, 2005 at 5:44 am

    I have been told that there is a gender difference on who asks rude questions. Do you think this might be possible?

    Some women who have observed me having conversations say that I am overly sensitive to asking sensitive questions. For example, if someone who is meeting us calls to say he is late, I presume that he would tell us why if he is comfortable telling us why. One woman was puzzled when I did not specifically ask him. Of course, this is a much more trivial situation than the ones you address.

  • 5 Katy // Nov 12, 2005 at 3:10 pm

    Sometimes we don’t realize we are being insensitive until we’ve gone through the same thing. I learned what not to say after I had a miscarriage.

  • 6 Sam // Nov 14, 2005 at 9:41 am

    I often wonder what life would be like if Aidan died. It is hard to imagine: he is so central to so much in my life. But your post helps me remember that, even if he were not physically present, he would still be an unalterable part of my self. Thanks for your thoughts.

  • 7 Julie // Nov 16, 2005 at 2:02 am

    Thanks Andy, Tamar, Bob, Katy and Sam!
    Thanks for all your encouragement,Andy.
    Thanks, Tamar for your truth.
    Thanks too, Katy, for showing me my own insensitivity.
    No, Bob, I don’t think there is a gender difference, at least not in my experience.
    Thanks, Sam, for all you share.

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