(Spoiler alert: family secrets exposed.)
Even if you aren’t a writer you know, don’t you, that writers frequently write about secrets? They may couch them in terms or characters that are unrecognizable to family members who also know those secrets but more often than not those secrets are kept out of public sight for any number of reasons: respect or fear or love, who knows?
But there are also writers who expose family secrets because the simple act of telling diminishes the power that the secret has over them.
I have just such a secret, in fact, two of them. I want to share the secrets with you so that their power no longer holds me down on the mat as though I’ve been pinned by a larger, wilier opponent.
They are secrets that many of you might share in your family circumstances but maybe it doesn’t trip you up the same way it does me. If you hold these same secrets, please share how you’ve managed to deal with them. For me, they feel like stab wounds that need to be cleaned and dressed.
My knowledge of the secrets only goes back a few years although other family members were privy to them for a much longer period of time. Makes sense, right? They were keeping the secrets and because I didn’t know they held the perspective they did, I wasn’t aware that the secrets were about me.
If you’ve read most any Blog entry from my website https://seeingthroughtheguru.com, you’ll know that my father died several years ago. And, as they say, “All hell broke loose” after his death.
His death exposed the depth of the secrets kept in my family.
I’m going to hone in on two such secrets. Maybe that will start an avalanche of “truth telling” or maybe it will allow just enough of the pressure out of the bag to ease the pain that secrets hold as though a component of their very DNA.
Secrets are like noxious gas that builds in a pipe that has no outlet for release. They’re toxic and I wonder if they don’t hold their keepers prisoner as much as the person whom the secrets are about.
Allow me to set the scene. I’m seated in my parents Ford F-150 truck in the passenger seat on I-25 traveling from Colorado to Arizona. In the truck with me are two of my siblings, a brother and a sister, in addition to my Mom, who has just experienced the death of her husband a few days previous.
The trip is long, nearly a twelve-hour drive. All of us are exhausted. It’s been long days of making family decisions regarding the funeral and the body and discussing who’s going to take care of what, who’s going where from here, and who’s going to be responsible for Mom. This is all new information for me as my parents were rather closed mouthed about these decisions while my father was still alive.
Or, so I thought.
Willingly my parents shared their last will with all of their children. All four of us suspected that we would be jointly responsible for the care of either parent who was left in the death wake of the other. We also knew that upon the death of both parents any assets would be divided equally between us. But we weren’t there yet; one parent was still alive and very much needed immediate family intervention.
What none of us could have known with any certainty, although there was suspicion while my father was still alive, was that Mom had Alzheimer’s Disease—another secret that my parents kept just between themselves. Once the monolith called “Pop”, i.e. my father, passed away, the progression of her disease was immediately front and center stage.
Within days, we knew that Mom was not able to care for herself. It was more than grief; it was a fundamental loss of memory and confusion about where Pop was, about what day it was; and about what she was going to do. She continued to listen for Pop coming down the stairs in their home long after any “formal” grieving had come to an end.
On that long drive home we spoke of many things, including the best way to go about caring for Mom with the finances my father had provided. I noticed during the conversation that my sister and I shared the same level of information; I noticed my brother did not. In fact, he was noticeably quiet. For a brother who likes to talk, his reserve stood out in the truck’s cab like the proverbial elephant in a stuffy room.
The secret didn’t become apparent until I’d returned to Hawaii a week later. I was on the phone with my brother discussing issues regarding Mom’s care while he was temporarily caring for Mom in her home. I was pushing my brother for details as to why he’d spoken with an attorney. Weren’t all of us involved in the decisions for Mom’s care? What did his ‘attorney-friend’ have to say?
“Jess, I didn’t tell you this while you were in Arizona but before Pop died, in fact, two years ago, he asked me to oversee Mom’s finances should he die first. I’ll be making the decisions for her care.”
Stunned, I demanded, “Why? Why didn’t you tell us this during the five days we were together?”
“I didn’t tell you because I was afraid of your response. I admit I wasn’t honest with you.”
No shit. So that elephant WAS in the cab of the truck on the drive home.
“And you’ve gone ahead and made decisions regarding the will that place you in the driver’s seat? How did you think we would feel about that?”
The control in my voice was fragile given how angry I was at my brother for going behind my back and legalizing himself as executor of the will. He had taken Mom to an attorney to sign the new will—all with no communication with any of his siblings.
“Jess, you’re a bully and always have been. Look! I can’t even talk to you without you trying to get your way.”
The word “bully” might as well have been a fist making contact with my cheekbone.
Suddenly, I was no longer a woman with nearly six decades of life under her belt but a six-year-old little girl fighting for a voice in a family with four children whom were themselves vying for attention from a depressed mother and an absentee father doing what he knew to do to financially support his family.
I felt small and powerless, ignored and overridden. Exactly how my brother intended for me to feel!
The secrets were out: my parents excluded me in plans for their care should one of them die first and my siblings still viewed me as a six year old bully (my brother confirmed that my sister felt the same way).
The majority of my family members didn’t have enough confidence in me to help make end of life decisions for Mom. I hadn’t known the extent of my sibling’s distrust and dislike of me until the boil no longer held and the secrets oozed out.
Now I knew.
Family secrets are oh-so-hurtful! But once they’re out in the open healing is possible, standing at an open door, waiting to be invited in.
My task? Not to despise them in return. Not easy, I must say. Can’t claim I’ve been able to do that wholeheartedly. How do I turn the other cheek? I try, knowing that new decisions need to be made in regards to my siblings. New decisions include no longer trying to hold together family ties, allowing my brother to make decisions for Mom without challenging him, and writing here so that I can release those dangerous fumes that come from family held secrets.
How do you deal with your family secrets?