I have often heard you are as sick as your secrets. When I was growing up, not a whole lot was shared about family members…..living or dead. My mother especially was close lipped about her family of origin. A very small family, I only knew her brother/my uncle. He didn’t live in the same city, but he would visit twice a year always with a child-like demeanor. I adored him. Maybe it was because he was so engaging. Full of life and fun. What I didn’t know was that wasn’t the true story.
When he passed away, I was nine. It was the first time that grief had invaded my tranquil and uneventful childhood. I was devastated. No one would talk about how he died. Of course, I knew he had been quite ill, but the details were not shared with me. My mother – stoic in times of crisis – brushed past her grief, settled his estate, and he was never really talked about again.
It wasn’t until decades later that would I learn the truth. She shared that my uncle was never the same after World War II. That he isolated. When he was here, he was needy looking to my mother for his care. She became the older sibling. When he got ill, my mother knew that he was going to die. And when, she received his certificate, she had the cause of death changed. The original cause was alcoholism. It was erased because that outcome was too uncomfortable to face. Denial was a much easier pill to swallow.
And while I am still gathering the pieces that one day might complete my puzzle, I was not surprised by the revelation. Alcoholism runs deep in my family of origin. Our family tree blooms with the secrets of the past and whispers in the breeze. It was too shameful for her to admit that both her mother and brother were casualties of addiction. While the elephant in the room has grown smaller, I gather that I won’t ever know all the details of my family history. Sometimes not knowing is more painful than having all the information….at least from this vantage point.
In my current family status, our secrets have become our victories. Our humanness isn’t clouded by vague or missing pieces. I often think of how lonely it must be to stuff one’s soul with secrets. To paint a landscape that only resides in a fairy tale. We can lie to ourselves to ease the pain, but then we become as sick as our secrets.