I feel like every family has them. Some may not call them dirty little secrets and are more open about it, but other families stop at no cost to keep it from other people. My family is kind of both: my grandparents, having been raised very traditional and Catholic, are of the mind that what happens in the family, stays in the family. One doesn’t talk about such things. My parents were not of that mindset. I think, therefore, that’s why I’m pretty open about talking about almost anything about my life and my past.
I think, especially WITHIN the family, that it’s important to be open and share, in terms of knowing who people are, what they struggle with etc. However, I think in our society, it’s looked down upon in a way. We are expected to be these perfect, accomplished, beautiful people and if you have something that might be “shameful” or “weird”, then sometimes you are shunned by people.
I remember finally being told something about my family. On my mom’s side, there was her (the youngest), my aunt (the next oldest) and my uncle (the oldest). My uncle died before I was born, so I never met him. I’d heard stories a bit here and there about him and my grandparents very much kept him alive that way. We would go and visit his grave, bringing flowers. Apparently when I was little, I would say, “Povero Zio Alan”(poor Uncle Alan), when we’d go and visit his grave (no doubt after having heard my grandma say it so many times).
I was told that my uncle had gotten into a car accident with one of his best friends, but his best friend had lived. Then one day, when I was about 8 years old, I started asking more questions. I think I wanted to see a picture of him and his best friend, and then I started asking things, probably like, “Who was driving? Where did it happen? How did it happen?” and the questions started building up so much that my grandparents stopped, looked at each other and said, “Should we tell her?”
And they did tell me. What they told me was that my uncle was sick. In his mind. That he had mental illness (they suspect, as it runs in the family) and that he was probably overwhelmed (and as I learned later, was struggling with a few inner demons of his own). So, at the age of 16, he decided to take his own life.
That kind of thing really affects a family, and while I wasn’t alive at the time, it affected how my mom, my aunt and my grandparents lived their lives moving forward. And the various emotions that they felt as a result of it. And how they didn’t talk about it. I can only imagine what it had been life.
Because, not only did he take his own life, he did it at home. With a shotgun. The story goes that one night, my grandpa asked him to go and pick up my grandma from work. He didn’t want to, but my grandpa got angry and insisted that he do it. So he did. Then he came home, went up to his room, took out his hunting shotgun that he’d snuck into the house (because my grandparents did not believe in guns and refused to have it in the house. It had been a gift from his godfather who he would hunt with). And shot himself in the head.
Everybody was home. They went up to his bedroom and saw him like that. I can only imagine what that was like. Because I had never met him and because I saw the pain that it caused my whole family after that, as a teenager onwards, I thought, What a selfish ass he was doing that. He was feeling pain and so he decided to “end” his pain, but then traumatized and caused a bunch of pain for those still alive.
Now, that goes into a whole other realm of political correctness etc, but in my opinion, I think that each person’s life is their own. I can also try on how much pain he might have been in and thinking that was the only way. However, the way in which he did it. At home, in front of everyone…it’s selfish. I know he may not have been in the right mind, but I think it’s selfish. However, I have not (thankfully) experienced life like that to the point that I would kill myself, so I don’t understand it personally.
What I do understand is how it tore my family apart. My aunt ran off with her boyfriend (who was quite abusive) at age 17, not telling my grandparents where she went. My mom had a much older boyfriend (she was 16, he was 24) and got pregnant (Hello me!) and proceeded to do many other things in her life that would be termed rebellious.
This is a family secret that was not talked about. In fact, the only reason I really knew was because I am so close to my grandparents. My cousins and my sisters found out bit by bit, over the years. My aunt actually never told my cousins, so they didn’t know for a really long time. Even now, when we talk about my uncle, my aunt tears up.
This is why I feel like it’s so important to be open, at least within the family. So that these secrets that some may feel are shameful, can be let out and let go.
We all have them to varying degrees, some more painful than others, but all a part of the human experience.
One day, I hope to write a book about my life and all of the intricacies and adventures. I may never publish it, but I feel like it would be therapeutic to let out and share with others about these experiences. May we support each other in this! xo