My 88-year-old great-aunt doesn’t want anyone to know she was pregnant when she got married.  She even had her son lie about his birth year growing up. She doesn’t want to be considered one of “those kind of girls.”  I look at this incredible shrinking woman, hunched over as she crosses the room in her walker.  The birth of her first child occurred over 65 years ago.  She and my great-uncle welcomed two additional children.  Yet, she still feels ashamed.  It’s her little secret and she wants it kept that way.

Some families have secrets on a larger scale.  I met a woman who, in researching her family tree, discovered an aunt she didn’t know existed.

She asked her mother, “Did you have a sister?”

“Oh, yes,” she shrugged.

“Well, you’ve never mentioned her,” she accused. 

She stared her mother down until she supplied an explanation.  “Sis” was a “Madam” who had Mob connections, angered the wrong person, and was gunned down in bed with a client.  The resulting scandal was such that the family erased her from existence. 

After an exhausting emotional discussion, it was agreed that her aunt be included in the family history book.  Her mother had struggled with years of inner conflict between family honor and loyalty to her sister, and the opportunity to discuss it with her daughter was cathartic and healing.  Their relationship has become much closer.

How do you decide what secrets should be revealed and what should not?  Discuss with the individual the potential results of revealing a secret:

  • Will it adversely affect someone still living?
  • Could it open communications within the family; offer a greater understanding of an individual’s subsequent life choices? 

“The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great-grandfather was a pirate.”

Have you learned about a family secret?  Do you think it should remain a secret or is appropriate to be included in a family history book?

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