10 November, 2008

The Elephant in the Room aka Family Secrets

"Let's get the health issues off the table so we can talk about more happy things.”


This is how my cousin started our dinner conversation Friday night.  Five kids, her husband and I sat around a corner table preparing for a fun meal and a little reunion.  Of my mom's family, we are the two on the East Coast - she is in CT while I am here.


There are family issues at the moment.  There are often family health issues as our small family ages.  Every family has a health issue now and again. Right?


In my family, issues are treated a bit differently than most in that they are secrets.


My cousin's aunt had breast cancer about 10 years ago; but, she found out about it only after the treatments were completed.  The rest of the family knew, but her parents didn't tell her because she was traveling and couldn't do anything anyway.


Another cousin is pregnant with twins and has now been assigned to stay in the hospital through the last months of her pregnancy after two scares.  I found out about it the day following the first scare while my cousin found out about it The afternoon before our dinner.  “I know that there is nothing I can do in person.” She said, “But I could call or send something.”


There were more health revelations.  There were frustrations.  There were comments about the desire to know when someone is doing well or not doing well simply because we care and we are family.


When my dad discovered his cancer, he and my mom told everyone immediately.  This cancer was not going to be the elephant in the room.  It is something with which we all live.  And the thoughts and well wishes and prayers don't hurt much either.  But for most of our family, her side more than mine, issues of all sorts are secrets.  They are the issues that might "cause worry" or dampen the spirits.  They are the issues that "you can't do anything anyway" so they are not told.


I have never understood this idea.  If it is negative, in the slightest, than it is not to be mentioned.  If it is anything but happy news everything is "hushed" so we all walk on eggshells wondering who knows and who doesn't; wondering with whom we can speak freely and with whom we can't.  It boggles the mind.  Our family get togethers are interesting, to say the least.  Everyone is aware of the elephant in the room but no one mentions it.  We all walk around pretending it isn't there.


My cousin's uncle had his foot amputated a week or two ago due to diabetes.  Again, I knew when it happened, no one told her until Friday afternoon - until everything was fine and happy and he was scheduled to go home.


"I can send you e-mail when I hear anything."  I told her and her husband as we sat at the table.

"Would you?”

"Most definitely.”


Had I known no one was telling her anything, I would have anyway.  As the black sheep, I can get away with spilling the beans or sharing their secrets.  When I was in college I informed my cousin that her grandfather had been married twice - his second wife being the one we all know and love.  I didn't know she didn't know about this.  We were in our 20's after all, and it appears right there in the family Bible.  It is public record.  But wow, did my mom hear about my revelation!  “She needs to keep her mouth shut” is what my mom was told.


Secrets... I remember going home for Christmas when the Diva was one and overhearing my grandmother informing her table mates that I did not allow the Diva's dad to share custody because I was afraid he would take her. 


Talk about stunned!!  I would happily share custody.  I do nothing at all to stand in the way of their relationship - he would tell you I stand in the way because I am overzealous in that they should have one!!  And that, dear friends, is NOT and has never been a secret.


People look at my family and see a normal set of weird people - but they don't know just how weird we are!  We hide health issues, pretend that anything negative just doesn't happen to us, and we make things up rather than ask the person in question. 


(And people wonder why I am such a stickler for honesty in my house!)


So I am now e-mailing my cousin with every piece of family news I hear.  I am sharing everything in the hopes that the two of us - the two girls with kids - the two on the East Coast can stick together and keep the lines of communication open.  We are the future of the family... and I foresee a lack of secrets.  Neither of us believes that that elephant in the room should exist or go unnoticed if it does!




sparklingsinglemama said...

My mom is guilty of the same thing. She frequently will withhold information about different health issues that members of our family are having as to not worry me. The problem is that I know she does this so now I worry about what I should be worrying about!

I feel your frustration!

T said...

Wow!! Isn't it funny how family handles things? And they've ALWAYS done it that way so why change?!?

My father's family is Sicilian so we are full of revenge and vendetta. I'm the only one who will get with everyone involved and ask the obvious, "Are you FREAKIN' kidding me?!?!?" Ugh! My grandfather is probably going to die soon but he'd rather die than speak with the only living sibling he has. I don't get it.

Yep, its up to us to break those nasty habits/traditions. I'm right there with ya!

dadshouse said...

it's interesting what some families feel is private to the person, private to the family, and public. My mom's side is Scandanavian, and guards information like crazy, but always wants to know!

justrun said...

That must be very tough, to always wonder if something is going on.
Good for you and your cousin for wanting and working to change that practice for the next generations. Even if it's private for them, it doesn't have to be that way in your life.

cathouse teri said...

I hate that elephant thing.

I agree. When there's something to know, it should not be held back. For any reason. (Well... okay, there is a rare reason, but that is not the rule.)

The Exception said...

Ah families - what to do with them!! I am glad my cousin and I are on the same page! (Now if we can get the rest to fall into line)