"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.
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!