Sunday, January 09, 2011

Letting in the Light

We sang "This Little Light of Mine" in church today, and the theme of the sermon was stories. How the stories of our lives make us who we are, how they can help us learn about ourselves, how we can puzzle out their meaning as we tell and re-tell them.

This weekend has been revelatory. I am learning new stories, and I hope in the telling I can somehow begin to make sense of it all.

The relative I wrote about recently continues to be unwell. The secret she hid for so many years has taken its toll and she has lost all quality of life.

Inspired by that, and perhaps looking for further reasons or basic information another family began digging in papers supplied by the ill woman in healthier times. Papers she distributed to the entire extended family with genealogical information, including a copy of her father W's death certificate.

I had seen W's death certificate before. She sent it to me with the same packet, probably 10 years ago.

I hadn't realized it, but he died in a mental hospital in the 1950s. A contributing cause of death was "psychosis." Could it have been Alzheimer's Disease before it was recognized as a disease and not a normal part of aging? He was in the institution for almost 4 years before death. What and who put him there?

None of this has ever been discussed before. The stigma of mental illness, the shame of abuse, the desire to move away from it all and begin fresh -- these must have been the motivations of all involved.

But the perception now, today, in the age of full disclosure and navel-gazing, is that keeping the secrets was wrong. Some people in the family feel betrayed. They wonder why even simple acknowledgments and explanations were not given; why didn't they tell me SOMETHING?

I can't know the reasons, the symptoms, the fear or anguish. Everyone who could shed light on the story is dead or mentally incapacitated.

But this I know for sure: the stories will not die with me. I am opening the closet door and letting the full sun shine on them. The stories of my family's past does not have to define its future. We can acknowledge that our family, like so many others, has had trials and tribulations. We can talk about the pain and suffering of so many people, trying to keep painful secrets locked up. We can have sympathy for the suffering they endured, even the suffering that was self-induced because of fear or ignorance or who knows what.

Today, I shine my light on my whole family. I call upon all those involved with this to face the demons of the past in a fearless manner. The past cannot hurt us unless we fail to acknowledge the lessons that were supposed to be learned.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post. I think we all have skeletons in our ancestry closets and it is wonderful to open up and be honest with our family, especially our kids. I know your questions, as well as mine, may never be answered while we are alive, and I admit I am not a patient person, but it is nice to dream of resolution. May peace shine upon you and your family.