When you hear the word “secret,” what thoughts come to mind? Is your first reaction one of excitement? Perhaps someone is planning a surprise party, a special guest is coming for a visit or your best friend is going to elope. For some, the word conjures up bad images. They become nervous, scared, almost paralyzed.
Are you carrying the weight of a family secret? Should every secret be revealed? I don’t know if anyone has the answer. For certain, keeping a secret can be difficult. It takes a lot of willpower and determination not to tell. I wish there was a magic formula to let one know when it’s right to keep a secret and when to tell.
Many of us live with secrets that haunt us. They keep us awake at night or cause us to wake in a trembling cold sweat, worrying someone will find out. While some secrets are funny or involve embarrassing moments, others can be heartbreaking and painful.
The truth is, secrets can hold us captive. Only a few are brave enough to bring them to light and shed the feelings of guilt or embarrassment. Is it possible our imagination is our greatest enemy? When the secret finally comes out, it’s likely not to be as bad as you feared. The kicker is that the very fact it was kept secret gives it more power than it deserves.
A good friend recently shared a wonderful story with me. Ellie Jones talked about a huge secret her parents had kept from her and the rest of the family. I believe Ellie’s story is just one of many where a long-held family secret results in more regret and sadness than the secret itself. Yet, her story shows how a dreaded secret can, in reality, bring much happiness when the shroud of darkness is lifted.
It wasn’t a secret Ellie’s dad, Henry, was married for a very short time before he met Ellie’s mom, Carrie. Ellie’s parents were married 42 years before Henry died in 1997. For 36 of those years, Henry and Carrie kept a closely guarded secret from everyone, including their five children (one son later died at the age of 12 due to an injury).
What secret is so powerful it can cause lips to be sealed for more than three decades? Henry had fathered a son shortly before he and his first wife divorced.
When their divorce was final, Henry left and had no idea his ex-wife was pregnant. It was a secret she kept until their son Clay was 14 years old! It was then she called Henry and told him the secret she had been keeping from him.
One can only speculate about the range of emotions Henry must have felt. He was always a private person and didn’t share his personal feelings very well, according to his daughter. When his children questioned him about his life in general, he remained vague. There was only one person with whom he shared confidences – his second wife, Carrie.
Henry confided in Carrie about the phone call. There was one caveat: Carrie must never tell their children about Clay until Henry was dead. Though it hurt Carrie deeply to keep the secret, she remained faithful to the promise she made to her husband. It wasn’t until Henry was in a coma on his deathbed did she tell their grown children about their older half brother.
“Life is short…we’ve wasted a lot of time not having this brother in our lives,” Ellie said. “Things might have been different with all of us. I’m sure Daddy had a reason why he didn’t want us to know about Clay – one we’ll never know.”
Perhaps Henry was a product of his generation.
It has been 13 years since Henry died and Ellie and her siblings were told about Clay. For all those years, Ellie’s brother Joseph had been searching for him. The only lead he had was that Clay was somewhere in Ohio. Joseph didn’t give up. He explored every avenue he knew to locate their brother.
Ultimately, when Joseph searched the popular social networking site Facebook, he discovered Clay’s son. From that point, as they say, the rest is history.
Once Clay had a chance to digest the monumental secret also kept from him for 57 years, the stage was set for a family reunion. On Dec. 3, Clay walked into Joseph’s home in Atlanta and into his brothers’ and sisters’ hearts.
All of Henry’s children are deliriously happy to be together, according to Ellie.
“With our first hug, we knew without a doubt Clay was definitely (one of us), his resemblance to Daddy was remarkable,” Ellie said. “I cannot begin to explain in words the emotions we felt. We had a web cam set up for our sisters in Texas so they could be a part of the reunion. For the longest time, we just sat there in amazement staring at each other.
“It’s a wonderful feeling to say, ‘I have a big brother!’ I just love that.”
As someone once said, “Everyone has the right to his own secret garden.” However, now might be the time to reflect on the changes we want to make in our lives. Perhaps make a New Year’s resolution to take a closer look at the skeletons in our closet or old secrets that should be dispelled, or resolve to tighten the chain we have around our “garden of secrets.”
In fact, I believe the bottom line on telling the truth is a variation of the well-known prayer: Give me the strength to say what must be said, to be silent about what is better left unsaid and give me the wisdom to recognize the difference.
Editor’s note: Those interviewed for this column wished to remain anonymous, so the names that follow have been changed.
Hiers was born and raised in Richmond Hill. She can be reached at email@example.com.