Sunday, May 6, 2012

Spilling the Family Secrets

After my mom died, I started writing a book about caring for her through her earlier depression and then as she succumbed to the cancer mercilessly thriving within her.  It took me ten years to write which, even by my perfectionist standards, was a tad on the lengthy side. 

I did wonder why it took me so long to write.  Sure, I had the usual (okay, the excessive) disclaimers but maybe there was something else that hindered my ability to finally call it “done.”

This book was something I was bursting to write.  I hoped the experiences I shared of growing up with a depressed mom and (most likely) bipolar father would help others in similar situations. (Having a brother with epilepsy didn’t even seem not “normal” to me).

As a family, we kept these things to ourselves and took care of the inevitable problems that resulted from these challenges ourselves. 

Then I wrote a book . . .

Both Mom and Dad had died when I published the book.  Dad knew I was working on it and assumed he would figure prominently and even joked about some of his most outrageous antics that should be included. He had started to read a few things I had written before he died but was always either effusive with the encouragement or indifferent.  (Dad never experienced what it was like in the middle of the road – always to one extreme or other). 

In the back of my mind, I was concerned about hurting his feelings with the book.  I was also very aware of how Mom would feel about it if she were still alive.  (I can see how this stops people from writing memoirs!).  I knew the book was written with love but didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.  Growing up in a family concerned with appearances, this was a huge struggle for me. 

There isn’t forgiveness in the book but only because there is nothing for me to forgive.  We went through suicide attempts (Mom) and 3-day mental health holds (both Mom and Dad) but they had always tried their best so why would I have to forgive them?  There was nothing to forgive.  What we experienced was just part of what happened in our family, without malice, and I knew we all loved each other.  Forgiveness was an unnecessary part of the experience. 

I quieted my internal disclaimers and my concerns about hurting anyone’s feelings and hesitancy to spill the family secrets. 

I took a deep breath and published the book.

Then people started buying the book. Friends, acquaintances and extended family. 

Oh crap.  The extended family.

What would they think?  I loved my extended family and would never do anything to hurt them.  How would they feel about me opening the basement and letting everyone see what was down there? 

I don’t know for sure yet.  I did receive a very heartfelt letter from a couple members of my extended family. They both read the book and shared with me some tragic parts of their lives that I hadn’t known about.  I was honored they shared their own childhood experiences with me and hope sharing those experiences helped them in some way. 

Everyone has a story to tell and I like to listen to these stories.  My intent in telling my own story was to tell it with love and understanding and to let others know they are not alone with their family secrets – no matter what those secrets are.  What happened in my own family is nothing compared to what others have experienced but we all have something. 

Since publishing Forever a Caregiver, I’ve heard from many people who have said my book helped them realize they were not alone because they had similar childhoods.  They’ve told me this book that took me years to not only write but find the courage to actually publish, has helped them process their own experiences. 

These responses and those from my immediate and extended family make this ten year investment completely worth it. 

If you have a story (or family secret) to share, I would love to listen.  Acknowledging these experiences and sharing them can take away the hold they may still have on you. 

If you’d like your own copy of Forever a Caregiver, please visit here

4 comments:

Heidi Alberti & Atticus Uncensored said...

I've read your incredible memoir and I have to say that it takes real courage to write about "secrets". I've told you in person how much your book touched me and why. And maybe I'm still hiding behind "secrets" because I don't want to disclose why your book held such resonance for me :)

Maybe someday I'll be as brave as you are, Trish! Kudos on a fine accomplishment!!

Heidi (& Atticus)

robert's sister said...

Thank you, Heidi. There's nothing wrong with wanting to keep things private and wanting to share in your own time. After 10 years, it was just my time to share. :-)

bill austin howe said...

This hits close to home dear Trish. I am writing a book, ever so slowly, about my brother, Phil. I so understand the process now. It is hard to write about unpleasant things, whether the participants are living or not. I LOVE your book and I LOVE you!!!

bill austin howe

robert's sister said...

Bill, How wonderful you are writing a book about your brother! It will be difficult but I can't wait to read it. You can do it! Thanks so much for your support and "PR" efforts on behalf of my book. You're the best!