My last post (Disease of Secrets – Part One) I told you that my dad died from Tuberculosis. His exposure to TB came at the age of two, when his mother died of the dreaded disease when she was 30 years old. This is the secret my father is never told until years later…
My grandfather is left alone with my dad and dad’s older sister Dorothy who also becomes sick with the disease. Dorothy spends time in the Muirdale children’s sanitarium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with an active case of TB. My father’s disease lays dormant until he is 72, killing him before any of us knows what’s happened.
Life is difficult for grandpa after his wife dies, especially with two young children, one of which was sick. It is 1928 and the depressed economy makes job opportunities scarce, so he travels wherever the opportunities take him. His only option is leaving my dad with another relative, and getting back to visit his daughter in the hospital when possible.
Harriet enters into the picture at some point – a never married, childless woman willing to take on the role of wife and mother. The marriage reunites the family and the routine of everyday life makes the years pass by.
My father grows up within this poor, German – Irish, God-fearing family, and learns as many of his generation how to become a man – by denying his feelings. During adolescence he finds himself in fist fights with the other boys at school. Daily he is defending himself against bullies who chide him about his black, curly hair. “Curly” becomes his life-long nickname.
When he returns home after one of his many fights with a torn shirt, the principal calls their home. Harriet in an unplanned, moment of anger changes dad’s life forever. She tells him that she is NOT his mother and that his real mother died when he was two. Turning to his father for answers, none are given and the topic is never discussed again.
What happens when grief is complicated by secrets, when feelings are not expressed or voice given to pain? Often grief is turned inward and the pain is directed at oneself; coping mechanisms become drugs which seem to ease the pain. I believe my father chose to ease his emotional pain with alcohol and after years of abusing this powerful drug, the disease took hold of his body.
Grief experts talk about the need to identify your loss, to retell your story and to have a supportive network of others to help you through it. My dad didn’t get the chance to do any of that. I was 20 years old before I knew about my biological grandmother. My father was middle age before he and his sister discussed their mother(s); he died at 72 with many unanswered questions.
What are the secrets that YOU carry? Are they the root of your DIS-EASE?