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Keeping Secrets

by Linda J. Austin

When we love someone we naturally want to protect them from harm. I learned from my parents that this is not always a good thing.

I was eighteen when my brother was killed in Vietnam. I had graduated from highschool, had a secretarial postion at Georgia Tech and was sharing a small apartment with another woman. I had only been on my own for a short time and when dad asked me to come home I moved back into my old room. I also quit my job.

After the funeral, my sister went back to school, mom and dad went to work. I was left in an empty house of memories. One day a box arrived in the mail my brother's personal effects. Inside was the tape recorder mom sent - thinking it would be easier for him to talk to her on tape because he did not write letters very often. He never sent any tapes home. I pressed the on button. My brother spoke.

I called dad at work. He said, "Linda don't say a word about this to your mother. It will only upset her." I knew he loved mom. I also knew the death of their firstborn, the only son, devastated them both. I did not agree with dad. Butch was my best friend and we had a part of him - his voice - a voice we had not heard in a year. Mom should hear this. I honored my dad's wishes.

Dad arrived home early, took the tape player into his bedroom, closed the door. Mom arrived home at the usual time, she seemed more her old self. I felt guilty.

A few days later I overheard mom screaming at dad - something that never happened in our house. "How could you not tell me? What else have you not told me? What other secrets are you keeping?"

All dad's good intentions wrapped up in role responsibilities of protecting those you love, backfired. Dad could see that mom was on emotional overload, we all could. He made the assumption that mom could not handle hearing the voice of their dead son.

Neil Fiore states this very well, "Out of a sense of duty and a desire to potect a loved one, a vicious cycle of misinterpretation, guesswork, silence and isolation is initiated."

Communication and honesty are so difficult at emotional times. We cannot protect others, they are the only experts on their reality.

If you are faced with a similar situation simply say, "I have some information that may be important to you and it may also upset you. Do you want to talk about it right now?"

We can help each other, we can support each other through emotional times as long as we communicate.


Linda J. Austin writes from experience as a nursing assistance and a family caregiver. "When I was assigned my first hospice case, I found my place in life." Retired from several careers, Linda is studying creative art therapy.