I have a secret to share. I grew up in a house of secrets.
My parents were of the Holocaust generation. My mom had her share of trials — on the run from the Nazis since she was just six years old. Much of her experiences of that time she did not wish to share. Her other experiences she buried deep inside and was unable to easily tap into. Whenever I spoke with my mom about that period in her life, I would get confused accounts and lots of tears.
My father was a young man when the WWII reached the USSR. He was recruited to the Russian military to help fight the war, and was mostly secretive about his past.
Growing up in Israel, much of the Holocaust generation’s personal past was veiled by those who went through the horrors. Their well-intended intention was to protect their offspring from the traumas they experienced. It is only in the past couple of decades, as the Holocaust generation is slowly passing away, that efforts were made to interview and preserve that past for the benefit of future generations. The passing years soften some of the survivors who were willing to go on camera and record what they still remembered. But when I was growing up in Israel, the past was still a matter not to be discussed.
In my parents’ house, secrecy was taken a step further. Especially after my father passed away, which happened when I was fifteen and my two older brothers were already living elsewhere. For example, when my mom would fall ill, she would insist that I would not to share this information with others, not even with my brothers, so “not to worry them.”
Serving as a submariner in the Israeli navy, the mindset of segregating information and keeping secrecy was further drilled into me. My older brother served in the Intelligence wing of the Israeli military and for him secrecy was even a greater given.
Over the years I didn’t give this matter of keeping secrets a great deal of thought. It was natural to me not to share with most people, including those close to me, about my health and other circumstances. My motto, which I’ve learned from my mom, was — why burden others with information they can do nothing about? Even with the closest person to me, my wife, I would segregate information with the intent of protecting her. I recall a specific situation: she was away, visiting Israel on her own. I was home in the USA, experiencing sudden chest pain. When I was hospitalized, I didn’t wish for her to know as I knew she would not be able to sleep. Why worry her when she can do nothing about it from afar?
I would try my best not to tell straight-out lies, but the fine line between holding off on information and lying was, more than I wished for it to be, a grey one.
Very few people originally knew that my wife and I were going through seven long and exhausting years of repeated infertility treatments; a time that was very challenging for us. Just a handful of people knew that I had a stent put by my heart when I was in my early-mid forties (a result of a defected gene in our family). And even fewer people knew that I was misdiagnosed in my late forties with an aggressive form of testicular cancer and had to endure the related ramifications.
Sharing such information was, in my mind’s eye, a form of vulnerability. At the time — thirties and forties, I was running multiple businesses and wished to appear powerful. Disclosure of such information, it seemed to me at the time, would have put that image people had of me, in jeopardy.
Luckily I was blessed with a wife that is the opposite of me in several ways; sharing being one of them. While over the years our differences caused friction between us, I realize, more in recent years than prior, that my life-partner is there for a reason – to challenge my behavior patterns and thus allow me to grow. Friction goes hand in hand with that process. It is not that everything she says is right, but it puts in question what I take for a fact.
I am also fortunate these past few years, to walk on a spiritual path that teaches me to never rest; always inquire, be challenged, observe my resistance to change, listen, learn and modify old patterns.
These days my middle brother in Israel is facing a major health challenge. He is hospitalized and goes through his trials. My mom is not aware of the severity of his situation. Both my brothers and their families keep that information away from her. She is under the impression that his hospital stay is due to milder circumstances. My mom is in her late 80s, still has a sound mind but a frail body. The concern my older brother expressed to me is that in disclosing the truth to her, she may try to get to the hospital on her own. My mom is a hardheaded woman who refuses to have helpers. If she loses her balance while en-route and falls, which recently happened resulting in a fractured hip, it may be the end of her. In short, the way my brother presented the situation to me is that if I disclose any such information to my mom, it is as if I would be handing her a death warrant. It may sound melodramatic to some, but the thing is that I am pretty sure my brother really believes it. I decided not to play the role of the whistle-blower. I respect the decision of both my brothers even if I feel it is misguided and stems from old patterns. I live in the USA and they reside in Israel, close to her. Thus I accept that by making a choice to live oversea, my decisions should be taking into consideration the ramifications to my brothers. Round and about, my mom is not online. If you know her and you are reading this, please do not pass this information along.
At this point in my life, this is what I came to understand:
That keeping secrets, especially in the long run, hurts intimacy and creates distrust. Yes, there are plenty of reasons, some justified, as to why one should not be sharing every small detail of our lives. Social media prove this daily as, no, I don’t need to know what you just ate for breakfast, nor do I care when you last visited to the toilets… I am also not an advocate of blasting your ex on Facebook or making public disclosures about your annual earnings. But when it comes to information relating directly to our close relationships, I am learning that hiding it from people I care for, and whom care for me, has ramifications. I am learning to let go of old patterns and invite new ones that better serve me in my growth.
Photo credits: Kristina Flour on Unsplash
I agree with you regarding health secrets. Deciding for others that they can’t handle the bad news is paternalistic.
You didn’t mention other kinds of secrets, though.
For instence, secrets in married couples’ life.
I think that in healthy relationship, one should respect the need of his/her spouse for some privacy and secrets.
You are right that I didn’t touch on other aspects. The trigger for me to write the post was related to the situation with my brother and so I stayed focused on the health topic.
The topic you bring up, of secrets in a marriage, is another big one and may require its own post… 🙂
Great post 🙂
Synergy. Fascinating. I pray for your brother… And, oh So much more.