Oprah Winfrey announced today that she has a younger sister, something she had only become aware of within the past few months. It was a family secret that only her mother and cousin knew. Wow.
I have some experience with family secrets and discovering a younger sibling. I was fifteen when I learned I had a younger brother. My father had a son with another woman. It wasn’t as exclusive a secret in my family as it was in Oprah’s. My mother knew and so did several other family members. I was the only one left in the dark.
Like Oprah, I finally met my sibling and hopefully, like my brother and me, she will develop a bond with her sister.
I’m not writing this to show a type of kinship with a celebrity or elicit compassion, empathy or understanding. I’m certainly not writing it to air my family’s dirty laundry. I am writing this for one reason and one reason only – to call a time-out on major family secrets.
Every family has its secrets, those things that the elders only whisper among themselves and will carry to their graves. I don’t believe children have the right to know everything. Some things are best kept in the past. Some things. Not a child.
One’s life is turned inside out upon learning of a secret sibling. For me, there was a sense of betrayal on two fronts – the first is obvious, that of my father to my mother and then to me by both parents for their failure to tell me. There was also a sense of loss on two fronts – my life, my world, as I knew it would never be the same plus I had been cheated of precious moments with my brother. And I was angry but honestly didn’t understand why and at whom. Was it the betrayal? The loss? My parents? The kid? Luckily, my anger subsided and my relationship with my parents went on as usual. I’ve had many years since then to think about it and now understand and accept the many layers at play in my own family drama.
My brother and I eventually met and forged a beautiful relationship. Was it easy? Of course not, situations of this nature are rarely easy when emotions are involved. It won’t be easy for Oprah and her sister either, but it’s possible. One thing in their favor is their maturity. They are able to understand things at a level that is impossible when you are a teen or young adult.
If you are currently harboring such a secret, please confess it to your loved ones. Get past your feelings of (fill in the blank) and let your family know. It will be a burden lifted from your shoulders plus your family deserves to know it’s true history and genealogy. Your intentions in the beginning may have been to spare hurt feelings but the longer you hold on to it the harder it will be to explain when the truth comes out. The truth will come out. Let your family hear it from you.