We took our grandsons to a Memorial Day Service to honor those who have fought to defend freedom and democracy for this country where a Navy man who entered the service at 17 to fight in WWII was honored. I was touched by his vulnerability as he acknowledged that although he had not been physically wounded, he had been “mentally wounded”. For many years he refused to talk about the horrors he witnessed when his ship was torpedoed at the battle of Guadalcanal. Once he began to share his experience, it had helped him heal and he no longer felt mentally wounded. I found myself wondering what impact his hidden pain and sorrow had on his relationships.
I thought about my father who also served on a Navy destroyer in WWII, and never spoke about his experience. Unfortunately, he died when I was a young adult and I hadn’t had the foresight to ask questions about that time in his life. I can only imagine the depth of pain and sorrow he could not share.
I recently connected this silent suffering with my grandmother whose story I am currently chronicling as historical fiction. It is fiction, because she too, never shared her humiliation and pain with our family. She found out at his death, that the man she loved, who had fathered her five children, had been married and never divorced. Her marriage, therefore, was not legal and her children were illegitimate. She lived with this secret humiliation the rest of her life.
Many families have untold secrets which hide pain, sorrow and humiliation. These stories are often the missing chapters in understanding our family traditions, history and psychological wounding that is passed from one generation to the next. The patterns of stoic silence and unshared emotion are often passed from parent to child and become unexplained secrets and misunderstood barriers to intimacy and closeness even in the best of adult relationships.
Entering our mid-life transition, what we refer to as our “3rd Act”, often calls for what Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot calls a “journey home” in her book, The Third Chapter. “Going home” metaphorically offers an opportunity for a life review, a journey back to our childhood, youth and adulthood past when we can confront guilt, hurt or remorse. It is a process that allows us to go back in our lives, to uncover and bring to light the old wounds or family secrets that hide sadness or humiliation.
At mid-life, we are entering a time of change as we complete primary parenting responsibilities, slow down our climb up the career ladder and begin to ease into a slower pace. This time of transition can be disrupting to the familiar habits in our relationships, and our partners, holding different visions of what they want, may start off on a divergent path. This is also an opportunity to find new vigor and vitality, and to move beyond the secret hurts and sadness locked up in our past. Our 3rd Act coaching and group sessions, emphasize the importance of doing life planning, including a life review, as a process to support both individuals and couples in creating a vibrant and rewarding life for their next stage.
In my own 3rd Act, I recently began discussing a book with my partner by Roberta Taylor and Dorian Mintzer, The Couple’s Retirement Puzzle . The authors emphasize the importance of communication in the process of planning for retirement and The 3rd Act. If we are to create a shared vision of our future time together, it is important that we communicate our individual hopes and dreams about our future. Perhaps, in this process, we will find there are buried emotions that we need to express, or perhaps just sharing this process of creating our joint future together will bring us closer and enable us to support each other creating an exciting and meaningful 3rd Act.
How have you dealt with family secrets? Or your own hidden pain and sadness?