I believe that secrets must be expressed to keep a family closer together. They may be painful to share, but I believe they will knit a family together in unison. This is what I want from my family: stories to share with future generations, as we are all connected by blood as well as history.
I have a large family with about ten aunts and uncles on both sides plus numerous cousins. I like to think that we are a close, fairly normal functioning, albeit eccentric group. There are the black sheep and the troublemakers, the “perfect one,” and the crazy uncle.
In Asian culture, addressing adults by their given name is impolite. So, in our family, aunts and uncles tend to be identified by birth order; thus, I have Eldest Aunt, Eldest Uncle, Aunt 2, Aunt 3, and so on and so forth. I did not think about our family’s interesting naming system until I was nine.
One night, I randomly decided to list all of my aunts and uncles on my mother’s side. It wasn’t until then that I realized I was missing Aunt 4 and Aunt 6. Furiously counting and recounting, I thought that I must have been mistaken, but I could not remember ever seeing them or hearing them mentioned.
Weeks later, after discussing these missing aunts with my older sister–who vaguely remembered Aunt 4 as a child, I confronted my mother. My mother told me –after side-stepping the subject for a few minutes–that Aunt 4 had died from second hand smoke: a lie obviously.
Family secrets breed suspicion, so I tried to find out more about my unknown aunt. Casual questioning of relatives only granted me a face in an old family group picture. I didn’t even know her name. Unsuccessful, I gave up.
It wasn’t until my grandfather had died when I was eleven that I found out more information about my aunt. A few months after his death, I went with my parents to visit graves. Aunt 2 was cleaning Aunt 4’s gravestone. I had always sensed something was odd about mother’s reason for her death, but as a good child, I didn’t pry.
A few years after, when I was chatting with some of my cousins about our intricate and crazy family, the real truth came out. Aunt 4 hadn’t died from second-hand smoke, but suicide.
Yet, even now, she seems a mystery to me, my fourth aunt. All of the lies and secrecy still sprout doubt in my mind about her. In such a close family, I wish I knew her, but memories of her are still locked in the mind of the previous generation where I don’t have the key. However, I hope that one day, my mother will share her secrets and her memories with me so that I too, can help keep her alive, the life of my secret aunt, Aunt 4.