We all have skeletons in our closets. They make us who we are. For everyone, there is some part of you that for whatever reason you choose not to share with the people around you, but yet, makes you who you are. Some defining history that created a turning point in your life on the path to who you were to become. I don’t know a single person for whom this isn’t true. It’s not like most people walk around sharing their past traumas with strangers on the street, or even with people they know well. How awkward would life be if we were forced to share our histories with people the minute we met them, like a grocery list of secrets?
Hi, I’m Cora. My father died when I was one, my sister died when I was 12, I was raised by a single parent alcoholic with serious mental health issues.
How exactly would that conversation end I wonder? Or how quickly?
Even though my skeletons are in check (all be it buried in the back of my closet), every once in a while something happens to shake them up and drag them out. There seem to be lots of things dragging them out of late.
Recently through the magic of Facebook I was reconnected with one of my sister’s childhood friends. She moved away a year or two before my sister’s world began spiraling out of control, one more victim in a family of mental illness. It occurred to me in an early message exchange that this woman had no idea my sister had been dead for 25 years and that I would be the one to tell her. She was in shock, like some important aspect of her childhood had been tarnished. It struck me how something so far in my history that no longer (rarely) impacts my daily life could so easily be thrust to the forefront once more. We reminisced about dance parties in the basement and other memories.
For me, my life is very clearly defined by befores and afters. Before my sister died, after my sister died. There aren’t that many people in my life on the daily who knew me BEFORE, and my recollections of before have largely been erased by the powerful skill of my brain surviving trauma. The before people are very important to me and so I was glad to reconnect with one more, even if it meant rehashing the past.
Last week my family was on vacation at Star Island, an island 10 miles off the coast of Portsmouth, NH owned by a corporation jointly managed by the Unitarian Universalist and United Congregationalist churches. This island is my favorite place on earth and I’ve made it clear that my ashes should be spread there when I die. I went there for the first time when I was 8 with my mother, sister, and close family friends. I returned in my 20s with two friends and have now gone back with my family. Life goes full circle sometimes. I have made friends from this place that are more important to me than some people I see in my daily life. To truly understand the gift that is this place you have to experience it, but once you do you’ll never forget. This year, the couple that I originally went out there with was also there. All meals are served family style and on more than one occasion we sat together. One particular morning I caught this woman (who functions like a godmother to me) staring at my girls. She said to me across the table “They’re beautiful” to which I responded “I know”. The look on her face changed slightly and I could see the tears in her eyes as she said “You father would be so proud of you and he would’ve loved them.”
Once again, I was struck by a before person reminding me of those skeletons. In a good way. I don’t think of my father often, I never knew him. He’s been dead for almost 37 years. I do occasionally think about him and wonder what he’d think of me. I’m grateful Carol shared what she was thinking in that moment. Before people’s opinions always rate higher for me.
Last night when Honey gasped and announced that Robin Williams had died I couldn’t comprehend it. Twice I told him he couldn’t be serious. There goes that powerful brain turning me off from bad news. Now that the news has sunk in I am deeply saddened. I feel like I did when I found out Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, but even more so. Robin Williams was a defining star of my generation. Dead Poet’s Society changed my world. As did Good Will Hunting, and so many other great films of his.
His death is a reminder to me that the occasional skeleton closet clean-out isn’t such a bad thing. Acknowledging that we have secret stories that define us is the first step in working to move past them. I am most saddened to know that the private Robin that was hidden from the rest of the world was never able to see the public Robin that was loved and admired by so many. As we remember him I hope that we can treat everyone around us with a little more compassion and a little more support. After all, each one of us is walking around with a defining history that might not be as neatly hung in the closet as we’d like it to be.