The most terrible of family secrets are deep, dark, and long-held. They are a burden, a weight heavier than lead, bowing the backs of the aunties and grannies who all too often carry them, unspoken, to the grave.

We are still traveling, and spent the day with an elderly relative, a warm, kind woman who has seen and survived much in her many decades on this planet. I opened up to her about my months of depression, told her of the abuse I suffered at the hands of another family member, of my OCPD diagnosis, and the realization that it stems from my lovely-on-the-surface-but-dark-as-fuck-underneath childhood. The medication, the therapy, the long, difficult days – she now knows it all.

As she listened, tears filled her eyes.

“I have often thought I would like to see what this talk therapy is like,” she said. “There is so much I’ve never told anyone, and the older I get, the more it just wants to come out. I don’t know if I can hold it in much longer.”

I offered to help her find a therapist, offered to be an empathetic ear, and she suddenly blurted out, “I never told anyone because they wouldn’t have believed me, but my husband wasn’t a good man. He did horrible things to me. There, I’ve said it. You can tell your mother or not, but I’ve said it.”

“I believe you,” I told her, my heart aching as I realized just how many years she suffered before his death, how many years of silence were weighing on her frail shoulders. Her husband had been well-respected, a community leader, gregarious and charming – while she had always been the quiet, supportive wife. In the last year of his long illness, his overbearing ways had occasionally broken through his carefully arranged public shell; my husband and I both noticed sharp words and orders for his wife, something we’d never seen before.

And now it is out, that suffocating bit of darkness.

I hope this dear relative sleeps well tonight, knowing she is loved, she is believed, and she doesn’t have to carry this weight alone for the rest of her life.

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