Should family secret be shared with those it affects?

Q. My 90-year-old mom died recently, and right before she died she told us that her deceased sister had had a baby out of wedlock when she was a teen. I had my DNA tested, and I looked into this. Sure enough, I found my new first cousin.

My question is: Should I tell my three cousins that they have a half-sister? My husband says no, because my aunt took the secret to her grave for a reason and he thinks it will change their opinion of their mother. But I think that if I had a half-sibling, I would sure like to know about it.

What do you think I should do?



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A. Your aunt took this secret to her grave. Your mother took this secret almost to her grave. Why don’t you speed up the trajectory and take this secret now to its rightful holders: your cousins?

Family secrets are so insidious; please don’t perpetuate this. Even though there has been a stigma attached to teen pregnancy (certainly in your aunt’s generation), please, don’t attach shame to this. Your aunt went through a rough experience. You could assume that she paid dearly for it.

Yes, this will change your cousins’ opinion of their mother, but, quite possibly, in a positive way. Knowing the truth should deepen their compassion for her. It may also answer some lingering questions they have had.

You cannot predict how your cousins will react. You should move forward with the understanding that you do not have the right to hold onto a secret that affects them, possibly in profound ways. You need only ask yourself how you would feel if other family members knew something so large and important about your mother’s life, and failed to tell you.


Q. My husband of 29 years recently died after a long illness.

“Marlene” has been my friend for almost 40 years. I called her to tell her about my husband’s death, and she offered me no words of sympathy. After that call — and to this day — she has not called, texted, e-mailed, or sent a condolence card. I have been blessed with a group of friends who are kind and have been very supportive during my bereavement. Marlene is the only one who has not.

I feel like telling her off in an e-mail, but I really have no interest in continuing a friendship with her. Should I just let it go?


A. I’m very sorry for your loss.


Yes, you should let this go. The best way for you to let it go, however, might be to express yourself in an e-mail. Your motivation should not be to punish “Marlene,” but to tell her how you feel. She may respond by apologizing, by becoming defensive, or by blaming you for some ancient slight or a time of inattention that you have long forgotten. She might not respond at all.

Illness and bereavement are huge life challenges that can sometimes offer insight and clarity in their wake. Among other large life lessons, when you’ve suffered a great loss, you do learn who your friends are.

Q. “Worried Aunt” wrote to you about refusing to be a part of her niece’s life as long as her niece stayed with her violently abusive partner. I have been a prosecutor handling domestic violence cases for over 15 years. I have encountered many, many family members and close friends of abuse victims.

You urged “Worried” not to let her anger at the abuser cause her to cut off her relationship with her niece and the niece’s infant child. I could not agree more. It is extremely important for concerned family members or friends of a person ensnared in an abusive relationship to maintain a loving, supportive connection with the victim.

They should make clear that they do not support the abuser or the relationship, but that they will be there for the victim, no matter what.

To do otherwise plays directly into the abuser’s hands. One of the main goals of abusers is to isolate and separate their victims from outside sources of love and support, in order to better control and dominate, putting them at greater risk.

“Worried” should remain an ongoing source of love and support for her niece, which in turn will give the niece a lifeboat if/when she chooses to extricate herself from the relationship.


A. Thank you so much for sharing your valuable insight.

Amy Dickinson can be reached at