Behind a cut because there is some discussion of violence, though the situation is not ongoing.
I was wondering if you could suggest some scripts on how to breach a delicate and unusual topic with my mom.
My dad was murdered, with me as a witness, when I was a small kid. I’m in peace with his actual death now, but what still bugs me is that I never got explanations. Why, what happened to the killer and his identity, what was my dad’s relation to him, et cetera. All I know is that it was premeditated and that there is a lot that I haven’t been told. It’s been over a decade now.
I think this lack of communication wasn’t on purpose, but I can’t help the curiosity that shows up every once in a while. It won’t crush me if I don’t get the full story, but I think I’d wonder forever. It’s like a permanent unsolved mystery, and honestly, it also feels a bit unfair to be kept in the dark for so long. I don’t think that me having these questions is something that occurs to my mom, though. Besides, I love her, but feelings talk is just not a thing between us.
I’ve tried to start the talk subtly during Father’s day, for example, but the responses were vague and we quickly changed topics. It was also extremely awkward, and there’s no other family members that I can ask.
I’m also afraid that by suddenly dropping my barrage of questions, I’ll bring back her bad memories and wounds, or that there’s stuff that she doesn’t want me to know, maybe to preserve my ‘memory’ of him as a good man (something that I have doubts about sometimes) or some other unknown reason. Since the few things that I do know about his death came from snooping as a kid (things like overhearing adults and their conversations), I’m also not sure if I should pretend that I know even less than I actually do.
So… how can I bring this up? Should I try to find a perfect moment for it? Does that even exist? If she doesn’t want to tell me, is there another way to find out? I don’t think I can play detective. Do I even have a “right” to know this stuff or am I butting in? Should I try to let it go?
Thank you for listening!
Not Sherlock Holmes
Dear Not Sherlock Holmes:
How could you not be curious to know the full story of your dad – who he was, what really happened that day – now that you are older and have some distance from those events? And how could your mom not want to protect you from all of it to the best of her ability? This is a conflict where nobody is wrong and everybody loves everybody.
I don’t think a perfect moment for difficult conversations like this exists, but I wonder if you could make the request in the form of a letter.
“Dear Mom, It’s time for me to know the truth about Dad. I want to know what he was like when you met him and how things were between you then. I want to understand what happened to him in the end. I think it’s time for me to know the whole story of who he was.
I know you don’t like to talk about him, and I know you’ve done everything in your power to protect me from the violence and pain of that time and to preserve my memory of him. I have been afraid to ask you about Dad because I don’t want to cause you more pain, and I have been trying to find a way to do this without dredging up memories that you might rather forget. But this mystery is pulling at me, and I think it’s time that I knew the story and had a way to put my memories of that day into context. You are an amazing mother and I am so grateful that you are my mom and my fierce protector, and I think I understand why you have held back from telling me before now. Will you sit with me, one time, and tell the story once and for all, so that we can both put it to rest?”
Your mom may need some time to think about it, she may want to tell you in the form of a letter, she may still say ‘no.’ I hope she will say yes, and that the two of you will spend a day with old photo albums from good times and a frank discussion of bad times and at least eleven of the biggest hugs in the world. If she says no, I hope you can forgive her; she’s still trying to protect you the best way she can. I think you do have a right to know the story, so if she tries to get you to promise that you’ll stop asking or looking, don’t give that promise. “Mama, I can’t promise that. I was a child then; I’m an adult now. If you’re trying to protect me or us from something, I want to know what it is, so I can protect myself and us, too. If you’re worried that the truth will tarnish my memory of Dad, how can anything be worse than watching him be killed and not knowing why?”
There are no doubt some public records of what happened, and other ways to seek out the information if you find you still need to (though you have your whole life to decide if you need to). For example, does your mom have friends who could tell you the story in her stead? If you do decide to dig, I recommend having a friend along for that journey, to read things for you and ask questions and hold your hand.