The Secret

December 5, 2011
By , Cleveland, OH
There it was, the sentence that changed my life: “My name is Karen and I have Parkinson’s Disease.” This was the sentence that I accidentally read out of my mom’s journal, thinking it was my parents’ log of funny things my sisters and I would say when we were little kids. I remember reading the sentence, feeling flustered, confused, and overwhelmed. As I quickly ran downstairs, sobbing towards my mom who quietly calmed me down, I reveal to her what I had just read. “I didn’t want you to find out like this, honey,” she exclaimed. The two of us, my mom and I, stood there, she attempting to calm me down while at the same time trying to recover from her own shock of my discovery. It was the middle of December of my eighth grade year, and I was supposed to understand that my mom had been diagnosed that previous July for Parkinson’s Disease.

We sat down and talked about this secret she had been keeping from me, the rest of our friends and family, and why. She explained to me that the reason for her keeping this diagnosis a secret from everyone except for my dad and her best friend was due to her prominent role in our community as an OB/GYN and a Jewish Mohel. She explained to me that if the secret of her Parkinson’s diagnosis were to be revealed, that her job and our family, could be at risk. After my mom explained this concept to me as well as she could, she further explained that now that I knew this secret, I too would have to keep this secret.

As an upbeat, outgoing adolescent, my positive energy and spirit hit rock bottom because of the pressure of keeping the colossal secret of my mom’s diagnosis. Not only was this secret hard to keep from my sisters, I knew that once it came time to tell my middle school friends, they wouldn’t know how to handle it. To make matters worse, when I wasn’t struggling at school, I had to spend the rest of my time at home, where each family member, except for my dad and I, had no idea of my mom’s diagnosis. From December through March, I had to go through every single day holding this secret in for my mom’s sake. On days that I got into fights with either sister, which would happen often, I would just want to scream to her, “Mom has Parkinson’s! Bet you don’t want to yell at me for borrowing your shirt now, do ya?!”… But I couldn’t, and I didn’t have a choice but to wait for the day my parents decided to let our secret out.

Four months went by. Throughout these months, I hit a deeper rock bottom than I had before. I stopped focusing on my academics, got into fights with my close friends, and started to have this feeling of hatred towards my family for making me keep this secret. This came to a point that almost every night I would sneak alcohol from my basement and drink alone in my room. Being just thirteen years old, I couldn’t deal with all of this on my shoulders. Even when I tried to feel the way I used to feel before I was struck with this burden, I couldn’t bring myself to be that bright, cheery girl. The constant reminders of this secret – noticing my mom’s symptoms progress, hearing her cry in the middle of the night, having the topic of diseases become a discussion during class – all of it just crowding in on me more and more as the time went by. This hidden truth had seemed to surround my entire atmosphere, which I was trapped in what seemed to be, and could be forever.

By March of 2009, I had been invited by one of my good friends to join her on a trip to Florida over spring break for a week. This week was a time for me to get away, forget everything, and not be so worried about keeping this massive, hidden truth. However, the night after I got home, my parents, sisters, and I were eating dinner at the kitchen table. At one point, my mom makes very casual remark about her Parkinson’s. I quickly look at my sisters, Alena and Jana, who smirk at me and say, “yeah, we know.” With mixed emotions, I quickly respond, “What do you mean ‘you know’?” As I look over to my parents, who are smiling at me like they just lifted such a burden off my back, they respond, “We told them, Sarah! Great, huh?” But it wasn’t great. Far from great. Here I was, sitting at my kitchen table, shocked of what had just happened. I had waited, more like dreamed of, every single night, for four months, to be able to tell one person, to be able to get the burden of my mom’s diagnosis off my shoulders, and what? I come home to find out that my two sisters, the two people I’ve been struggling to keep the secret from the most, have known about my mom’s diagnosis for almost a week, and didn’t even have the nerve to acknowledge or sympathize with what I had gone through in the past few months. All they could give me was a “yeah, we know.” Although it took a while to realize, after a few weeks had past, it was evident that I would never be able to fully forgive my family, especially my mom, for what had just happened within that one hour.

It’s been three years since I found out about her diagnosis. Within these years, my mom decided to come out with her secret and tell the rest of the family, along with the rest of the community, including her patients and partners in her medical practice, whom all responded very graciously. Along with this, I gradually have been given permission to tell my close friends about my mom’s diagnosis. In addition, my parents have even created their own organization to raise money for Parkinson’s disease called “Shaking with Laughter”, for which they have raised over one-hundred thousand dollars.

This drastic change in our family’s situation may seem optimistic, but throughout these few years, my mother has become overly obsessed with talking about everything that happened: her diagnosis, her fundraisers, and most importantly, how strong she has been through all these years. Ever since her diagnosis, my mom is too oblivious to anything in her world unrelated to Parkinson’s, including the fact that I still contain a good deal of the same hatred towards her as I did during the time she forced me to keep her colossal secret. At certain times, I think to myself, “what’s the big deal? She doesn’t have cancer. She’s not dying! Her arm just tremors! If the secret’s out and her job is secured, why does she have to make such a big deal out of such a small thing?” But this thought never seem to reach past my head; for fear that I’m the only one who looks at the situation that way.

In some ways, I wish I could tell this all to my mom. Though, knowing that I never will, it’s hard to wonder whether I’ll ever get my old mom back, the one who wouldn’t forget about her own family for herself. But by this point, three years gone by, I can’t even remember the mom she was without Parkinson’s. I guess a funny way to put it is, until there’s a cure for Parkinson’s, there’s not a cure for her.

Now, I still hold the secret, not of my mom’s diagnosis, but of the aftermath. The secret of worrying what’s to come in the future, the secret of still blaming my family for my emotional damage, and the secret of how not having this as a secret anymore is slowly tearing myself apart from my family. And throughout these three years, I have come to the conclusion that sometimes the truth is more complicated than never telling a lie or revealing a secret about oneself. Sometimes, and especially in my case, the truth isn’t literally the revealed secret, but the reality of what comes with that secret.

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sarahsunshine said...
Dec. 16, 2011 at 11:50 am
this was a very nice piece and i bet that that was very hard for you to go through. i can relate because i had found out from my aunt when i was 10 that my father had diabetes and this scared me so thanks! keep writing because you're very good!(:
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