Studying the family tree

We can all benefit from studying our family trees. Once we have an accurate picture of where we come from, much of our life struggles make sense. Too often we are told only of the characters who reflect well on the family. Erasing the troubled and the weak only confuses us. If we don’t have the truth, we cannot come to a conclusion that makes sense of our lives.

In a recent Globe and Mail, Sarah Hampson interviews James FitzGerald the author of a new memoir. She describes him as belonging to high-WASP culture. In What Disturbs our Blood: A Son’s Quest to Redeem the Past, the author explores the psychology of his father and grandfather who both committed suicide at the height of their careers as successful medical pioneers. “In my family if you become successful you end up crazy or dead,” says the author.

The shameful secret of the suicides was something no one in the family would discuss. Fitzgerald had to work hard to get the story. He describes himself as a “traitor to his class” setting about to reveal the inner working of high-WASP culture.

“Learning the truth made him feel as though he wasn’t crazy himself. He could finally come to terms with the complexity of his childhood,” says Hampson.

“His two sibling have been supportive of the work. The telling of the story has helped them too,” says Hampson. (The Globe and Mail, Monday July 5, 2010.)

Does that sound familiar? Only when we understand our own family history and what we experienced in childhood can we be compassionate with our bewildering and embarrassing failures in life.

The truth sets us free.

What do you think? Is it always best to know the truth about our families? Or is it sometimes better not to dig up skeletons in the closet?

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