Life Advice



Ask Amy: Family should explore legacy of trauma

Amy Dickinson, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Amy: I am the oldest of 13 first cousins on one side of the family. Many of these cousins are considerably younger than I (up to 21 years younger), and grew up many miles away from the extended family. As a result, these cousins are not privy to a lot of family history that I learned from the time I was quite young.

Now, two of these younger cousins have approached me to "fill in the blanks" for them.

My younger cousins do not know that in the early years of the Depression, my parent and two young siblings were abandoned by their father when their mother became gravely ill.

My parent was placed with an uncle and his family who provided a loving home. The second sibling was put up for adoption and was adopted by a couple who sexually abused the child and ultimately returned the child to “the system.”

There was a subsequent non-family placement that lasted until that child reached the age of majority.

The third child was placed with a family in the community, where that child was beaten and presumably also sexually abused.


When the authorities learned of this, the child was removed from the home and placed with a family member.

The consequences of this upbringing were quite devastating. Although all three married and had children, one sibling eventually committed suicide. The other periodically abandoned their own family for weeks at a time.

I do believe that some of my older cousins know what happened because they were old enough to be aware of what was going on in their own families.

I am torn about how to respond. Part of me says, “Family secrets are not healthy, and people have a right to know.” Another part of me says, “This is not your story to tell.”


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