Uncovering Your Parents’ Secrets—and Finding Peace

She spent a lifetime waging war with the memory of her parents. Then Anya Yurchyshyn uncovered secrets that helped her broker peace.

Puzzle pieces uncover peaceful butterfly

By Anya Yurchyshyn

When my mother, Anita, died, I felt relieved. I was 32, and I’d had the same reaction when my father, George, passed away 16 years earlier. Their deaths—my mother’s from alcoholism, my father’s from a car accident in Ukraine—were ugly. And I welcomed them.

My parents were intellectuals whose careers allowed them to travel the world, but that’s not how I experienced them. My father was cold and verbally abusive; my mother failed to protect me from his rage, even when she was sober. Tenderness between them was in short supply—they barely seemed to like each other. I saw myself as a casualty of their abundant flaws: My low self-esteem was the result of my father’s violent temper; my anxiety, the product of my mother’s addiction.

But while cleaning out her filthy, cramped house, I found something that sent goose bumps across my limbs: a collection of fiery, vulnerable love letters my parents exchanged during their early courtship and marriage, when work separated them. My father had written, “Whenever I leave you…there is an emptiness inside me, a true aching of the heart.” In another, my mother rhapsodized, “Our love is wondrous; it has a life almost of its own.” I read their words in shock.

After that, I made it my mission to understand who they truly were. I crisscrossed America in my car to speak with family members in their kitchens. I met one of my mother’s old boyfriends in a Pennsylvania diner and my father’s coworkers in plush hotel bars.

Read rest of article