A business and technology journalist’s account of how revealing—and making peace with—painful secrets made her family whole.
As Hempel, a senior editor at large at LinkedIn, reports, her parents kept secrets that, though unspoken, “worked their way into the fabric of my being.” Those secrets—of her shy mother’s proximity to an alleged murderer of women and her deeply religious father’s closeted homosexuality—first manifested as terrifying childhood nightmares of bodily endangerment that continued into young adulthood. A therapist helped her banish the dreams by talking through her feelings, and Hempel embarked on a successful media career. However, by the time she reached 30, she could only feel a “big hole where I felt a family should be.” She had been living as a lesbian since college and had long been out to her parents. Yet it was that same openness about her sexuality that she believed triggered the implosion of her family, starting with her parents’ marriage. Her father pulled away from her mother to explore online gay relationships, while her mother fell into depression and had the first of several breakdowns. Her trans brother began experimenting with meticulous dance routines and limits on food intake to exercise control over a life that seemed to be falling apart. The author and her sister, Katje, became involved in a cultlike organization called World Works and then became estranged when Hempel left the organization. Slowly, they found their way back to a decent relationship, at which time Katje revealed she was bisexual. But it would take a worldwide pandemic and forced isolation from each other before all family members could finally reconnect and learn to fully accept each other. As she explores how her family healed from the secrets it kept, Hempel also offers provocative glimpses into the complexities of what it truly means to forgive and love.
A thoughtful, compelling, unique memoir.