It was the Sunday before Christmas, and Sandy Bell-Fields went to her mom’s for a family dinner to celebrate. When she got there, it was like any other holiday. Her husband and three kids were with her, and her eldest son’s fiancée even came along. By all accounts, it was to be a happy occasion during the holiday season.

But after dinner, Sandy’s mom called her into her bedroom. Her mom sat down on the bed and had a pained look on her face. She told Sandy she had something to tell her. As she waited for the fateful words, Sandy’s mind raced from one possibility to another. Was she dying? Did something awful happen? What could it be? While it was probably only seconds, it seemed like forever.

And then her mom dropped the bombshell. “I need to tell you that you were adopted,” Sandy’s mom said to her. “I don’t want you to find out from a DNA test or from your brother telling you when I die.” Sandy was immediately overcome with a sharp mix of emotions. She had casually been talking about her interest in genealogy at the dinner table and her thoughts about getting a DNA test done, and that must have been what triggered the sudden disclosure.

She ran from the bedroom and began yelling to her husband and kids, “I’m ready to go! I don’t belong here!” As she passed through the dining room, she looked at her husband and said, “You didn’t marry a Bell, you married a Johnson!” And she ran out the door and to her car.

They all came out behind her and tried to hug and console her until she agreed to come back inside. But when she went in, she felt very awkward and uncomfortable, not even wanting to sit down. Thirty minutes went by, and that was it. They left for the night.

Sandy is 42 years old, and she had never suspected that she was adopted. Not even once. Her feelings are still very raw, and right now she feels like her whole life is a lie. The trust she had with her mom has been broken, and she is skeptical that she has been told everything there is to know about who she is.

As for her father, he passed away five years ago and took the secret to his grave. He is the one who handled all the logistics of the adoption, according to her mom, and there’s not much to go on in terms of finding out more than the basic information she has been told, which is very little.

Sandy is angry. She feels that she would have loved her parents just the same had they told her all along that she had been adopted. She thinks it was selfish for this secret to be kept from her for 42 years, and it has caused a great deal of tension in her home life. “It’s just not fair,” she told me in a recent conversation. But she’s afraid to talk to her mom much more about it because of how it might make her mom feel. And while she is still reeling from the painful emotions evoked by this secret having been kept from her, she still doesn’t want to hurt her mom.