Writing gets this ‘stuff’ out of my head. It also helps me to process what I’m feeling and forces me to acknowledge it. It makes me accountable for my emotions.

I started watching Dead to Me, this brilliant, I want to cry, now I’m laughing, show when it first came out. They had me with the scene of Karen dropping off her ‘take on Mexican Lasagna.’ Jen’s bluntness in how she navigates her grief was shocking. And felt so good. People can say the dumbest things and she said so much of what I’ve been thinking.

I watched the first 2 seasons, but when it came time for season 3, I couldn’t. It was dark. And I had completely forgotten what happened in the first 2 seasons. So I roped the husband into watching it with me from the beginning. I had forgotten how brilliant (and dark) this show was. Christina Applegate does an incredible job of portraying someone navigating grief, while parenting, while working, while just trying to survive.

We were watching the show and I told my husband that Jen (Christina Applegate) is my spirit animal. She’s flawed, raw and honest. But she keeps her edge. She’s also very angry. The more I watched the show, the more I saw her use anger and sarcasm to try to cover the hurt. She cannot be sad. She cannot be vulnerable. She has to hold everyone together.

I relate to her character so much. But it’s hard to watch. Because I can see myself in parts of her. Not the parts where she kills people, but the using anger as a defense mechanism part. And I don’t like it.

Why is it so much easier to access the anger? I know what it’s covering, it’s not fooling me. But it’s my go to emotion. I’m hoping that by acknowledging it, I can move towards change. Because I need to realize that being vulnerable isn’t a bad thing.

Somewhere along the line I equated vulnerable to weak. I’m pretty sure it came from after my Mom died and my Dad fell apart. I so desperately needed a parent and he couldn’t handle it. He was a sobbing, drunken mess after my Mom died. I hated it. Because I think deep down I felt like I had to be the strong one. I had to be okay enough for everyone. I had to make everything ok enough so that I could make it through. That’s a lot to carry at 16. And I resented it.

I have a different perspective now on things. I’ve had to grieve with my children. I haven’t lost a spouse, so I don’t know what my father was going through. My forty something self has a little more empathy than my 16 year old self did. But I’m still angry.

My word for last year was grace. And it’s still something I’m learning to work through. I want 2023 to be about accessing my vulnerability instead of just my anger. I want to feel the emotions that my anger is covering up. I want to look at being vulnerable as a gift instead of a weakness. And if I’m still angry, that’s ok too. I just don’t want to use my anger as a go to to cover up what I’m really feeling. Because I won’t get through any of this by not being honest with myself.

The End of an Era

I grew up surrounded by family on Long Island. My Mom was the youngest of 3 siblings, born from German immigrants. All of my Aunts and Uncles lived at the most 45 minutes away and for most of my life my Grandmother lived in an apartment a mile down the road from my house. My Mom’s (Tacke) family was a HUGE part of my life growing up.

There was always a family gathering in the summer, a pool party or a cookout. I spent holidays growing up with my cousins. Our Christmas Eve parties were idyllic. I cannot even begin to describe how absolutely perfect they were in my eyes as a child. We’d all dress up and eat and sing Christmas Carols. It felt as though my Tacke family could be a Norman Rockwell painting. And maybe it felt so much more normal because my Dad’s side was so dysfunctional. But even if it wasn’t as perfect as I recalled it to be, I’d like to remember it that way.

My Grandmother had an incredibly thick accent, even though she had come to the US when she was 19. She was the matriarch of our family and made of some strong, German stock. My Grandfather had died when my Mom was young, so my grandmother had raised her children on her own. She was a tiny woman, but a force to be reckoned with. That woman took care of her family. She got me off the bus, took care of me when I was sick and home from school and was always dropping off chocolate chip cookies or butter cake. She was always on the move, cooking or cleaning or doing our ironing.

My grandmother doted on my Mom. Now maybe that’s not true, but that’s how I saw it as a kid. Now that I’ve had 4 kids, I do see just how easy it is to coddle the youngest. She sold her house my Grandfather had built to move closer to us. She had a soft spot for my father who called her ‘Mom’ and always spoiled her. She was always over our house or we were dropping by her apartment for a meal. And some other family members were usually around. There was always someone there.

It wasn’t until I lost Benny that I realized how hard it must have been for my Grandmother to watch her baby die. She was more of the strong and silent type, around us kids anyway. But losing your child changes you. My Mom’s death was devastating to our family and in true Tacke style they rallied around us, or at least tried. My Dad didn’t make any of it easy.

My Grandmother lived to be 100. I was pregnant with Darcy and we had just found out it was a girl. Losing her was hard. That woman had been such a huge part of my life. But she had lived her life. I was sad for my loss.

My Uncle Bob tried to help after my Mom died, even though he was going through treatment himself. That man had more wit and humor than anyone else I knew. And always a smile on his face. I remember when he was in Massachusetts and he called me up and took Parker and I out to dinner. We had such a great night together, laughing and catching up. His positive demeanor was infectious.

When Darcy was a toddler, my Uncle’s cancer came back. He had been sick for so long and had fought so hard. Losing him was awful. He was such a huge piece of this family. And my Godfather. It was awful. Our family had already lost so much.

One of my cousins came up to me at Benny’s services and asked me if I thought our family was cursed. Because she too had lost 2 siblings. My cousin Todd died suddenly in 2009 and I had never met my cousin Scotty. He died before I was born. He was a concept to me, probably much like Benny is to my littles.

After Benny died, my Aunt Carol, my Uncle Walter (my Mom’s other brother) and my cousins came up to talk with us. I was the youngest in the family, so Scotty’s death was never discussed with me. I just remember being floored at how open they were to talking with us. I created new bonds with this family over our lost children. I talked to my cousins at length about what it was like for them losing their brothers. They were so incredibly kind and supportive of us in our grieving. They threw us a lifeline that we so desperately needed at that time.

My Mom’s one sister, my Aunt Dorothy (and her husband Bob) took my Mom’s place in my life without hesitation after she died. She took care of my sister and I the best that she could. She flew us down to Florida to visit. She walked me down the aisle on my wedding day. Once I had children she became the surrogate grandmother. She spoiled the crap out of them! She added their pictures to the ‘grandchild picture wall’ at her house. She came to visit us every chance she got. She read every single one of my blogs and would call me if she thought I was struggling. She was my lifeline to my Mom. She saved me in so many ways.

On December 23, both my Uncle Walter and my Aunt Dorothy fell ill. For 2 weeks it’s been a flurry of family messages. Good days and bad days. On Saturday my Uncle passed and today my Aunt passed. In 2 days we lost the remaining Tacke siblings. And I lost another piece of my Mom. And I am devastated.

Everyone in this picture is gone. All of these incredible people. All of my people. In 2 days our family was shattered. I’m reeling. I’m angry. I have to wonder if my cousin is right. Maybe we are cursed. Or just truly unlucky. We have had to endure tragedy after tragedy. I just want to hug my cousins and hold them close.

Grace, It’s Not Your Fault

It’s not your fault. My brain has said that on repeat since 2013. Most days it believes itself. Every once in awhile, it goes to dark places. I wish my entire heart could believe it was true, but there’s a Benny shaped hole that makes me doubt myself.

Everyone talks about grief=sadness or grief=anger. Grief=Guilt. Because no matter how many times you’ve told somebody that you love them, knowing that you can’t again brings on the guilt. Because even though deep down you know you would do anything to get them back and protect them, you can’t. And some part of you will feel guilty. Even though control is an illusion. Even though it’s not your fault.

What is fault when it comes to grief anyway? Does fault even matter when you blame yourself? Here I am almost 10 years after the accident still and I’m still harping on guilt.

My word for 2022 was ‘grace.’ I needed to learn grace when it comes to my inner monologue. I needed to allow myself to be accountable for the things that I can control and have grace for the things I cannot. I focused very hard on being kind to myself when I didn’t get something accomplished that I wanted to. I learned to not berate myself over silly, innocuous things.

Letting go of those little things helped me to start to tackle the bigger things. I had long ago determined that control is an illusion. It certainly helped me to reframe my feelings around Benny’s death. But even with that, the guilt was still there. Because what parent wouldn’t feel guilt when their child dies in their arms?

I was mirandized in the hospital. I had given Benny one last kiss, tried to memorize his smell and was whisked away for X Rays. I was wheeled back into a room where everyone was panicking. The police were there and wanted to question me. I think that was the first moment where my shock frozen mind registered that I could be blamed. I could be arrested. I could be tried. And it all just seemed surreal. And none of it really mattered, because the worst had already happened. But that was the first moment where the reality of the situation took hold and the guilt crept in.

The police were doing their job and were truly kind to our family. Days after the accident they reconstructed it in our driveway. They told my sister that it took my car 7 seconds to roll from the top of the driveway to the bottom. 7 fucking seconds. It seemed like a lifetime in that moment. And I already imagined all of the other ways I could have handled our situation. Why hadn’t I jumped back into the car? Or the stone? Why hadn’t I just put Benny upstairs for his nap? Why did we live on a fucking hill? Why wasn’t I able to save my child? It was a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking. But knowing about those 7 seconds helped. A little.

I held so much anger towards myself. Even while rationally knowing that 7 seconds is not a long time to make a decision. I thought about all of the stories of the parents that shielded their children, or miraculously saved them somehow. It was as if their adrenaline turned them superhuman. I would get super frustrated that that wasn’t our story.

The guilt was always there. It brought it’s friend’s insecurity and doubt along with it. It was there in the background, making me second guess my decisions. Making me not like myself. I would second guess my parenting. I would also second guess my ability to handle any kind of stressful situation.

Like everything else in grief, it changes. You learn to live with it. You embrace it as a part of yourself. You move forward.

So in trying to retrain my brain to be a little bit kinder to me, I had a bit of a revelation. I’m not even sure what I was doing, maybe folding laundry, doing the dishes? It was a house chore that I got lost in my head so that it didn’t seem so tedious.

I must have been thinking about the incredible connections I have made since Benny died. I was thinking about the moms that reached out to us in the early days. I was thinking about all of the incredible people that surrounded us in our home and took care of us when we didn’t even know how to take our next breath. I was thinking about the incredible people that I used to work with who swooped in and told me they would get me through this. I was thinking about the friends and family that stepped up and held us. I was thinking about all of the new people that have shown up and continue to show up and support us. I was thinking about all of the other grief moms and dads that we have met along this journey. I was thinking about all of my people at Hope Lives Here and how they have shaped my grief.

And I came to this summation. We are surrounded by incredibly kind people. Good people. And not one of them would ever point a finger at me. So why am I wasting this energy blaming myself? If I was the villain I had made myself out to be in my head, these incredible folks would not be in my life. They would not support me. They would not love me. This was my simple Aha moment. Nearly 10 years later.

Now when I feel myself going down the path of guilt I try to remember this moment. I try to remember how freeing this moment felt for me. I try to remember all of the good people we are surrounded by and I hold that super close.

Thank you if you are one of those people. Your kindness and your goodness are like a needle and a thread holding me together. And helping me to learn a little grace for myself.❤️

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