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.

The Journal

I’ve been watching Firefly Lane on Netflix. It’s emotional and complex and quite honestly pretty brilliant. My sister read the books and just recently warned me it could be triggering. If you’re watching it now or plan to, I’ll let you know you should close this window so you won’t spoil anything! Because, I had to. I had to know how it ends. Because I wasn’t sure if I could watch it.

If you’ve never watched the show, it jumps all around through time. We watch a friendship form and go through 30 years of change and heartache. But the story is not told in the linear fashion but rather through four or five different spots on the timeline. In part one of season 2 they keep showing a car accident. So I assumed that that’s what my sister was warning me about. And while the car accident was pretty terrible, I’m glad I was prepared to deal with how the season ended.

I absolutely love both of the actresses in the series which is why I started watching it in the first place. I have loved Sarah Chalk since I watched her in Scrubs. Katherine Heigl was my favorite from when I used to be able to watch Gray’s Anatomy. Before the accident.

My new post-grief life includes googling the ends of things. My husband absolutely hates it and says I spoil everything. I think I just prepare myself in case there is going to be something triggering and what I am watching or reading. And when my sister texts me and warns me that I might want to know what’s coming, I take heed.

So now I’m sitting here with a bunch of balled up tissues because I know that my favorite character is going to die. From breast cancer. They reveal at the end of part one that she is diagnosed with stage 3. So I needed to know what is coming, even though they’re not going to finish the series until June of 2023! And now I’m a puffy faced mess.

Amongst the remainder of my father’s stuff that my sister picked up when my stepmother died, was a journal. It was my Mom’s journal. My stepmother had mentioned it and had been uncomfortable about giving it to me. I honestly didn’t press the issue because our relationship was tenuous at best at times. And I kind of forgot about it. It sounds terrible to say that out loud, but I did. I have been living surrounded by my deceased parents stuff for years. It was hard to fathom there was something I hadn’t seen or touched that was my Mom’s.

So I started reading it. This journal is the Indiana Jones equivalent to the Ark of the Covenant for grievers! My Mom passed away 26 years ago and now all of a sudden I had access to her thoughts. The first few pages were blank, the first entry is from when she found the lump in her breast. Then there’s a whole bunch of more blank pages and then she starts to talk about everything as she’s going through it. I only got a few entries in before I needed to take some time off. Because it was a lot.

I don’t know what I was expecting to find. It kind of feels like an invasion of privacy, but at the same time she’s documenting her road through breast cancer in 1996. Which is crazy for me to think about because everything that is written there is a term that I understand from all of my years of walking for Komen. It’s also very crazy to think back to her journey being the beginning of stem cell use. I have so much gratitude for how far we have come, technologically speaking. But we’re certainly not done yet.

When I read those first few entries, it sounded very similar to my blog. Our writing styles are so alike. I smiled at that. It felt really good at first. It made me feel really close to her, which is something I haven’t felt in 26 years. But I only got a few entries in before I had to put it back down. Because now I’m sad. And I’m missing her all over again. This woman that is so like me is missing from my life. And has been for the better part of it. It is heartbreaking.

I watched this scene on Firefly Lane of this 40 something year old woman getting diagnosed with breast cancer and I lost it. Because in that moment, I understood her fear and anxiety. Because I read it in my Mom’s journal. And in 5 years I will be the age she was when she was diagnosed, so it really isn’t that far fetched for me.

I miss my Mom daily. Even this far out, I am so very sad for every single thing that we have missed out on. I will read more of the journal when I am ready. I so very much want to know every little detail while simultaneously wishing I wasn’t opening up this Pandora’s box right now. But such is grief.

Taking Care

I was among friends over the weekend, and there is a woman that I consider one of the most grief evolved people I have ever met. I am in awe of her ability to speak honestly and openly and be completely vulnerable. The only time that I feel like I am able to do that is through writing. So here we are.

She said something that resonated with me. And made me think about stuff I apparently had buried pretty deeply because I haven’t thought about it in a long time. I started to think back to when my mom died.

Now, we’re talking nearly 27 years ago. I’ve lived longer on this earth without my mother than I did with her. Being a mom myself, that realization makes me very sad.

Some 27 years ago I was 16. My mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 14, roughly a week or two before I started high school. She was sick and in and out of the hospital, my freshman and sophomore years. My dad was an alcoholic disaster. He struggled to keep it together when things were good. My mother’s diagnosis and impending death pushed him completely off the wagon for good.

I remember when my mom first got sick that my sister and I had to start doing our own laundry. My mom had written out on index cards how to sort and wash everything and taped it to the cabinets above the washer. There’s so much more that I wished she’d left instructions for. Like how to live without your mom.

I will never forget the phone call in the early morning hours of May 25th. And my sister crying. I’ll never forget that feeling, like the Earth shifted on its axis. We knew it was coming, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I remember the last time we visited her and she was barely conscious. I knew in that moment that time was up. What I don’t understand is why we weren’t there. Why did we leave? Why weren’t we there with her when she died? Was it my father’s choice? I hate that she was alone. Why didn’t I ask if we should be there? Why didn’t anyone else? I will regret this forever.

I wish she had left instructions on how to deal with my father. After she died things got bad. He was never around and when he was, he was drunk. And either mean or depressed. I had to learn how to take care of myself. No one cared about my grades or where I was or what I was up to. My father’s grief was so bad that the rest of us ceased to exist to him. He died on May 25th with my mom. And as the only other person in our house, I was left to pick up the pieces. And it was terrible. But I didn’t know what else to do. Or how to fix it. So I just grinned and beared it. I was fine. Everything was fine.

I wish she left instructions about how to handle my grief. Because we didn’t talk about stuff back then. It was just expected that my mom died and I had to move on. And parent my alcoholic father. And create these awful trauma patterns that I would spend the rest of my adult life trying to break. And it’s really hard to unlearn that you can actually depend on people. That you can actually ask for help. Or that you can actually say no. Or that your worth isn’t just tied to caring for/doing things for everyone else.

And I miss my mom. Because no one has come close to taking care of me like she did. There are so many times when I cried out for her. When I was in labor with Darcy, pretty much anytime I’m sick, and the ambulance ride after Benny and I were hit by my car. Because I needed her to make it better. And 26 years with her being gone, I still do.

Either I’m Getting Old or…

Something. My body is tired and tight. My head aches, everything is out of alignment. My chiropractor couldn’t even crack me. Years of trying to hold it all together have finally caught up with me. I think that when your body is in fight or flight mode for so long, it’s really, really hard to decompress.

I look at the above graphic and literally have every single symptom from the shoulders up. My shoulders are tight, which leads to my neck and then my jaw and then my aching head. Apparently I’m clenching my jaw so tight that I fractured a tooth in my sleep (didn’t even know that you could do that). My damn body is tired. Because my mind is tired.

I think that I had a whole year off to grieve Benny. I had a year to sit in it and let it wash over me. Unlike after my Mom’s death I had some time to process things. And it was a truly healthy start to this whole process. For the first time I felt like I was actually dealing with my stuff instead of shoving it down deep.

But we all know that grief doesn’t have a timetable and I wasn’t magically healed after a year. But I was pregnant. And facing a whole new set of anxieties I couldn’t have imagined. And then sleepless nights and chaos. And then 2 years later in the thick of all of that again with the next baby whilst we moved 4 times until we were finally home. And I loved every moment of it (besides the whole moving part).

Things finally settled a little bit for us and I could catch my breath and then boom, Covid. The whole world is thrust into a grief unlike any other. And everything kept changing and we just kept having to adapt.

I feel like I have been in fight or flight mode since 2013. And I am truly, truly exhausted. With the chaos came very little time for me to continue processing the fact that my son died. Sometimes it’s much easier to lean into the crisis of the moment rather than to face your own reality. Because the reality is that my son died. And it’s fucking awful.

So here we are. I’m ready for a good crack from the chiro. I’m going for a massage to try to clear some of that tension. It’s time to start going through some of this stuff that I’ve been holding onto and to try to change how I’m living. Because I’ve been fighting this battle for so long and my soul is just exhausted.

Resolutions

This is what grief hoarding looks like. This is what it looks like when both of your parents are gone and you’re desperately trying to hold onto every piece of them. This is what it looks like when your son dies and you’re holding onto your memories of him. It is exhausting. It overwhelms me.

It’s extremely hard to be objective about what to keep vs. what to toss. Even with my alive children. Because what if I throw something of theirs away and the unthinkable happens? I remember being very cavalier about Benny’s artwork, because he was the second child. We already had so much from Darcy. And after he died I remember regretting that I had tossed something he had created. I had unwittingly thrown out one of our memories of him.

I am envious of the people who still have their parents. They actually have people who hold memories of them. They don’t need all of this ‘stuff.’ It’s really hard to figure out where to draw the line of what I want to keep of my parents. I have a huge box of albums, clothes and tons of knock knacks. Do I really need the stuff sitting in boxes? If it’s not out in my house is it necessary to hold onto? I wish I had an answer.

I cannot stand the amount of stuff that we have. We just filled a trunk with donations and the truck with trash and I feel like we didn’t even make a dent. The stuff overwhelms me. But then the thought of having to make a decision of what to keep and what to toss overwhelms me.

So I’m starting small. I’m going to begin with the Seasonal decor. I’m hoping that if I start small, with the stuff that I’m not emotionally attached to, it will help me feel better. Maybe I’ll keep going and maybe I won’t. Maybe I will finally tackle some of my grief items. We will see. But this is not my resolution.

I see how things are going and we seem to be sliding backwards, pandemic-wise. So the only resolution I have this year is to give myself a little grace. Which was the exact same resolution I had last year. And you know what I’m okay with that. I hope to clean the basement, I hope to declutter my life, but if those things don’t happen I also hope to not make myself feel bad. Because changing how I view resolutions from physical things that I can see into personal growth, is so much more important. Happy 2022.

What’s Your Word?

I have decided that I need something to hold onto this year. Last year was a stunning disaster of epic proportions and this year hasn’t exactly started off so great. I’m tired of waiting for the world to get it’s shit together enough so that I can breathe.

Grace is the word that I will be taking with me on this journey into 2021. Grace is what I will be holding, for yours truly and others. I need to learn to forgive me and not be so hard on myself. I also need to learn to hold grace for others.

I’ve been home with my children since March. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time together. And I’ve begun to notice that my 12 year old daughter has more love and respect for herself than I do at 40. She is unwavering in her view of herself and I have never been more proud. It is easy for her to make a decision and she is guided so effortlessly by her moral compass. She has compassion for herself and others and almost always seems to make the right decision. I am jealous.

I would give anything to be as self possessed and confident as this child is. I come off as tough because I had very little choice in that department. And maybe tough is construed as confident, yet I feel anything but. I am constantly second guessing myself and how I interact with others. It is absolutely exhausting.

I feel like at 40 I am flailing. It has been a very hard year with heavy choices. I feel as if grief has consumed me for so long, that it’s hard to know who I am anymore. What is left?

I’m feeling very confused about who I am. I think that’s a part of growing up and maybe that’s what this is. It’s hard to look at yourself and not feel recognizable.

2020 showed me that it’s time to begin paying attention to what is going on in the world. I need to be aware of what’s happening and begin to strengthen my convictions. I have 3 little people that need to be able to be a part of the solution, not the problem. But, before I can do that, I need to work on me. I need to figure out exactly what I want and need from this life.

I’ve gone around and around this in my brain and I think I need to fall back in love with myself. I need to learn to love not only my good parts, but the parts that don’t make me whole. I will never be who I want to be while grieving the loss of my parents and my son. And I need to learn to love that person anyway.

I need a little grace this year. What’s your word?

Year 1

On the eve of the first year, I feel I still cannot talk to you. Rationally, I know that you’re gone, but I still can’t quite accept or understand it. If I can’t believe that you’re gone, how can I accept that it’s been a while year?

While I lay here trying to come with grips that it has been 365 days since you’ve been gone, I’m reading your eulogy. I’m wondering how I keep you alive to my children, who are so young. I’m trying to figure out how come my children have more ghosts as family members than they do flesh and blood. And it makes me really sad. Because none of this is fair.

But to try to imagine you alive during a pandemic isn’t really fair either. You never were very good at following the rules or doing what you were told. You were stubborn and a royal pain in the ass. It would have been pretty awful.

You could be pretty awful. And how we could fight. But it doesn’t change the fact that I miss your voice on the other end of the phone. I miss your ridiculously crude jokes. Hell, I even miss arguing politics. ‘Opinions are like assholes,’ you’d say, everybody has one.’

You were flawed and broken. And at times you failed me. But I still loved you. And I still have so many great memories with you.

I think I’m so tired of all of the loss sometimes that’s it’s just easier to put it away for awhile. I wrap it up in a box and leave it on the shelf with all of the others, as I decide which one to unwrap. Well, it’s been long enough. And so much has happened since you’ve been gone. This year has been HARD. And I’m tired.

When you died, it wasn’t just me losing my dad. It was the nail in the coffin that made me an adult orphan. I’m parentless. My kids won’t grow up with either grandparent. And that’s fucking hard. This empty feeling inside of me grows bigger with this statement. Because I’m so tired of loss. I’m tired of sadness and pain.

It’s been a year. And there is a lot to unpack from my life as I wrap my head around how your loss defines me now. And I probably won’t know what that even means for a very long time.

Complicated Grief – My Dad’s Eulogy

My relationship with my dad could be summed up as fun, contentious at times, but aways honest. He was an alcoholic who fell apart after my mom died, so I had a lot of resentment towards him once I became a parent. But our relationship grew and changed as did I. Our bond might have been complicated, but it was ours and I was ok with it.

Eulogizing my dad actually came quite easily. In remembering the good parts of him (because let’s be honest, no one wants to hear about the bad), I was able to realize the impact he really had on who I was in positive ways. I sent him off the best way that I knew how to, with sarcasm and sass. Just as he would have wanted.

Being the youngest Fletcher daughter, it’s only fitting that I should speak last. Hi, I’m Sheri and I survived my childhood as one of Hank’s children. The three of us girls may have different memories of our dad, but I’m sure that we can all agree that growing up with Hank as our father was more like growing up with Hank as a younger brother.

Not many people can say that the life skills they have learned from their father include giving a good wet willie and crossing their eyes. On vacation one year we got into a huge prank war where toilet seats were covered in Saran Wrap and you had to be careful turning a fan on in a room for fear of what would come flying off of it. The man taught me how to TP the neighbors house and was the king of mooning us kids out the front window as we rode by on our bikes. To say that Hank was an unconventional father would be an understatement.

My childhood consisted of learning to walk, talk and water ski. There was nothing that my dad loved more than being on the water with his girls. When I was a teenager he bought a Boston Whaler, taught me how to sand the bottom, seal and paint it and then set me free in Mt Sinai Harbor. Life was always an adventure and he honestly showed me that anything is possible. And even though he REALLY wanted a son (especially because I’m daughter #3) he never made me feel because I am female that there were any limits to what I could do.

There were days when I would tagalong with him at the shop and he would set me up to sharpen chainsaw or circular saw blades. When I was in college I did a whole report on welding and he was happy to give me the helmet and torch and show me how to make a smooth bead.

He also begrudgingly sat through years of dance recitals (I think mostly to watch the women dance around in tight costumes) and school plays. He was heavily involved in the drama club at my high school and was a little horriffied when I landed the part of the ‘temptress’ in the school play as a freshman. There was one night we were at the school working on the sets and I had to practice grabbing this senior guys backside, with my dad standing 2 feet away, armed with power tools. Definitely made up for all the wet Willie’s he gave to me that night or the amount of times he goosed me as a kid. He would always say, paybacks a….female dog.

I’ve heard that as a girl you seek to marry someone just like your father. The day that my husband Parker and my dad met, things just clicked. I remember Parker getting involved in a brotherly squabble between my dad and my Uncle. Anyone willing to jump into a Fletcher disagreement at a first meeting is a definite keeper!

Parker and my dad bonded over all things mechanical and would spend hours in his shop during visits futzing around. Their common interests lead us to buy our family boat and be able to share his love of the water with our children.

My dad lived life large and by his own rules. My childhood consisted of tickle wars, random backside grabs and water fights. He taught me not to take life too seriously and to enjoy all the moments. Even when you’re knee deep in baby poop, everything can still be shits and giggles. He taught me about the type of parent that I wanted to be for my children, relentless, embarrassing, inappropriate, but above all fun!

Because my kids are so young, I will have to try my damnedest to make sure that we are able to keep my dad’s memory alive. Most people would do that by sharing stories and man are there some doziies. I can mention how he tried to vacuum toilet water with his mom’s Electrolux Vacuum to see if it would work (it does) or the countless times he dressed in drag, of which there is ample photographic evidence. But what they need to know the most is how my dad loved with all of his heart. He loved his family more than anything, maybe even more than the latest crude joke. He stood by my mom and took care of her when she was sick and he supported Sharon through her treatments. He may not have been the perfect person, but his capacity for love and how he showed it were real. Every time I spoke to him on the phone, the conversation would start with hey girl and end with I love you.

Thank you everyone so much for being here today to say good bye to Hank, the man, the myth, the legend. In his own words, were off like a prom dress.

Love you Dad.

Dust

There’s something so beautiful and haunting about this song. I’m curled up on the couch hearing the fan above and listening to this on repeat. My mascara is smudged and my nose is runny. And that’s ok.

You see, I’ve lived with my mom’s death now for 23 years. My dad’s death is new, even though he’s been dying for quite a long time. Today was a good day until it wasn’t. I was just finishing up a show when this song came on.

And now I’m sitting here wondering how long it’s been since I had a good long cry. It feels like forever. It’s exhausting holding it all in all the time.

I’m realizing that I’ve lost both my parents. And I’m feeling it. I’ve been independent for so long, but this still hurts like hell. I’m not even 40 and my parents are gone. I still cannot wrap my head around that. It’s a lot to take in.

I’m getting kind of tired of death.

23 Years of Grief and Growing

It’s amazing to me how you can grow up somewhere, spend your entire childhood there and feel absolutely no connection to that place. Maybe I’ve been gone for too long. Maybe the memories have faded too much. I’m not entity sure.

I’m sitting on the ferry leaving the place of my youth and I feel nothing looking at the beaches that I used to play on. Maybe I’m just getting old and have lived in Massachusetts for too long. Maybe it’s because that childhood chapter of my life closed when my father died yesterday.

I’m still pretty numb, because that’s what happens after death. Grief is so damn complicated for me in general, so this is going to take time. Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but he was my dad and now at 40 I’m an orphan. Which sounds ridiculous but no one prepares you to lose both of your parents.

When we lost Bennett we lost our hopes and dreams for the future. Losing both of my parents now I feel like I’m losing my past. I’ve always really struggled with not knowing much about myself when I was little because my mom was gone. I constantly look at my kids and wonder if they’re like me.

So I’m sitting here on the ferry, a trip that I’ve taken a million times before in my life and I’m taking a moment to breathe. I’m taking a moment to enjoy the rumble of the engine and the chatter of the people around me. I’m taking a moment to realize that this is once again out of my control.

I’m going to sit here and smile for the life that my father lived. He did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, unabashedly. While I didn’t always agree with his choices, he never stopped being who he was. Before he was sick, he certainly lived life to the fullest.

So this is going to be sad. And this is going to suck. But this moment, right here, right now, this moment is ok. Maybe it’s the calm before the storm. Maybe I will appreciate his death for what it was, because he didn’t suffer like my mom. Who knows what grief path I will take now. I do know that for the first time in my life I feel prepared and emotionally healthy enough to deal with this one head on.

It’s taken me 23 years to even begin to understand grief and how it affects us. And I’m still learning. This is a process that never ends, just like your love for those lost never ends. And I’m finally beginning to come to terms with that.

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