Vulnerable

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.❤️

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.

Slumberland

‘You have the dream you’re meant to have; we make sure of that. What happens next is up to you.’

Tonight we previewed Slumberland (spoiler alert). I had watched the trailer and thought it looked fantastic, albeit sad. It deals with death and grief. Seeing as how Fletch came to us tonight with his Dinosaur book in tears because the Dinosaurs all died, I figured this was something we should watch first. And I’m so glad that we did.

I bawled my eyes out through 40% of the movie. A PG childrens movie completely wrecked me. And I mean wrecked in the best way possible. It put into words how we deal with grief, how desperate we are to see our loved ones in dreams and how even when we are desperately sad, we can still find hope.

It touched on so many of my grief experiences. In the first few minutes of the movie, the main character dreams that her Dad died. I honestly believe that there’s a subconscious link between life and death. My Mom came to me in a dream to say good bye and moments later I awoke to our house phone ringing and I knew that she was gone.

The entire movie is based upon the main character wanting to find her dead father in a dream so that she can stay with him. My god, that is all that any of us grievers want. I sat there crying, begging for a good visitation dream. It’s been so damn long. And I miss my people. I want to find a pearl so that I can wish this dream into existence.

When that pivotal moment finally happens, when the main character can have her Dad back, she finds that she has to wish for something else. Something has become more important than her Dad. And it’s awful and beautiful all at once. Because she found hope. And in finding it she had to let go a bit. And that is really fucking hard.

I wish I could say that I thought this was a good idea for my kids, but it’s not. It’s too close to home. There are some scary parts too as well as a lot of drowning. We’re a little too sensitive over here and will have to wait a bit. But the overall theme of this movie is absolutely beautiful. Especially if you need a good cry.

‘Life is waiting for you, Nemo. It would be a shame if you missed that.’

Where do you store your grief?

This is one of the writing prompts for my HLH Journaling workshop tomorrow. And i can tell you, i know exactly where my grief is stored, my shoulders and my neck. Why, you ask? Because that’s where I like to bottle everything up and hold on to for later.

I’ve lost some mobility in my neck because of the block of knots that are my shoulders. I see a chiro weekly, a massage therapist monthly and I’m about to add my doctor shortly as I’ve started to get terrible headaches from the neck pain. My chiro told me that I need to add yoga so that I can breathe more. He can barely crack me, it’s so tight.

I workout, I try to stretch and relax as much as I can, but none of that changes my losses. None of that brings my people back. I feel like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders. But instead of the world, that ball is the weight of my grief. Heavy and pushing me down.

It’s weird how grief can affect us physically. Part of mine is perhaps psychosomatic, as I was injured in my shoulders and upper body when my son died. The body has a memory for pain and injury. It can remember exactly how something felt. I can remember the sensation of being struck by my car and thrown down the hill. It was not a feeling of weightlessness, but rather like I was in the washing machine, stuck on the spin cycle. And the natural reaction is to tuck. And I feel like ever since that day I’ve tucked into myself, physically. I slouch inwards, as if in defense or protection. Almost as if I’m hugging myself. Or holding myself together.

So this results in tons of shoulder and neck pain. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to make it better. I’m a problem solver by nature, so I need to make it better. I need to learn that my body is a safe space and instead of approaching the world in a protective posture, I need to open my arms to it. I need to end my reign in flight or fight mode and open up to the possibility of joy and love. Because I know that I feel that in my soul, I just need to allow myself to be vulnerable enough in my stature to accept it.

9 Years ‘After the Accident’

It has almost been a decade since we lost our Benny. And so much in our lives has changed. And yet, somehow, things still seem the same sometimes. I can’t explain it, just like I can’t explain how surreal it feels to lose your child.

I gaze upon pictures of Benny’s face and it seems like it was just yesterday, and it also seems like a lifetime ago. There are moments when I wonder if any of it actually happened. And then I look at his picture and I remember what he smelled like, what the curves of his dimples looked like, what his little curlies felt like against my skin. His life may have been short but it was real.

I can’t explain what today is like. We used to have to leave town because I couldn’t deal with being in the house where he died. I used to want to crawl out of my skin because the reality of November 8th was just too much. The days and weeks leading up to this awful date used to send me into a complete tailspin. And I guess that’s not to say it still doesn’t, just in different ways.

It’s been 9 years of learning to live without my son. And I hate saying the word ‘learning’, because learning implies growth. No one should have to ‘learn’ how to live this way. So instead we move forward, slowly trying to figure out how to navigate what the hell this life looks like.

Now I usually find that I throw myself into projects leading up to November 8th and Benny’s birthday. Apparently I need some creative outlet, or some instant gratification to get through these feelings of grief. That’s how I’m built. I’m a doer and I need to get things done. If you look at the last 9 years of my life, my grief has physical evidence in the home renovation projects that I take on.

I’m not sure what today looks like just yet. We will go to the cemetery, maybe take the dog for a walk. Relax. Eat his favorite food, hot dogs, and just be. There’s a little less stress and angst surrounding today than there used to be. Sometimes I find that sad. Other times I think it means that maybe we have figured out this grief thing a little bit.

Missing my boy everyday, but today especially. Love you Benny ❤️🌻❤️

Dia Del Muerto

I first learned of ‘Dia del Muertos’ or ‘Day of the Dead’ from the show Jane the Virgin. Which consequently, if you haven’t watched it, it’s probably one of the best shows I have seen to portray grief. It’s also super funny and has some incredible female characters.

In any case, without giving anything away, there is a scene where they show the Day of the Dead. They portray the character dealing with grief during the first year, then the second year, then the third year, etc. She starts out sobbing and by year 4 she is able to tell funny stories and actually laugh again at those memories. They hurt much less as time has passed.

I love this idea of spending a few days to remember those that are gone. We mourn at a funeral, but what do we do to allow ourselves to grieve over time? The biggest concerns that we as grievers have is that our loved ones are going to be forgotten. I think the idea of being able to set aside some time every single year to tell funny stories, and remember those that we have lost would help all of our hearts.

We do this in my family on Benny’s birthday. And it’s become a beautiful tradition for my family. And all of my kids now know their brother, even though two of them have never met him. But I don’t know that we spend a lot of time talking about my mom and dad who have died. My kids really don’t know their grandparents and that’s very sad.

The Day of the Dead traditions include creating an altar for the deceased, eating their favorite foods, creating decorative skulls, visiting their graves and decorating with marigolds. Ironically, it’s also a day to celebrate the living with gifts of candy or poems dedicated to friends and family. This honestly sounds like something I can get behind! What a beautiful way to love and appreciate all those around you, both living and dead.

So I’m going to try it. We’ll see how it goes. This year Dia del Muertos is observed on November 1st through the 2nd. I’m intrigued to add another tool to my grief toolbox and see if it sticks.

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.

Sunshine, Angels and Rainbows

'How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.'

The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

Wise & Shine

A community for writers & readers

Rain Coast Review

Thoughts on life... by Donald B. Wilson

My Grief Talks

Through tears and laughter, in whispers and screams from my shattered heart - to the words on this page and into my art - as I search for calm

emotionspassion.com

Emotional musings

Ron Tamir Nehr

Self Empowerment & Business Coaching

Dr. Eric Perry’s Coaching Blog

Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

Sprout Splice

Root Transplant Repeat