Birth of first grandchild leads LaPlace woman to speak out to help others

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 5, 2005

By KEVIN CHIRI

Publisher

LAPLACE – For the past four years, the approaching holiday season brought a deep, painful feeling inside Elaine Tassara of LaPlace.

“Christmas is always hard, just like her birthday and the anniversary of the accident,” Tassara said.

The longtime River Region resident wiped away some tears.

“You never get over the death of a child, never. Every day I wear a mask,” she said. “But I know I have to go on. I have three other children.”

Tassara has lived with the intense hurt ever since Nov. 19, 1999, when her 17-year-old daughter, Michelle, died in a car accident. But finally for Christmas 2005, new hope has arisen and led the LaPlace resident to reach out to others who have experienced the death of a child.

“This year there was finally new hope, something to be happy about again,” she said. “My first grandbaby was born, and it is like Michelle is here with us again.”

Born to her 19-year-old daughter Mellissa, little Gabriella Michelle is living in the home with grandma and grandpa Tassara. And her presence is a small way that Elaine Tassara is now finding it just a little easier to cope with a tragedy that still brings tears to her eyes.

“Five years later I still walk into my home after work and look for herĊ wait for the phone to ring,” she said. “And I have never blamed God for this, but I still ask, why, why, why?”

Now, however, Tassara wants to speak out to others who have a connection to a similar hardship.

She said that one of the hardest aspects to having her daughter die is the fact that she felt abandoned by many friends and family weeks and months after the accident.

“Everyone was around for a week or so, and then we were just left alone,” she said. “If you know someone who has lost a child, go see them and don’t be afraid to talk about the child. We want to talk. It makes us feel better.”

Additionally, Tassara said she found some comfort on the Internet where she discovered a website called “Circle of Memories” where others who have lost children can talk to each other. Even Tassara has started her own website called “Smiling Angels,” a reference to her daughter Michelle.

“Michelle was always my angel, and now I can get some comfort thinking of her in heaven as an angel,” she noted, with computer generated pictures of Michelle in her office having angel wings. “Part of the way I deal with my grief is to help people make web sites as memorials to their children. I’ve got one for Michelle at myangelmichelle.com.”

But make no mistake about it, even as Tassara comes across as one of the friendliest faces you encounter when going to her office with the St. John Parish Public Works department, she says that every day is a challenge.

“I have to drag myself out of bed every day. You realize you can’t crawl in bed and die, even if it is what you want to do,” she said. “And it affects everything around you – your marriage, your relationship with friends – everything. But that’s why I want people to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to talk to people about it. We want to be able to talk, but I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with the topic. But believe me, we have to talk and not keep it all bottled up inside.”

Michelle Tassara was the second child that Elaine and Michael Tassara had. They also have Michael Jr. who is now 24, Mellissa who is 19 and Matthew who is 14.

“Michelle was always my happy child, always laughing,” she recalled. “And that’s what I miss so much now.”

Elaine and Michael were Christians who raised their first two children in a manner she calls “strict.” But when Elaine’s mother died of cancer when Michelle was 12, things began to change.

“Michelle was so close with my mother,” Tassara said. “She always wanted to be a nurse and when Mom got cancer, Michelle stayed with her night and day. When my mother died, Michelle was just very angry about it. She couldn’t handle it and she started sneaking around, and then running around with some bad friends. She always was a follower.”

On Friday night, Nov. 19, she came into her mothers room and lay down on the bed.

“She hugged me and told me how much she loved me. She told me that she just couldn’t go on if anything happened to me. I believe it was the way God was letting her tell me goodbye,” Tassara said.

She left with a friend that night and it was the last time her mother would see her alive.

“We got a call at 10 o’clock saying she had been in an accident on Airline in Reserve. Apparently she turned the car over trying to make a turn onto Airline and she didn’t have her seat belt on,” she said.

The loss of her daughter was so devastating that Tassara said her husband had trouble working for two years, their marriage suffered, and they were unable to parent their other two children to the best of their ability.

“We were pretty strict with Michael and Michelle, but after Michelle died, we were in la-la land for so long, we just couldn’t do much,” she explained.

That’s where the Internet provided some help for her. But nothing has helped as much as the recent birth of Gabrielle Michelle, her first grandchild.

“I thought my joy could never come back, but this little baby has changed that,” she said. “She has Michelle’s traits and I just think Michelle is there in her.”

Besides wanting to encourage others to reach out to individuals who have lost a child, Tassara also said that the life her daughter lived was one that she hopes will be an example to others.

“Michelle was put on this earth to be a giving person,” she said. “She would do anything to help someone, and I really think that is what we all need to try and do with our lives. We need to be giving in all ways. That’s what I try to remember about her.”

She especially wants to encourage people to realize how difficult birthdays and the anniversary day of a death is to parents.

“Just be there for those you know. Talk about the child. Not saying anything is really what hurts the most,” she said.