This Memorial Day weekend, I volunteered with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) 29th Annual National Survivors Seminar and Good Grief Camp, providing support for kids who are grieving the death of a military family member.
I am serving here in honor of my maternal Grandfather, Laverne Hustedde. I never met him. He died of a heart attack when he was just 36 years old, and my mom was only four years old. She didn’t get much time to meet him either. Perhaps that is also why I don’t have any memories of him being talked about when I was growing up.
Until coming to TAPS, I didn’t consider myself to be someone grieving the death of a military family member. That realization hit as I was walking with one of my group’s military mentors, and we paused at the memorial wall, a collection of photos of those who had died and were being remembered here this weekend.
She paused to place a hand on the photo of her father who didn’t come home from the Vietnam War. There, she told me about her dad, how young he was when he went missing, how young she was, and how that affects her everyday. I realized that this could’ve been my mom standing there, and I reflected on the grief that she must have gone through at such a young age, the number of life events that her dad was not present for, including the grandkids (like myself) that he never got to meet, and I grieved for myself having not gotten to have him in my life.
After being at TAPS, I can now say for the very first time, am grieving my Grandpa. Until typing that sentence, I had never called him that. He was always “my mom’s dad,” someone who was far removed from my life. I wonder now what traits I share with him, how I might be like him.
Laverne Hustedde enlisted in the Navy during World War II. He had a wife and a young daughter at home at the time, but he felt called to serve his country. His years of service were partly spent on the ship Sagatuk and he was in the Philippines. At the time of his honorable discharge on January 1, 1946, he held the rank of SSML3c(T) – Ships service Man L third class USNR. He received distinctions of Victory medals, Unit Commendation bars, Asiatic Pacific 6 stars, and Philippine Liberations. My mom is the proud keeper of his Navy Uniform.
Grandpa died on May 1, 1955. By all accounts, he was a good person, son, husband and loving dad. He loved to dance, especially the polka.
I am serving here in honor of my Grandpa, who served our country. Perhaps “service” is the trait that I share with him, and I, the proud keeper of that.
Beth Riccardi, LCSW, MSW, is the Communications and Outreach Manager at Experience Camps. A Licensed Clinical Social Worker, she earned her Masters Degree in Social Work from St. Louis University in 2014, and joined the Experience Camps family that same year as a Grief Specialist, stepping into the role as a Director in 2017 and 2018. She served as the Director of Operations for St. Louis Blues Alumni Association from 2015-2021. In 2015, Beth co-founded Coping 4 Life, a nonprofit that provides free mental-health services to people in her under-served rural Illinois community.