Still tortured by the deaths of her three young daughters in the Taconic State Parkway crash, a Floral Park woman says she is struggling to rebuild her shattered life -- and reveals she is pregnant.
Jackie Hance writes in an essay in the August edition of Ladies' Home Journal that she and her husband, Warren, were "stunned" to learn the girls' aunt, Diane Schuler, was drunk and high when she drove the wrong way on the Taconic, causing a collision that killed eight people on July 26, 2009.
"How could this person I trusted completely have done something so unthinkable that I couldn't -- and still can't -- wrap my head around it?" Hance writes. "I pray every day that there is another explanation. To not have any answers is torture. I don't know how to describe that pain."
Hance, 40, describes a web of grief that enveloped her life and strained her marriage, finances, extended-family relationships and ability to function.
She wandered out of the house at odd hours and spent many days in bed. Unlike other grieving mothers she's consulted, she didn't have other children for whom to stay strong. She stopped cooking because it reminded her of her daughters, and quit going to church.
"How could I believe that God had been listening to my prayers?" she writes.
The 2,800-word essay -- co-written with Janice Kaplan -- breaks Jackie Hance's nearly two-year silence on the crash that took the lives of her only children -- Emma, 8, Alyson, 7, and Kate, 5.
Hance writes that she decided to have another child several months ago, after seeing the girls in heaven in a dream. Though she had a tubal ligation procedure after Kate's birth, a Manhattan doctor had offered to perform in vitro fertilization.
The baby is due in the fall, she said.
"I want to be excited, but I know how random life can be, and how unfair. However much we try to protect our children, the worst can happen," Hance writes. "Every day, all I want is to be reunited with my girls again in heaven. But Emma, Alyson and Katie have other plans for me right now."
Floral Park neighbors reacted with joy that a family wracked by grief finally has something to celebrate.
"It's an absolute blessing," said Tracy McGrath, who had heard the news two weeks ago. "They deserve something good."
Through a family spokesman, Jackie and Warren Hance declined to be interviewed Tuesday.
The essay was published as others affected by the crash tell their stories in a book and in an HBO documentary. Hance's essay offers no new details about the collision, or new insight into why her husband's sister -- "the most responsible person" Hance says she knew -- got drunk and smoked marijuana with a minivan full of children.
The minivan driven by Schuler crashed into a sport utility vehicle in Mount Pleasant, killing three Yonkers men -- Mike Bastardi, 81, his son Guy Bastardi, 49, and Daniel Longo, 74. Schuler's daughter, Erin, 2, and Schuler, 36, of West Babylon, were also killed.
Hance writes that her feelings about Schuler -- "adored by my girls and cherished by my husband" -- are complex.
"[S]ince Diane's not here, I can't take out my anger, my confusion or my heartache on her," Hance writes. "There's no one left to hate. And anyway, we both loved her very much."
Hance wants answers but is unsure she can watch the HBO documentary, scheduled to air on July 25. Its title, "There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane," is drawn from Emma's last phone conversation with her mom from the minivan, a fact Hance says "only makes it that much more painful."
The film's director, Liz Garbus, said Tuesday: "Had we known this would cause the family any pain, we would never have chosen the current title."
A lawsuit filed by the Bastardi family looms over the family now, Hance writes. Her husband is named as a defendant because Schuler was driving a minivan registered to him, making him potentially liable under New York law.
"While everything that mattered was already gone, everything that remained could still be taken," Hance writes.
Mike Bastardi's son, Michael, said the suit filed by his sister, Roseann Guzzo, was aimed at uncovering the truth.
"I understand Jackie's pain," Bastardi said. "My family, we're all experiencing the same pain."
Warren Hance, his wife writes, has struggled with the idea that it was his sister "who destroyed our lives" and he has managed his grief by keeping busy and thinking about other matters.
"We are different people, but we're both broken," she writes.
She knows the death of children has destroyed marriages, but she said her love for her husband and daughters pushed her to make it work. "I am holding on to my husband and to the idea that we can survive this."
Hance describes a "split" from Schuler's family, which has publicly tried to clear her name for the past two years.
Schuler's husband, Daniel, said Tuesday he had not seen the essay and had no comment. He said he had not spoken to Jackie Hance in some time.
The lone survivor of the collision, Schuler's son, Bryan, now 7, was the last living person to see the Hance girls alive.
Hance wants to talk to the boy -- her nephew and godson -- but has decided to wait.
"I have so many questions," Hance writes, "too many for a little boy to answer."
With Sarah Crichton