I had the honor of being interviewed by our local newspaper for a special section devoted to the tenth anniversary of the September 11,2001 terrorist attacks. Eight victims had ties to my community. The surviving family members of three of these families shared their journeys for this article. I was interviewed as a “grief expert,” whose name was provided to the newspaper by Utica College. I am employed there as an adjunct professor and have taught several courses including, Death, Dying and Bereavement.
The interview was brief, but went well. I stated that communities have learned to mobilize around tragedy by coming together and praying together. I also offered my belief that the surviving family members of 9/11 have learned to live with a certain amount of pain and address that by memorializing (honoring) their loved ones.
Finally, I shared my belief that their deceased loved ones come alive through the stories that the surviving family members tell. I not only believed this, but also have lived much of what I discussed with the reporter, since my daughter Jeannine died on 3/1/03 at age 18 of cancer.
The events that unfolded on and after September 11,2001 affected me as it did everyone in this country and the world. I was concerned with my own personal safety and the safety of our nation’s inhabitants after the terrorist attacks. I felt sad for the victims and their families, but simultaneously relieved that none of my family or friends were victims of the attacks. As a result, I was able to “move on” and detach from the pain that the victims’ families were experiencing on an ongoing basis.
What a difference a decade makes. After this article was published on 9/11/2011, I found that I was deeply affected by the stories, pain and resiliency of the surviving family members. I found myself revisiting the terrorist attacks, visualizing the planes hitting the twin towers, and where the victims were. I could not move myself to file this article with others that I have done or were interviewed for in the past. It remains sitting on my desk. I felt connected to individuals that I did not even know prior to this article and did not want to forget their stories and the faces of their deceased loved ones.
Since Jeannine’s death, I have had the privilege of meeting other bereaved parents whose stories inspired me and whose presence in my life comforted me. As a result, I have been able to find meaning while honoring Jeannine through service work with other parents and bereaved individuals who have experienced catastrophic loss. I would also read about or hear of another parent experiencing the death of a child and would be emotionally affected, even if I did not know him/her or their child personally. The tragedy of experiencing the death of a child made us one with each other. We did not have to meet to experience this bond.
Experiencing the intense emotions associated with the stories of those individuals whose loved ones died on September 11,2001, reinforced for me the common bond we share with all victims of unthinkable tragedy. I have also learned that it is never too late to experience that bond. I was transformed from being a detached observer to a silent companion to the stories of those local residents affected by 9/11.
The story that resonated with me the most was that of a 25-year-old female whose father died at the age of 51 on September 11, 2001. Ten years after his death, she embarked on a cross-country bicycle trip with four other friends. The trip originated from her home and ended in New York City, in time for the ten-year anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
I was encouraged by the pride she felt for the United States due to her experiences, while simultaneously feeling sadness because her father died much too soon; a victim of a senseless tragedy. Given the fact that she was close in age to my daughter Jeannine (had she lived) heightened the sense of connection I experienced with her story.
What I have learned is that my experience with Jeannine’s death has now begun to transcend to victims of other life-altering events. More often than not, individuals say that witnessing the tragedies of others puts things in perspective. Whether or not we have been affected by life-altering events, I would encourage us all to allow tragedy to change our perspective rather than simply put things in perspective. By allowing life-altering events to change our perspective, we can become one with all those who have experienced tragedy.
Dave Roberts 2011