Today is the 10th anniversary of the terror attack on the World Trade Center. Our hearts go out even now to the thousands of people who died that day: children, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers and friends. So many people mourned, are still mourning and will never forget the worst terrorist act on American soil. I sincerely doubt whether any of us, whether involved or not, will forget what happened, and we will all remember what we were doing that day when our world changed forever.
I had just flown into New Jersey 6 hours prior (we got in very late because of mechanical trouble) and was asleep in the Day’s Inn at Newark Airport when a phone call from my husband in Phoenix woke me up and said to turn on the TV. I was in New Jersey for a 5 day book tour to sell my first book, “ I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye,” after speaking at bookstores and talking to bereavement groups around the state. When I turned on the TV, the whole world had turned upside down. I saw the towers burning, the newscasters telling what had happened, the people and images of which I will never forget.
I was to be on a TV news show that morning to discuss death of a child and my book and thought I’d better get over there and see if I was still going to be interviewed. The doors to the TV station were locked. I knocked and knocked; finally someone came. I was told no one was allowed inside. I explained I was to be on TV in a few hours and was told that all TV programming was on hold.
I went back to the hotel and waited. On the New Jersey turnpike, I could see across the river, the smoldering embers of what was once the two tallest buildings in New York City. A deadly silence prevailed during the shocking first few hours.
During the 10 days I spent there (plane travel was suspended for 5 of those days), I met many people who had lost loved ones or friends at the World Trade Center. My book signings were not as full as I had hoped, since most people were glued to their TV sets or mourning those they knew who had been killed.
Of those who did come to the book signings or bereavement group meetings to hear me speak, one woman had a friend whose son had still not been heard from five days later. The mother still hoped. Another had just spoken to her cousin who’s son had been pulled out of the building alive. Still another lost her husband when his fire unit went into the second tower to help survivors. Many from his unit had also perished. Internet and phone service was down, so many did not and could not hear from loved ones those first few days. A subsequent bomb threat to the Empire State Building caused evacuation of all buildings in the area. Cameras captured actions on the ground and words in the air. Burned into our memory are shouts and mumbled prayers in the after-hours.
There were also pockets of order where command posts with volunteers handed out bottled water and food. Police, firefighters, bureaucrats, contractors, military, doctors, nurses, clergy and even thieves gathered to give what help they could.
The horrendous idea that thousands of people fell to their death in the hole made by 110 floors worth of rubble and metal was unthinkable. Most of those people were dead; a few lucky ones survived. I watched it all on TV for many, many hours. The coverage in the New York area exceeded any on TV’s across the nation.
The fact that I was at many bereavement groups talking about grieving and coping with a loss was comforting for many people. There were so many stories, so many people and so much sadness. Here they could express heartbreaks, fears and hopes. I understood all this. My daughter had died seven years prior; I understood their tears, their silent screams and their overwhelming sense of loss.
My new book was definitely timely for what had just happened. I had just written about surviving grief and here were the families of thousands of people just starting their grief journey. If I could help even just one person, it would be comforting to me personally.
My involvement in this day and afterwards will stay with me always. (I discovered from an FBI phone call a few weeks later that a few of the hijackers were next door to me in the Days Inn. I never saw them.)
This event was the start of my own personal journey to help bereaved parents in any way I could: by my writings and by my speaking to groups and at national bereavement conferences. Ten years is a long time but we must remain vigilant and never let something like this ever happen again on American soil.
Sandy Fox 2011