There are moments in life that take place on the most ordinary of days, but we never forget them. Such was 9/11.
I remember the evening very clearly. I was a Lifestyle reporter of this paper, and I was on my way home when I noticed my Inquirer colleagues huddled in awe and shock around the television monitor in the news room.
The first plane had just hit and we were all wondering at how a stupid pilot could ram his plane into the World Trade Center (WTC). When the second plane hit, we all knew it wasn’t stupidity and we had just witnessed one of the worst disasters the world had ever known.
For many people the world over, 9/11 is significant and the day evokes a broad range of reactions, memories, thoughts and feelings. I lost a childhood playmate who was working on the 92nd when the first plane hit. I wonder how his brother and mother feel like today.
My good friend, Vina Francisco, was a few blocks away from the WTC the day it happened. She was a few minutes late for work that day. Earlier this week, she had complained to me about hives appearing on her body.
“I must be anxious about the 10th anniversary,” she told me in an SMS.
Year 10 is significant year in terms of anniversary reactions, not only for 9/11, but for many types of losses. You would think that since the loss happened so long ago it will no longer hurt. On the contrary, on the 10th anniversary of a loss, one is suddenly engulfed by the realization that the loved one has long been gone but strangely, on this day, the memory seems so close. Psychologists Diane Philipps describes the effects of anniversary reactions as such:
Anniversary reactions may include feelings of fear, anger, guilt, grief and sadness.
Significant anniversary events often usher in bodily symptoms including sleep problems, fatigue, concentration and heightened startle response.
Memories which were registered that day in a state of heightened arousal may be triggered by sights, smells, sounds, taste, weather, seasons, time or place.
It is almost as if our body and mind can feel thrown back to 9/11 for the day or even the weeks preceding or after the anniversary event.
When I read this, I remembered Vina and her hives. Today we take pause and remember all those who lost loved ones in the wake of 9/11.
Every year, around this time, I ask the students in my grief class to research on how families have been able to find meaning and move on after their 9/11 losses. The stories are always so poignant and inspiring.
One particular story I remember is how a Filipino widower chose to support and build an entire Gawad Kalinga village in honor of his late wife’s memory. He had used the funds he was given in the wake of her death to provide homes for the less fortunate.
“My wife enjoyed her visits to the Philippines very much. She now lives on in each of the homes in this village,” he said in a speech to the community.
I think of all the children who lost fathers and mothers in the WTC and in the Pentagon.
I recently read a story in the Washington Post titled “9/11 Widow Still Trying to Find Her New Normal After the Pentagon Attack,” and the description of how Shari, the widow described her husband’s death to eldest child Amanda, 9, was quite poignant.
It read: “Nine-year-old Amanda was the hardest one to tell because she knew the most. Shari decided to be clear and firm. She explained Vince had died while serving the country and he was never coming home. ‘I will take Daddy’s job,’ she said. She told Amanda it would still be okay to laugh, tell jokes, play and watch cartoons. ‘Your job is still to be 9,’ she said. ‘That doesn’t change.’”
But the story goes on to say that in many ways, Amanda did take on “daddy’s job” in that she became her mother’s confidante and her little brother’s self-described “little mom.” The school psychologist said she displayed a maturity way beyond her years.
And most telling of all, now a junior in college the Post story read – “She possessed her father’s sense of purpose, and she committed herself to a plan: Georgetown, counterintelligence, Arabic… all the memories are no longer sad, Amanda says, “This is our reality.”
Philipps says many people have drawn on many resources to help them move on from 9/11. Majority have sought counseling, some have received the support from strangers, family and friends, a great number have moved on through spirituality and prayer. Today we remember all the lives lost and give thanks for all those who survived.
Vina says tonight she will hold a small party at home to give thanks for her life and for making it through the last 10 years. A highly successful HR practicioner in New York city, early last year she told me she wanted to come home last year to spend time and care for her parents who are now both in their 70s. And she did, six months ago.
I wasn’t at all surprised by her decision.
For the greatest gift loss brings, is you begin to view life through a totally different lens. Priorities are realigned, relationships reevaluated, and a new normal re-engineered. All that truly matters comes into focus ever so sharply, and the non-essentials simply fall away. We go on and live the rest of our lives is such a way that those who have gone on ahead of us, continue, to live on, beautifully in us.