9/11: Always Remember. Never Forget.

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Photo by Joel Altschuler

Do you remember where you were the morning of September 11, 2011? I’ll never forget. I was with my mom. It was the perfect late summer morning, blue skies and pleasant temps. We had just arrived at work (we actually worked in the same office that year) and one of the girls was shouting that “a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!” What?

At that time, my office was on the corner of Madison Avenue and 42nd Street in New York City. I went outside with a coworker to see what was going on, since we had been listening to it all unfold on the radio.

We went outside and looked toward the World Trade Center. And just minutes after 10am, there was a plume of smoke and the spire from the south tower sank within it, sinking further until all I could see was just black/grey smoke. My stomach sank, too. I was petrified. Terrified. And the sense of dread I felt that morning, stayed with me longer than I expected.

After watching the towers collapse, I ran back into the building, got my mom, all the while thinking, “If I’m going to die, I’m going to die with her.” Everyone evacuated our office. But Penn Station (where we had to get a train to go back to Long Island) was closed and there was no word of it reopening.

Mom and I headed to Penn anyway. We walked around 34th Street. I was panic-stricken, worried that something other than a building collapse was going on. But my mom, always calm and unruffled no matter what the situation, just held my hand and said, “We’re going to be okay.”

Well, we were okay, but many people weren’t. While it took me three years after 9/11 to ever get back on a subway, many people lost their lives. (For weeks after, my town had a funeral nearly every day, many for the first-responders.)

We finally made it home that day, arriving at our local train station around 5pm. From then, I was glued to the television, watching Peter Jennings report throughout the day and night, and days that followed. It certainly was one of the most horrific times of my life that I can never forget.

Every year on this day, I take some time to remember where I was, who I was with, and most importantly, to remember those that lost (and gave) their lives—in New York City, at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

 

 

 

Message in a Feather

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Photo by Aman Bhatnagar on Pexels.com

Last week when I got run over by the grief bus, thinking about my mom’s last days, I did what I’ve been doing every day since her passing—begging her to give me a sign that she’s still here, still with me. Since last week was an especially low point (hello, grief and major depression!), I needed—and had to get—a sign.

Every morning, Emma and I go for our mile-long walk around the neighborhood. We live on the quiet end of town, so it’s quite peaceful and shady. This one particular morning, I noticed a grey feather on the ground. Nice. I dismissed it, thinking nothing of it. A half a block later, I spotted another grey feather. Okay, two feathers. No big deal. Just a coincidence.

Another half block later, I noticed yet another grey feather and then another. Four grey feathers! In a row! It had to mean something, right? Emma and I walk that same route every morning and I’ve never seen this before.

I had my phone with me so, of course, I googled “meaning of grey feathers” and here’s what came up:

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This might not mean much to you. But in addition to losing my mom, a year after her passing, I lost my job. (Yeah, it’s been a sucky two years. The company I worked for went out of business and I still haven’t landed a full-time job yet.) To me, this was a sign. She was letting me know that better days are still ahead (hard to believe, for me, considering she’s not here to share them).

To top it off, two days later, on our morning walk, I found another feather. This one wasn’t grey, though, it was black. Here’s what Google had to say about that one:

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Since her passing, I’ve always looked for “signs,” thinking I’ll spot her favorites: butterflies and rainbows. Hah! Signs never come in the way we imagine. It’s usually something out of the ordinary. For me, anyway.

Like when I got the first “sign” the month after she passed away. I’ll never forget this. It was Thanksgiving morning—my first one without her—and I was sobbing my brains out in the shower. (Yes, that’s the best place to sob. No one else will ever hear you! My best sobbing is done in the shower.) I collapsed to sit in the tub, begging for a sign. Immediately, my entire shower curtain—hooks, curtain and liner!—fell off the rod and onto the floor. If I didn’t see it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it.

Whether it’s a feather, shower curtain falling or a double rainbow, to me, these things are signs that my mom can somehow hear me. And, they bring me a sense of comfort, albeit slight, as I navigate this world of living without her.

Keep the signs coming, Mom!

For those of you who have lost a loved one, do you ask for signs? Do you get them? Please share your experience. I’d love to hear about it.

When the Grief Bus Runs You Over Unexpectedly … Again

Watching the funeral service for Senator John McCain this week was like getting run over by the grief bus all over again. Not only has it left me bawling like there’s no tomorrow, knowing his family will now have to deal with the “aftermath” that I went through (and still going through), but it has stirred up a lot of anger I have related to my mom’s sudden passing less than two years ago.

While I may not have agreed with McCain’s politics, he certainly was a good man who wanted to make an impact on the country he loved so much. He was a war hero, a husband, a father, a patriot. And like my mom, taken way too soon. (To me, anyone who dies before they’re 100 is taken way too soon!)

In grief, there are many stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. They never come in any particular sequence, mind you. And you never know which stage is going to strike or when. (Grief is a personal journey, so how I grieve is different than you. And the sequence of these stages doesn’t always occur the same for everyone.)  I’d already been a bit weepy this week, thinking about and missing my mom (as I do every day) because she’s the only one who “gets” me and can talk me off the ledge when I go through difficult times. But now, thanks to McCain’s funeral, it’s hello, anger stage.

Why the anger? I’m angry that McCain’s family had time to say goodbye—had I known my mom was dying, I would’ve said more, done more. Angry that they knew how much time he had left (those with glioblastoma diagnosis usually don’t live longer than a year)—my mom was fine until a month before her passing when she suddenly got “the flu.” And angry that he had time to plan his own funeral—my mom never expected to die and didn’t plan anything. She kept saying, “I’m fine. I’ll be home. It’s just a virus.” No, Mom, it wasn’t a virus.

Once you’ve lost your person, witnessing the loss of someone else really hits home. Harder than expected. This week, it felt like someone clubbed me over the head with a baseball bat and I can’t focus or shake the grief. I walk around, shaking my head, “I can’t believe my mom isn’t coming back.”

However, listening to the eulogies and hearing other people speak so fondly of the senator—including those that opposed him politically—left me thinking back to my mom’s passing and what others thought of her. She worked at our town library, and everyone that knew her loved her. She was the person who never said an unkind word about another—not ever, not once. “You never know what another is going through or what they have to contend with,” she’d say. When she passed away, I received countless sympathy cards from people who loved her and were devastated to hear of her sudden passing. Library patrons sent me the sweetest messages. I didn’t know most of them. But as I read the cards, I remembered my mom telling me of them when she’d get home from work, and I could hear her repeating those stories in my head.

My mom touched many lives. Even now, nearly two years after her passing, I still run into strangers who stop me in town to see how I’m doing and share a fond memory of my mom. The best compliment they could ever give me is, “You look (or sound) just like your mom.” Since I always wanted to look and be like her, it makes my heart sing. Yes, my mom is gone, but she is far from forgotten by those whose lives she touched, especially mine.

Vice President Joe Biden said of McCain: “We have to remember how they lived—not just how they died.” And while I’m still angry that she’s not here, she will always be a part of me. Knowing that helps me, even if just a little bit.