Monday, September 12, 2011

Washington Social Diary

The opening of the 10th anniversary ceremony at the World Trade Center Memorial.
by Carol Joynt

In the end the 9/11 anniversary was a great big wallow in death, but anyone who has lost a loved one knows that, under the best circumstances, over time the annual occasions become more about life than death.

This year it was inevitable that the media would replay what happened, explosions and fire, over and over again, but the encouraging images were of the memorials, and to see the survivors who have carried on with their lives. The anniversary stirred their sadness, of course, but the prevailing message was about moving on.
Parishioners headed to 9.11 services in Washington DC.
When 9/11 happened I was a relatively fresh widow. My husband’s sudden death happened only a few years earlier. I was raising our young son alone. After coming to terms with the horror, my first thoughts went to the women and men who were now all alone, many of them also newly solo parents. Did they have a friend to hold them? How were they coping with their last shared words, if they even got to have those last words? How will they tell the children, whatever their ages? How do they pick up the pieces?

It seems impossible at the beginning. Someone is gone who may very well have been the center of the family’s universe, the leader of the pack, upon whom all others depended, who kept the family unit secure and safe. And, just like that, gone. In too many cases a void in fact as well as feeling, because so many families of 9/11 did not have a body to bury; tissue or dust, if that. Just gone. Gone, gone, gone. The walls of a well-ordered life and love suddenly come crashing down. Avalanches of despair. The words, the plans, the memories – all gone.
MSNBC replayed NBC's live September 11 coverage in real time.
But that was then, ten years ago. A decade is a significant mark in recovering from grief. It’s an important measure of coping and growth. There has been time to rebuild life. The sadness is still there, but the pain is less sharp, less gripping and overwhelming. It can be called up, but doesn’t hover front and center. Children are older and wiser and, hopefully, have made peace. Depending on so many factors, the widows and widowers may have found new love, remarried and started new families.

Often it is easier for men. Our society embraces widowers more comfortably than it embraces widows. We bring widowers casseroles and invite them to dinner. It’s usually not like that for women.
Former President George W. Bush at the World Trade Center Memorial ceremony.
President Obama at the World Trade Center Memorial.
Perhaps that’s because the multiple responsibilities that befall a widow – children, household, breadwinner, leadership – appear daunting, as if no one person could wrap her arms around so much.

Friends don’t know what to say or do, or where to begin. But look into the faces of the 9/11 widows and you see thousands of stories – of past agony, of trial and error, of spells of hopelessness, of renewal, finding faith and strength, finding a way, getting throughout it, learning to rely on others, to give and take. Survival.
Ceremony at the World Trade Center Memorial.
Ceremony at the Pentagon Memorial.
Family and friends at ceremonies in Shanksville, Pa., where United #93 crashed.
Shanksville, Pa.
The next decade will be easier, but the wound will remain. It’s a scar now. It will be a scar for life. But we can live with scars. If you know someone who is a widow or widower – from 9/11 or only yesterday – think about them, especially over time as you may begin to forget their loss.

Think of them on weekends, when the phones go too silent. But think of them also when they stand side by side with you, getting on with their lives, and give him or her a pat on the back. That’s why the 9/11 memorials are so moving. They say, “Now, we go forward,” acknowledging death but celebrating life.
Carol Joynt's new memoir, Innocent Spouse, can be ordered from Amazon, HERE.