He was gentle. By all descriptions, jolly and kind. He was my cousin, 22 years older than me. I was eight the day we heard the news. “Two planes, hijacked by terrorists, crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City.”
My mom told me this as we walked down our private drive in New City, New York. She was instructed to meet me at the bus stop because some kids might not have parents anymore.
I was jarred, but young, and unable to form personal attachment. “I feel so bad for the people who lost loved ones,” I said. I remember her face looked uncomfortable. They weren’t sure yet.
I went to my friend Caroline’s house as planned but when I came home, I could tell that something was off. My mom was balancing the acts of cooking spaghetti and meat sauce with frantically calling numbers she found on Caroline’s dad’s palm pilot. One of these activities was less common than the other.
“Mom, what’s going on?” I asked.
“Honey, the attacks that happened this morning—your cousin Rob worked in one of those towers. And no one has heard from him.”
I still remember the pale light of our living room as I ran upstairs to grab my stuffed friend, Bearanowski. I needed something to hold onto, to cry into.
That week, my Aunt Sue, Uncle Bobby, Neil, Joan, and Joan’s husband, Rob’s immediate family members, came to stay with us. The hope was not gone that Rob was somewhere unidentified. The trips into the city happened every day.
I remember the tears. I remember the rubble. The cross-shaped crossbeam that stood in the aftermath offered little to no comfort.
20 years later, I live in Georgia. On many anniversaries of September 11th, I have heard someone say, “Oh that’s right! Today is that day.” And I experience shivers up my spine.
“Gone but not forgotten” is not some pleasantry my family says. It is our reality.
Rob is commemorated within each one of us. In his nephew’s name. In the New York City Marathon number 18416. The race he never got to run; that one of us ran every year for 12 years following his death. In the Saint Bonaventure Gringo Open, a golf tournament that had its 20th anniversary this August. In my battle with depression—knowing that he struggled with it too helped me find strength and support. It reminded me I wasn’t alone.
The people we lost 20 years ago, the turmoil that occurred in our country and overseas in the aftermath, the injustice that was the terrorist attacks themselves and the hurtful, unwarranted treatment towards US immigrants in reaction—all of it matters to this day.
The events of September 11th sparked grief, a sudden loss of innocence, and unprecedented collective emotional trauma. Wounds like these do not simply heal through time. Their tender spots remain susceptible to a wide range of possible triggers.
My first memory of the hollow feeling I came to know in my adolescence as depression was on December 25, 2001, as video footage recounting that tragic day played on a television. Even without apparent personal impact, that day shaped many individuals’ lives and mental well-being. The constant static white noise of a country’s fear and rage coated the background of our lives in the months and years following.
Coping with grief and living beyond immense loss has no guidebook. Whether your loss coincides with this anniversary, is more recent, or of another variety: I am holding space for you.
Remember what you need to remember.
Grieve if you need to grieve.
When a wave of emotion washes over you, let it come and let it leave.
There is no shame in unresolved or re-surfaced feelings.
Write a letter you may not be able to send. Share your experience out loud with someone who has maybe never heard it. Honor them and your experience of loss in a way you haven’t yet. Ask for help if you need it. Check in with a loved one impacted by this day. Show kindness and compassion to the person making your morning coffee or tea.
The realities of this anniversary are both apparent and hidden. Let this day be what it is—and through it, show love.
The heavy you carry deserves to be shared, to be seen, to be known. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].