One decade after the attacks of September 11, 2001, 10 people pay tribute to loved ones lost and share the unique, enduring ways in which they celebrate their lives.
“I Meditate Every Morning About How I Can Make the World a Better Place.”
Ann Douglas | 68 | Bear Island, Meredith, New Hampshire
Her son, Frederick John Cox, 27, an associate at the investment-banking firm Sandler O’Neill + Partners, died in the collapse of the World Trade Center’s Tower Two.
As the sun rises and lights up Lake Winnipesaukee right outside my house, I do a meditation to honor my son as well as all the 9/11 victims and their families. I often look out my bedroom window toward the giant hemlock where Freddy hung a swing as a boy. It’s still there, alongside a hammock he put up in his 20s and a plaque he hammered to the trunk that reads, “Do what you love, love what you do.” That was Freddy’s mantra. And it has become mine, too.
I’m retired now, but I started meditating in my 40s, while I was still working as a teacher. The practice meant more to me, however, after Freddy died. It quieted my mind and helped me heal the hole in my heart. I also started a foundation in my son’s memory called Betta Place Inc. (bettaplaceinc.org), which promotes quiet time and conflict resolution for children. I believe that if we can teach kids to think happy, peaceful thoughts, the world will improve.
Freddy always celebrated the moment: He was a loving man to me, his father, his stepfather, and his two older sisters. For Mother’s Day in 2001, he gave me a heart-shaped Tiffany key chain engraved MOM + FREDDY and a note that said, “Mother darling, to the most wonderful person in my life. I love you.” When I look at Freddy’s swing and hammock, it makes me feel connected to his spirit, which I believe is still with us. I see it everywhere. Recently I saw a black butterfly with yellow markings that looked like a smile—as always, I thought of him.
“I Write Letters to My Big Sister, Even Though I Know She’ll Never Write Back.”
Sarah Wainio | 24 | Baltimore
Her sister, Honor Elizabeth Wainio, 27, a retail district manager, was on United Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
See a photo of Sarah.
In August 2001, when I was 14, my older sister, Lizzie, sent me a card in the shape of a sunflower. In it, she wished me luck on entering the same high school that she and our brother, Tom, had attended. She closed with “You are following a fine tradition of Wainios…and I am sure you will make the biggest splash.” About a month later, Lizzie died on Flight 93; she was on her way to San Francisco for a business trip. Afterward I didn’t want to talk about what had happened, not even to my grieving family. Instead I carried around a few of Lizzie’s things: some photos, an article of her clothing, and that sunflower card. I took such comfort in the sway of her script. I touched her words again and again, just wishing I could hear her speak them.
To this day, I carry that card in my purse. And I write Lizzie back from time to time. I tell her how much I miss small things, like playing with her hair. I tell her about my job (I work in fund-raising at Towson University, in Towson, Maryland). And I ask her the questions that I can no longer ask her in person. She doesn’t respond, of course. I don’t believe in a cosmic connection where she ever will. I don’t believe that she can see me writing these letters from heaven. But the fantasy of it all, the small escape from reality that I allow myself when I think of what I would say to my big sister—and of what she would say to me—is cathartic.
I don’t do anything to commemorate 9/11. But I do a lot to remember my sister. She isn’t defined by that one day. Her life meant so much more than just the way it ended.
“I Go Bowling.”
Akilah Jefferson | 33 | Suitland, Maryland
Her uncle, Robert Russell, 52, worked as a military-budget supervisory analyst. He was on the first floor of the Pentagon when the building was struck.
See a photo of Akilah.
When I was growing up, Bobby, my mother’s eldest brother, helped raise me, even though he already had three kids of his own. Uncle Bobby taught me my times tables when I was little, and when I was older, he helped me choose which college to attend. Besides my grandfather, Uncle Bobby was the most important man in my life.
Bobby worked in the Pentagon, putting together the U.S. Army’s annual budget. At the end of every fiscal year, he would throw a big bash at his house for his staff. By the first weekend in September 2001, they still hadn’t completed their work, but for some reason Bobby broke with tradition and held the party anyway.
That was the last time I saw him: happily serving platters of blue crab to his coworkers and chatting everyone up. A few days later, he was gone. I grieved for months before I reminded myself that Bobby wouldn’t want me to be sad. And so in 2003 I decided to honor his memory by taking up one of the activities he loved most—bowling.
I had never bowled more than a 30, but it quickly became one of my favorite hobbies. (I even bought my kids, now ages 7 and 5, their own bowling balls and shoes.)
Everyone in my extended family had relied on Bobby to bring us together for dinners and parties. After 9/11, we retreated to our separate corners. But when I asked relatives to bowl with me, they did—and stories about Bobby tumbled out: “Remember that time we went crabbing with Uncle Bobby?” “Remember how he took us to New York City?” We laughed again at his favorite jokes.
This September 11, more than 30 of my relatives—including my mother’s three remaining siblings and Bobby’s wife and kids—will be together. We’ll attend the Pentagon’s memorial service, and afterward we’ll go bowling. I know Bobby would approve.
“I Take a Moment to Sit on the Bench Dedicated to My Husband.”
Dorry Tompsett | 57 | Garden City, New York
Her husband, Stephen Tompsett, 39, a senior vice president at the brokerage firm Instinet, was attending the Risk Waters Group’s financial-technology conference at Windows on the World when the plane struck Tower One.
See a photo of Dorry.
The loss was everywhere on September 11. My church lost 14 parishioners. My town, Garden City, lost 23 people. Some people received remains of their loved ones, but my daughter, Emily (now 19, pictured here), and I did not. My husband’s plot is still empty. I had nothing to bury.
Still, it was important that Emily and I had a place to go to remember Stephen. In 2002 I purchased a bench on the village green in his honor. Another widow and a couple I knew from church who lost their son did the same thing. Those three memorial benches are clustered in that park, not far from the 9/11 memorial erected by the town.
My daughter was 9 when her dad died, and for years she would decorate the bench. She would leave a basket of goodies at Easter, for example. Now that she’s older, we come by on September 11 and other important dates (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Father’s Day, and Stephen’s birthday), place flowers on the bench, and just sit beside them.
I keep my husband’s spirit alive in other ways as well. I established the Stephen K. Tompsett Memorial Fund for Technology in Education (stevetompsettmemorialfund.org) to support schools and young adults in the fields of math, science, and technology—Stephen’s passions. He would be elated that Emily is studying math and computer science and plans to become a math teacher. She looks so much like him: the same dimple on her chin, the same dark hair. And because we spend time talking about what a great man her dad was—not the horrible way we lost him—she feels she really knows him.
“I Wear a Bracelet With My Brother’s Name on It.”
Devita Bishundat | 27 | Washington, D.C.
Her brother, Kris Romeo Bishundat, 23, an information technician, second class, in the U.S. Navy, died in the attack on the Pentagon.
See a photo of Devita.
For six months prior to September 11, Romeo lived on a ship. He was so happy when he got transferred to the Pentagon in May 2001; he would be close to my parents, my sister, and me. We were thrilled, too. We thought he would be safe. Romeo died in the attacks just three days before his 24th birthday.
Afterward my sister and I ordered silver bracelets for everyone in our family. They had Romeo’s name engraved on them, along with the words NAVY and PENTAGON. I wear my bracelet constantly. I sleep with it and even shower with it. It calms me.
Romeo would have turned 34 this September. Every year, his family and friends come together to celebrate his birthday. We share memories about how much he loved his Jeep, about his high school graduation party, about how much he loved to surf. I imagine telling him about my life, too.
Last April, my sister got married. I was her maid of honor. It was a beautiful ceremony, but also painful. If Romeo had been at the reception, he would have cracked a joke or made a funny speech. Everyone would have laughed. Instead my father raised his glass to Romeo—and the room went silent.
“I Carry 21 Cents to Remind Me of My Brother, Number 21.”
Anthony Lilore | 52 | New York City
His brother, Craig Lilore, a 30-year-old stock trader at Cantor Fitzgerald, died in the collapse of Tower One.
See a photo of Anthony.
I wasn’t just Craig’s big brother. Since I was 13 years older, I was also his babysitter, his teacher, and his friend. I was so proud of him. Craig was a natural leader and athlete. He was the star quarterback in high school, he skied, and he played golf and baseball. He was the kind of guy who could do just about anything.
On the morning of September 11, from the rooftop of my apartment building in midtown Manhattan, I watched the Twin Towers fall. I couldn’t accept the idea that Craig was still inside. If anyone could get out, I thought, it would be him. Three weeks later, his body was found. The grief was deeper than I can describe.
For years I thought of Craig constantly. In June 2005, I was riding my motorcycle when I suddenly realized that I had forgotten the number of his football jersey. Was it 13? Thirty-two? Twenty-three? I was so distracted trying to remember that I narrowly escaped a serious accident: I actually stopped at a green light and missed a truck that had just run a red light. If I had been riding as usual, that truck would probably have crashed into me. When I returned home that evening and emptied my pockets,
I found two dimes and a penny—and then I realized that 21 had been Craig’s jersey number. I looked up and I told my brother, “Thanks for watching out for me.” Since then, I always carry 21 cents in my pocket. And each time I visit Craig’s resting place, I leave that amount on his gravestone. Somehow I think we both appreciate the gesture.
“I Go to an Angels Game.”
Brad Burlingame | 58 | Los Angeles
His brother, Charles Burlingame, 51, was the pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.
See a photo of Brad.
My oldest brother, Chic, and I grew up several miles from the baseball stadium in Anaheim, California. Along with our other two siblings, we were big baseball fans. In fact, Chic and I were planning to celebrate his 52nd birthday by going to an Angels game. The game date was September 12, 2001.
Ever since then, if the Angels have a home game on or around that day, my wife, Diane, and I go in honor of my brother. I think of Chic and wish he were there to watch alongside me, have a hot dog and a beer, and just enjoy the day.
He was the oldest kid in our family, and we all looked up to him. He had known he wanted to be a pilot since he was a kid—and he realized that dream. All my siblings and I enjoy what we do, but Chic never talked about his vocation as “work.” He would just say, “I’m going flying.”
When I spoke with reporters about Chic in the days after 9/11, I would always talk about his accomplishments but end with mentioning what a huge Angels fan he was. The team’s communications director noticed one such article and asked me to throw out the first pitch for their home opener in 2002, which happened to be the first game in Major League Baseball that year. I walked out to the mound as the packed stadium cheered and Navy SEALs parachuted onto the field. The Angels lost that game but went on to win the World Series that season, for the first time ever. I like to think they had help from a real angel.
I go to games now whenever I can. It’s particularly poignant to do so in September—near the dates of Chic’s birthday and his death. Whenever I see someone hit a home run, I get caught up in the excitement and turn to say something to my brother—before I remember, again, that he’s not there.
“I Visit the Trees That Were Planted in My Mom’s Memory.”
Carole O’Hare | 59 | Danville, California
Her mother, Hilda Marcin, a 79-year-old retiree from Mount Olive, New Jersey, died in the crash of United Flight 93.
See a photo of Carole.
My mother was coming to live with me and my husband, Tom. A widow who had recently retired from her longtime job as a school aide, Mom was spunky, funny, and looking forward to having time for herself. September 11 was her moving day.
For a while, it was difficult to do anything but think about the tragedy—how horrific it must have been for all the passengers and crew members to face the fact that their lives would end at the hands of these evil men. And how devastating it was to lose my mother in such a monstrous way. My mind would often wander to that very dark place.
What helped was hearing from the many good people who reached out to us. They left notes and cards on my doorstep or called to offer their sympathies or even money. With some of those donations, I created a charitable fund in my mother’s name to support causes she believed in. My mother loved animals, and among the 10 charities we support, several of them train dogs to help the disabled. To this day, people send checks to the Hilda Marcin Flight 93 Charitable Memorial Fund (administered by Fidelity Charitable, 800-952-4438)—it’s inspiring and touching. And now that I’m retired from my job in sales and marketing, I enjoy spending my days working for the fund.
Those are the big ways I celebrate my mother. My rituals for commemorating the day of September 11 are more intimate. Every year I light a candle to remember Mom and everyone who died that day. And then I spend time near the two trees—a golden pear and a weeping willow—that were planted in her honor in a local park, where she and I used to picnic when she visited me every summer. When I feel her loss intensely, it gives me comfort to see something beautiful, something that’s sprouting anew.
“My Husband and I Bring Five Sunflowers to a Church in Our Town.”
Jane Randel | 44 | Maplewood, New Jersey
Her friend, Douglas MacMillan Cherry, 38, a vice president for Aon Corporation, was in Tower Two when the plane struck.
See a photo of Jane.
Every year on September 11, my husband, Charles (pictured here), and I take five sunflowers to a memorial garden located at a church in our town, where our friend Doug worshipped. Four of the flowers represent Doug’s wife, Sarah, and their three kids; the fifth represents me, Charles, and our three children.
We had known Doug and Sarah for nine years. Sarah was my first boss at Liz Claiborne, where I work as a senior vice president, and we stayed very close after she left the company back in the mid-90s. In fact, it was she and Doug who had urged us to relocate from Manhattan to suburban Maplewood. We moved there just six months before he died.
Rain or shine, I come home from work, pick up the flowers, and meet Charles. We talk for a while about how much Doug would have enjoyed our twin boys, Sam and Will, now 8, and Nicholas, now 10. We tell Doug about all the family barbecues and Nerf wars we’ve had in his absence. We sometimes laugh, remembering all the fun we had together. And we wish him well.
A few years after Doug died, Sarah and her kids moved to Ohio. Every year, once I get back from church, I e-mail her to let her know we’ve done the ritual again, and she always responds with love and thanks. But we do it for ourselves as much as for Sarah. It makes us feel connected to Doug. It makes us reflect on what could have been. After we leave the church, we move on with our lives—never dwelling but always remembering.
“I Have a Picnic and Toast My Friend’s Life.”
Tyrone Fripp | 43 | New York City
His best friend, Eric Bennett, 29, a vice president at Alliance Consulting Group, died when the plane struck Tower One.
See a photo of Tyrone.
Eric and I met at a consulting firm, where we were both recruiters. He was from Flint, Michigan, and, despite living in New York City, was a country boy at heart. I was born and raised in the Bronx, so I called him Hayseed and teased him about the country music he liked, but we became close. After moving to other jobs, we still hung out all the time. We’d go to the gym or have a beer—he loved beer. We even moved to the same neighborhood, a few blocks away from each other. We were more like brothers than friends.
Right after the attacks, I quit my job. First I dedicated my time to trying to find Eric, and later to planning a memorial service in New York (his family held one in his home state). His aunts and sister came, as did his partner, Rodrigo.
At the service, I spoke about Eric’s ability to bring divergent people together. It was true: If you looked out at the crowd, you saw a rainbow of people—old, young; gay, straight; black, Latino, white. Eric loved everyone.
Every year since 2001, I’ve stayed home from work on 9/11 and observed silence for most of the day. This year I will do the same. Right before sundown, I go to a short pier on the West Side of Manhattan and have a picnic with a beer (Bud Light, Eric’s favorite). I toast to him in the sunset, while facing downtown toward the World Trade Center. I try not to cry. Sometimes I am successful. Often I am not.
How to Give Back
This year, Real Simple staffers will be joining millions of other Americans in commemorating the lives of those lost on September 11, 2001, by participating in the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance. Please go to realsimple.com/remembrance or 911dayofservice.org to learn more about how to get involved.