Tenth anniversary of 9/11 brings renewed grief
What comforts? What reignites pain?
With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaching, counselors say we're entering uncharted territory on the emotional front.
The relatives of the victims not only had to endure seeing the attacks as they happened, but relive it each year on Sept 11. This weekend will be especially difficult with the media recounting the events of that day with vivid videos and poignant photos to mark the decade anniversary.
"The major life-changing events of the past weren't covered so completely and instantaneously by the media," said professional counselor Deborah Del Vecchio-Scully, executive director of the Connecticut Counseling Association. "So whether you want to be reminded or not, you will be. And for those more intimately affected, this isn't a private loss, it's a very, very public loss. They won't have the opportunity to grieve privately."
One would have to go back to the attack on Pearl Harbor to find an event that's even remotely similar, she said, and the newsreels of that attack weren't seen by the public until weeks later.
To make matters worse for loved ones, there were no remains to bury. In spite of a forensic effort at ground zero that has no equal and which continues to this day, the remains of more than one-third of the 9/11 victims were never found.
For professional counselor Mary A. Fetchet of New Canaan, this uncertainty was especially difficult. Her son, Brad, 24, was on the 89th floor of tower 2 when it collapsed. His remains were found several weeks later.
"It was an emotional rollercoaster," Fetchet said. "The uncertainly of not knowing whether he was dead or alive was very unsettling. Most Americans can move on, but we can't."
Fetchet notes that there will surly be new episodes of grief in store for 9/11 families in the future.
"Thirty years from now, a child of a victim, who may have been just an infant in 2001, might be told of the discovery of a bone fragment of his father or mother," she said.
Soon after the attacks, Fetchet, along with the late Beverly Eckert of Stamford, founded the support group for 9/11 families, Voices of September 11. Eckert's husband, Sean Rooney, died in the tower attacks, too. Eckert was killed in a commuter aircraft crash in 2009.
"Not having a body affects they way people grieve," Del Vecchio-Scully said. "We have our mourning rituals for a reason, but lot of families found that they have to grieve in ways that they didn't prefer. And it's ongoing, because just in the last couple of weeks, there was yet another victim identified," she said.
Professional counselor Louisa L. Foss, assistant professor and coordinator of clinical mental health counseling at Southern Connecticut State University, said that the 10th anniversary could "re-traumatize" 9/11 family members.
"The media attention of terrorism and world events serves as a constant reminder for them," Foss said.
"Many in 9/11 families will avoid reminders of the date as much as possible, even now, a decade later," said licensed professional counselor Karla Troesser, president-elect of the Connecticut Counseling Association.
Still, for many, the events surrounding the 10th anniversary might prove comforting.
"The coverage in the media, for the most part, will be in good taste, and that will prove helpful to many, bringing a recognition and an awareness for what happened," Troesser said. "Others, on the other hand, could be re-traumatized. Everyone grieves differently, and it's important for people to know that an anniversary like this one does bring up a lot of emotions."
Many 9/11 families, Troesser said, may elect to spend the day alone and not, for example, participate in events staged near ground zero.
"There are similarities in all unnatural deaths, but the violence of the 9/11 attacks is almost unique," said Del Vecchio-Scully. "A car accident is violent, too, but there's no maliciousness in it."
So what should you say when you meet a friend who lost a relative on 9/11?
"Let them guide the process," Del Vecchio-Scully said. "Say something like, `I was thinking of you today.' "
Foss cautions that what works for one person might not work for another. "For some, it will be appropriate to ask `How are you doing?' But others will need more privacy."
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