In Bereavement, Pioneers on a Lonely Trail
The New York Times The New York Times New York Region September 8, 2002  

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In Bereavement, Pioneers on a Lonely Trail

(Page 3 of 4)

"They reacted as scared people and they came across as greedy people," said Robert Monetti, who lost his son, Rick, on Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and who has been working with many of the families of Sept. 11.

Mr. Monetti said the Lockerbie families used to complain that they were ignored by the government. "But having seen what government attention does to people, we figure we got off easy we just got ignored, they got actively brutalized," he said.


One Small Circle
`We've Bonded
With Strangers'

They have no illusion that their small union will change the world or undo any of the damage to their hearts. But the 12 pictures that Tom and JoAnn Meehan have assembled on a collage in their home in Carteret, N.J., do tell a tale: a new family has emerged here, spread across five states and two continents.

"We've bonded with strangers who have stepped into our lives," said Mr. Meehan, whose daughter, Colleen Barkow, is at 11 o'clock on the collage.

The big, formal family organizations the kind with fancy Web sites and leaders who testify in Washington and City Hall have received most of the headlines. But it is through private, informal groups like this one that the community of Sept. 11 is given its texture and definition.

Technology created the means. The Internet became a personal salvation for people like Mr. Meehan, who spent whole days last fall staring into his computer screen. People found one another in chat rooms and on message boards parents talking with other parents, widows with widowers. Discussion groups formed, withered and formed again, therapists say, as people reached different stages of healing.

The Internet, contrary to its image as the disembodied realm of cyberspace, also reinforced the importance of old-fashioned proximity. Because so many families were concentrated in a couple of regions New York City and Washington people could easily meet online and then in person.

Arthur Russo, who lost his son, Wayne Alan (at the center of the Meehans' collage), said the isolation would be unbearable if not for the friendships he has made. He is not sure how long the various family circles will continue, but said that for now he could not imagine them ending.

"You virtually find yourself out there almost all alone, and the comfort you find is meeting such groups as them," he said.

The serpentine twists of the Meehan group mirror the chaos after Sept. 11. Joe and Adele Milanowycz, for example (their son Greg, is at 8 p.m. on the collage), who also live in New Jersey, attended a meeting held by their county prosecutor's office and met a woman who said she knew a Mr. Russo who was looking to contact other fathers.

The Russo and Milanowycz families met for lunch and bonded. The Russos then met the Meehans at a parents' support group. Jane Strauss (her husband, Edward, is at 7 p.m. on the collage), knew the Meehans from church, and then through the Meehans met Monica Barbella, whose husband, James (1 a.m. on the collage), worked with Mr. Strauss. And the Meehans, like operators on an old-fashioned switchboard, pushed and pulled the wires to connect them all.

"It made you realize that it was a smaller world than you thought," Mr. Milanowycz said.

Two Sides of Pain
Women Emerge
On a New Landscape

Monica Iken has not stopped since last fall when she realized that the death of her husband, Michael, required a total commitment to the idea of a proper memorial in Lower Manhattan. The organization she founded, September's Mission, has become the vehicle for her grief.

"It's how I get up in the morning," she said.

Marc E. Wieman battened down the hatches. After becoming a single parent with the death of his wife, Mary, he decided that the best course for himself and his three children, ages 7, 9 and 13, was to get back to normal as quickly as possible. He returned to his job as an insurance industry manager only a week after the attacks. His boss sent him home immediately, shocked that he would show up so soon.

"Look, we move on," Mr. Wieman said. "This is the hand I've been dealt to play. It's not an especially good one. But I have to do it. So I expect that at some point I will establish what a normal life is for us in this post-9/11 era. And we will live that."

The gender divide is unquestionably real, family members and therapists say, and it is not just an issue of theoretical interest or sexual politics. Sept. 11 was a public event and also a deeply private one. And that created two very different ways of expressing one's pain. Men, as a generalization, tended to retreat and go it alone; women tended to advance and bond with others. The demographics of the disaster elevated the importance of those differences World Trade Center widows outnumber widowers five-to-one and changes in American society over the last few decades allowed and encouraged those widows to step forward. An advance guard of female leaders emerged at September's Mission, the Skyscraper Safety Campaign and many other groups.

Some women say the disaster brought out an instinctive reaction, like a mother bear protecting her cubs. Others say women are more comfortable expressing their emotions in public, and in building the networks, shared grief was the common currency.

"In some ways it's the steel magnolia syndrome," said Diane Horning, who lost her son, Matthew.

Of course, war widows have been around as long as there have been wars, but historians say that the women who grieved after Antietam in the Civil War or Pearl Harbor before World War II could do little more than that there was no mechanism for turning their pain into action. The rise of women in the community of Sept. 11, they say, is yet another way that the terrorist attacks broke the mold and shattered the world before a vast social experiment unfolding in an altered era of gender equality.

Other women say that it is too early to pronounce an end to history's old biases and roadblocks. The true powers that be, they say, might simply be biding their time until the women go away or burn out.

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Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
A year after Sept. 11, the victims' families, like Tom and JoAnn Meehan, say that what defines them most is their sense of separation from other Americans.


An Accounting of the Victims

Interactive Feature: An Accounting of the Victims


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