9/11 20th Anniversary Commemoration: Honoring those lost by sharing their stories

The morning of September 11, 2001, became an inflection point unlike any other. It was a day filled with uncertainty, grief and loss – the loss of nearly 3,000 lives and the loss of any pervasive sense of safety.

On this 20th anniversary of 9/11, we pause to recognize and honor the lives and legacies of those who were lost in the attacks and in our national response, mindful of all that has ensued in the two decades since.

The impact of 9/11 extends far beyond one day. It has permanently altered the lives of families who lost parents, spouses, children, and siblings. It has left a painful mark on those who suffered injury and illness as a result of that terrible morning. It has shaped the lives of the first responders who so heroically sacrificed on behalf of others. It has deeply impacted our military personnel, who have waged a two-decade-long war on terror. And so today, we remember all who have given the ultimate sacrifice in the past 20 years. We grieve with those who have lost loved ones. And we honor those who have given of themselves to help us all be more safe and secure.

For many of us, especially those who lost friends and family in the attacks, even 20 years later it can feel as though there is little respite from the waves of grief and uncertainty that continue to wash over us when we think about that day and all that has transpired since. Where is hope to be found? How can we navigate grief and find our way best way forward in a protracted season of complexity and challenge?

To begin, we can find hope in knowing that we are not alone. When we are isolated from one another, grief can become overwhelming. It can feel as though we should shut out our grief rather than embrace and work through it. It can feel like we should just toughen up (or give up) rather than turn to one another for support. There is comfort to be found in grieving together, in sharing our memories together, and in working to move forward together. While no one person’s experience may be able to be fully understood by others, we can take a step closer to healing when we remember that we are not alone.

Moreover, when we share our grief with others and take time to be honest with one another about our pain, our anger, and our sorrow–  we actually become stronger and more resilient people. There is also hope to be found in honestly sharing our stories, even when those stories are hard to tell or listen to. Doing so is one of the most powerful antidotes to grief, which too often grows stronger in isolation. There is something healing about being able to tell your story — and it is inspiring to witness 20 years on, that we can heal together as we honor those who were lost, by telling their stories.

There is, for example, the story of Captain Patrick Brown, a New York firefighter whose last recorded words, from the 35th floor of the North Tower, were, “This is 3 Truck, and we’re still heading up.” Even when his own life was in peril, Captain Brown’s final moments were dedicated to the rescue of others. His story is a remarkable testament to what a life of selflessness looks like, and by telling his story, as the 9/11 Memorial in New York City does, we can honor him and strive to bring his sacrificial spirit into our own lives and relationships.

By both telling the stories of those we have lost and sharing our own stories of grief with others, we can work through our pain in a healthy and uplifting way. Doing this kind of work sometimes requires help, though. So if you are struggling and need support, there are a number of resources for families who suffered losses due to the events of 9/11, including Tuesday’s Children and the September 11th Families Association.

The anniversaries of tragic days are never easy to navigate. For many, they bring up a range of powerful emotions, from rage to deep sorrow. But on this day, it is our hope that we can grieve together, that we can remember that we are not alone, and that we can honor those whose lives were lost by continuing to share their stories.

We at Well Being Trust hope you will join us today in honoring and remembering those we have lost by sharing their stories and by sharing your story with those around you.

To listen to recorded interviews with responders, survivors, 9/11 family members, and others affected by the attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and near Shanksville, Pennsylvania visit the 9/11 Memorial website here.