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9/11: The Grief of Ordinary Americans

AP Photo / Mark Lennihan

9/11: The Grief of Ordinary Americans

When terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001 – killing nearly 3,000 people in the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and aboard four passenger jets – Legacy.com was a young internet company serving families, funeral homes, and newspapers in the online obituary space. By 2001, Legacy.com recognized that our online Guest Books, because we screen each message before it appears online, were uniquely safe spaces for those dealing with a loss to share and grieve together. In the wake of 9/11, we knew one way we could help was to provide a Guest Book for each of the thousands of victims

Fifteen years later, a few of us who were at the company then are still here, and we remember the weeks and months after the attacks as a defining moment in our careers. 

As we reviewed messages in Guest Books for the victims of 9/11 – a quarter of a million entries over the past 15 years – we became intimately familiar with the grief their families and friends were going through, as well as the grief ordinary Americans without a connection to a victim were experiencing. Spouses wrote directly to their lost partners to update them on how their children were doing. Friends talked about how much victims were missed. Strangers paid tribute to someone whose story touched them for whatever reason. As years passed, it became more common to read messages from the children of victims as they grew older.

Nearly every message is powerful in one way or another. On this 15th anniversary of 9/11, we have collected a selection of entries that are particularly moving.

December 18, 2014

Hi daddy.. It's me. I have been very curious recently, and have found myself wanting to know what happened that day. I have been crying every night for the past week when I started learning more and more about that day. I just now stumbled across this tribute page and have read every single kind comment (the whole entire time smiling and crying). I can't say I wish I knew you, because from everything I have been told I have a pretty general idea of what an amazing person you were. But I do wish I could remember you, and I wish I could have you here when life becomes too heavy on my shoulders. I love you.

Hope Murphy in the Guest Book for her father, Christopher Murphy – Hope was just 2 when he died. 

September 9, 2011

Thank you for saving my husband on that day. You pulled him from the concourse, got him out and put him into an ambulance before you ran back in to save more lives. I didn’t even know him then, but your selflessness and extreme courage is to this day changing the course of lives. Please know that the man you saved is doing great things as a foster parent to children in need. He is a wonderful father to these children. Your legacy lives on in him, and in them, and in everything they and their children and their children’s children will do. They will know about you. You will never, ever be forgotten.

Melanie S. in the Guest Book for Robert Fazio

June 9, 2011

I’ve been visiting David’s guestbook for the almost ten years it has been since that awful day. Each time, intending to leave an entry but somehow incapable of doing so. Thank you, everyone who has left such wonderful notes. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of my entire family. I’ve laughed and cried through this more times than I care to look at. This has been as fitting a tribute to David as I have seen, and that is true only for the incredible stories, comments and testimonies of his many friends and loved ones posted here.

Scott Brady in the Guest Book for his brother, David Brady

March 30, 2010

Dear daddy,
Its been almost nine years since you passed away. While i once was your little girl, im almost all grown up today. I'd give anything to have you still with us ,even though your not here you influenced me in so many ways. While ive never really looked at the websites before, its nice to see how you influenced other people, and are missed by not only me. I love you daddy and i hope your looking down and are proud of not only me, but of amanda and michelle and of whom we have become and of all the things we will do as we grow older until we finally go to be with you.
with all my love,
Maria

Maria in the Guest Book for her father, Carlos Dominguez

September 11, 2009

To the entire family of Andrew J. Bailey, my prayers are with you on this 8 year anniversary of your great loss. I lived on Long Island on 9/11/01 and my husband was a steelworker who went into the city on 9/12 to help the rescue workers. In October 2001, I went into the city with my mother and read Veronica's letter to her Dad that was part of a memorial near Ground Zero. I took a picture of her letter as my Mom and I cried. Every year since, I look at that picture and read her letter explaining how very much she missed her Daddy and how she was praying for his return. It breaks my heart. As I am streaming the live coverage of the memorial service on CNN, I decided to google Veronica's name and see if I could put some of the pieces together. (I don't know why it took me 8 years to think of this..) I came across this site and feel comforted in seeing how Andrew's memory lives on. I pray for you Veronica and know that the true heart felt expressions you wrote at that time continue to live on and have touched my life.

Sandy Schnettler in the Guest Book for Andrew J. Bailey

September 12, 2006

I met Scott in 7th grade and spent my high school days sitting behind him (alphabetical order). Over the years we established quite a relationship this way - making jokes, laughing, cheating, drawing, passing notes. After college we slowly drifted apart but stayed informed of each other through mutual friends. I treasure that about 2 months before September 11th I went to see his and Liz's new house and felt I had started the process of reconnecting with him. He seemed so at peace with his life - so happy at where he was in life. We planned to "hang out" again sometime after his wedding. I am so glad that I went that day - I hadn't seen him in years. I can remember hugging him goodbye and it feeling like cuddling in an old familiar blanket. In our yearbook Scott wrote to me, "You make me feel special and important". I hope that all those years later he still reflected on our friendship that way.

We shared so much of our adolescent tribulations with each other and I have a recurring dream where he's crying and he tells me he misses his family so much and I try to comfort him like we did each other when we were teenagers. The dream feels so real and I wake up feeling like I just saw him again. I like to believe that I did - that he really did visit me.

Rachel Brenner in the Guest Book for Scott Bart

March 1, 2002

Years before their paths would cross, a beautiful woman named Teresa, sat in L.A and wistfully described the man of her dreams.

He'd be someone who loved The Hobbit, could make her laugh till she cried, would be a great Dad and - weird as it was - had good teeth.

Back then - in ‘89, we laughed at her kooky wish, figured LA wasn't the place to check a man's teeth - let alone reading habits - and as the years passed, suspected that her plea to God had fallen on deaf ears.

But Teresa never gave up on her dream. She knew he was out there somewhere and it was simply a matter of time before she found him.

And so began her search - from west coast to east - looking for an allusive Hobbit-reading comic who surely had a list of requirements in a woman that was equally as odd as hers.

After many years, her quest led her to the concrete jungles of NYC. Not known for its hoards of bachelors nor the inhabitant's toothy grins, Teresa remained steadfast, leaving no head unturned in her search for the perfect man.

Then some how - one day - she found him! Right there in her workplace, larger than life and bossing her around!

Micky was her Prince Charming, her Fonzie and her Hobbit all rolled into one. He made her laugh, made her feel whole, serenaded her off-key until the neighbours moved and most of all, loved her more than she'd ever dreamed possible.

The short years that followed were filled with a warmth and intensity of love that most of us only ever read about in novels. But, as with too many best sellers these days, the plot was to take a cruel twist. Sept 11 committed its biggest evil when, soon after the birth of their first child, this new father was torn from his family.

Liam - their son - will in years to come, prove that Micky's wonderfully wacky legacy lives on. His giggles will fill every room in the same way that his father's laughter did. And his kisses will wipe away his mother's tears and fill her world with a pure and unconditional love. This new love will be the therapeutic medicine that helps heal Teresa’s heart and make her eyes, eventually, dance again.

Why God chose this path for a woman who had never so much as squished an ant and why Micky was taken in this way, at this time - I'll be sure to ask the Lord above when my time comes.

Until that moment - know well that love, when found, does not leave us as does the fickle body. Wherever you go, whatever you feel, those who were once the very essence of our spirits will forever form an irrevocable part of our souls.

God bless, MC. You will always be with us.

Chantal Dunbar in the Guest Book for Michael J. Cunningham

September 11, 2001

May the sorrow in your heart be lightened by the warm memories of times shared. May you always feel the warmth of love surround you. Our hearts cry with you.

America Cries

We see your sorrow-
and our hearts cry....
We can not erase your pain
but you do not have to face the anguish alone-for we-
-the American people-
are beside you.
We so desperately want to have the touch that brings you comfort,
the strength that gives you courage,
and the words to lighten your spirits.
And when we are left speechless
may the silence of our nation weave love into your hearts
to ease your sorrow.
May you find healing through our nation's strength as we-
-the American people-
face this difficult time together. Our hearts are with you.

Teresa Jahn in each and every of the almost 3,000 Guest Books for those lost on September 11, 2001