Category Archives: Death of a Friend

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Why Murder Never Goes Away

I can’t help but think about all the families affected today by the media reports that the Libya’s dictator, Moammar Gadhafi is dead.

All the families around the world whose lives were irreparably damaged by the commands and actions of this man will once again be thrown into the past revisiting horrific memories of sorrow and loss.

The closest to me, as fellow memories of survivors of homicide groups at the time, were the families of the Syracuse University students who were simply returning a few days before Christmas on Pan Am 103 in December, 1988. These young people had enjoyed a wonderful semester abroad and were coming home for the holiday season through New York’s JFK airport. But they never made it.

It took decades for these 270 victims’ families to get the cooperation of our own government to press for those responsible for the downing of this aircraft and it all led back to Gadhafi. And little justice was ever achieved.

Only months ago, the man supposedly responsible was released from prison because he was terminally ill. After all, we must be compassionate, now shouldn’t we?

As the news of Gadhafi’s death starts to move onto the airwaves, it will only be a few hours until the famous picture of the nose of Pan Am 103 will be up in all forms of media, thus bringing back the sad memories for these families.

I remember specifically one mother whose son was killed on Pan Am 103 and also a student at Syracuse University in upstate New York, telling me how every time she saw that picture of the plane’s nose, it pierced her heart. It brought all the pain and memories back again. It just never seemed to go away.

Well it’s been nearly 23 years since she and the other families both in the United States and those killed on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland have memorialized their loved ones.

Today, all that pain, all those memories will rush back in.

But I’d like to believe that instead, these US families and families all around the world who were affected by the orders of this ruthless killer, will finally feel some sense of justice, relief and satisfaction today, with the death of this vicious man.

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9/11: Experiences, Reflections, Changes

I spent the summer of 2001 writing my book Understanding Your Grieving Heart After a Loved One’s Death. The evening before 9/11 I was developing the press plan and rejoicing because the printer had called that Monday to say the galleys had been shipped via UPS and I should expect them in a few days. Those books didn’t arrive for over four weeks.

Since I worked through the night, it was my former husband who woke me to the words, “Mar, I think you better get up…a plane has hit the World Trade Center.”

Stunned and still trying to wake up and comprehend what he said, something inside knew this was intensely serious and I jumped from bed and ran to the living room in our Central Florida home.

I remember standing there in the middle of the room with my mouth open and my hands covering it. I never sat down. We just stood there, almost at attention, in reverence of all that was happening to my beloved city where I lived most of my life.

I thought of all the people who worked in those towers and we estimated there would be nearly 25,000 people in each of them. Just the thought of losing 50,000 people was incomprehensible.

Being the video queen that I was back then, and to some degree still am, I immediately searched for VCR tapes (back then) and popped one in. I asked my husband to continue taping and we did just that, taping all the events for nearly a week.

There were times over the last ten years when I wanted to watch that footage again, but it was just too sad. Perhaps one day I will move it to DVD and have it available for a long lost weekend.

I started to think of all the people who might be there whom I knew. There were many.

First my cousin, Peter. He had been a FDNY firefighter for many years, like his father, my Uncle Pete before him, and had taken the Lieutenant’s test. It took a while to find out he was safe, but had lost so many of his friends that day.

He would spend weeks down at the Trade Center in the recovery effort and on the next Sunday was promoted to Lieutenant since so many had perished. It was a bittersweet moment and one our family will never forget. We still have the picture of him in his dress blues with his devoted and wonderfully supportive wife, Maureen by his side as he held his first daughter, Kaitlin, only a few years old then.

Later we would talk via instant messenger usually after midnight when he couldn’t sleep and I remember how difficult it was for him. And why wouldn’t it be. He had been to dozens of funerals and being such an amazing man, his heart was always so giving and loving toward everyone he knew and even those he didn’t.

To this day, I have such great respect for him and such deep appreciation for all he’s been through during the past ten years.

As the days passed, we heard about my cousin Sharon’s husband, Mike who lost his cousin. His aunt was devastated and although I never met her, I remember sending a bunch of my books for a fundraiser they did on Staten Island. I was glad to do that.

We also heard about my cousin’s husband, Brian, who works for Port Authority and lost many friends but also almost lost his life trying to get out of the towers, walking dozens of flights to safety.

Years later, I would hear his story in person when we had a chance to reflect, ironically when I was recovering from a life-threatening accident and he graciously would pick me up and bring me to church.

Both Brian and Peter were so steadfast in their willingness to help me when I was recovering from all those broken bones, and I will never forget their love and care for me.

Then there was my brother’s former girlfriend, Nina, who lost her brother Andrew in the towers. I stayed with her a few years after the tower fell when I moved back to NYC and I remember the two of us reminiscing about Andrew and his life and work and loves. She loved and missed him so much.

I also remember meeting and exchanging books with Julia Rathey, whose husband, David was killed in the towers that day. She had written a book entitled What Children Need When They Grieve which I thoroughly enjoyed and felt was so wonderfully written, not to mention all the help it brought to suffering families in the years following 9/11.

I was so happy when she shared, years later, that she would remarry a great guy named Gregg. She deserved to be happy again.

As I stood in the living room not moving, not speaking, in total shock, one of the things I started to remember was my pictures. I frantically started to search for them in my boxes.

I knew they were there…but where were they. You see I have celebrated three milestone in my life in the towers.

The night I finished my MBA from Fordham, my parents picked me up after the last exam and we enjoyed dinner together at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top with the most magnificent view of the entire city.

I remember taking home the empty bottle of champagne and writing on it the date and place. That bottle was kept on the top shelf of my living room hutch for many years. I often wonder if I’ll find it one day among all my memorabilia in deep storage. That would be amazing.

Another memory was when I got engaged on the Observation Deck of the Twin Towers. While we had decided many months before to get married, it was on the 4th of July that he actually presented the ring and formally asked for my hand. We went to the restaurant afterwards and had champagne.

When my 40th Birthday rolled around, there was no other place I wanted to celebrate. Funny thing…I remember being in the elevator with Michael Bloomberg that night going up to Windows on the World. I knew immediately who he was, long before he entered politics.

It was those pictures especially I wanted to find. I dug and dug. I couldn’t find them fast enough. My husband kept asking me what I was looking for and I remember just flipping through hundreds of pictures until they finally appeared.

It was then I wept.

I handed them to him. The best two pictures we had inside the trade center. He took one of me and I one of him across the table celebrating my 40th Birthday. The lambchops arranged so perfectly on the plate…my favorite.

I looked at the booths we had been sitting in. I remembered the look of the restaurant, so open and elegant. I thought about how all those booths were now disintegrated. All that steel, and all those people who probably were serving breakfast that morning.

I have been back to the World Trade Center or as it was known “Ground Zero” a few times since 9/11/2001. The first time was on the 2005 anniversary when I was then living there again.

It was a most profound experience. One I will always remember.

It took nearly four weeks for the galleys to arrive for Understanding Your Grieving Heart which were originally shipped on 9/10, the day before our nation’s tragedy.

While waiting, I informed the printer to update the dedication. It now reads:

For those who love them so deeply
Miss them so desperately
Grieve for them so despondently
The tears of a nation join you.

Remembering those who perished on
Tuesday, September 11th, 2001

We pray blessings over the survivors of these attacks,
the rescue workers for their brave service to our people,
the canine rescuers for their devotion to help, protect and love us,
and the countless volunteers who heard the call and answered it

We will not back down
We will never forget

God Bless Our Great Land
and its people

Mary M. McCambridge (Ask Mary Mac) is the Founder and President of the Foundation for Grieving Children, Inc., a Grief Coach and author of several award winning books and CD programs on bereavement. She resides in Central Florida.

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How It All Began

About a half hour ago my printer spontaneously circled as if to print a document, but none had been requested. Whenever something like this occurs, being so in tune to spiritual happenings, I sat back to wonder what this was about.

After asking out loud for clarity, it occurred to me that on this day thirty-six years ago I lost the first person who ever meant anything to me. The first person who had made such an impact on my life and who, unknowingly, would usher me into this field of study and my profession.

At the tender age of 12, while he was 15, the nephew of my neighbor and I became close friends and he ultimately became the first ‘crush’ I experienced. And while Paul and I were looked upon as ‘forbidden’ because of the differences of our age, he was such a wonderful guy and friend who I cared for deeply.

We’d play Iron Butterfly’s songs and scream the lyrics across the room, help me babysit little ones, watch him study the guitar and try to master difficult songs, taught me wonderful dance steps and just had lots of fun laughing at his funny jokes. And like teenagers do, we stayed on the phone much too long and wrote silly letters to each other.

As fate would have it, he and his family moved away and we became penpals back then. Both he and I went on to meet other wonderful people, but his life would forever impact mine a few years later.

On this day, April 14, 1974 Paul was hit broadside and killed by a drunk driver at the tender age of 19 while pulling out of his driveway. I knew he died in the late afternoon, but when the printer circled at 4:35pm something made me believe it could have been just then.

So I sat back in my chair and just had this simple conversation with him as if his spirit was surrounding me at this very moment. And even all these years later, I filled up with tears because I can still see him in the coffin and how paralyzed I was sitting on the sofa in the funeral home looking at a person who had meant so much to me and it was not registering as to how he could possibly be dead at 19.

Over the years I have wondered how his family had been and what all became of them. I can only imagine how it affected his parents whom I didn’t get to see again.

But this little sign I believe he sent to me today had in its own way comforted me and reminded me that not only has he not forgotten me, but that no matter where we go in life, the people we love and have lost will always shown themselves to us. Their spirits live on.

This lovely, simple confirmation and remembrance today, for me, though bittersweet, reassures me that there is something after this life which we will all reach. And one day we will be greeted by all those who went on before us and when that happens what a heavenly party we’ll have!

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How I will miss you, Jen…

It was a few months back while sitting in my office late one evening opening the mail, that I came across a letter with a familiar last name. It was from the mother of a wonderful woman I had become fast friends with on a flight up to NY a few years ago.

Little did I know that her letter would catch me completely by surprise with news I had never expected to hear.

Jennifer Guberman and I met on a Delta Flight from Orlando back in June 2005 as she pounces two seats from me with the line “it’s really crowded back there, do you mind if I sit next to you?” To which I replied, “No, be my guest.”

That simple greeting was the beginning of a wonderful friendship which came to a hault much too soon. You see, it was that letter I received that evening, all alone in the office, when I found out that Jennifer had died of a freak accident in her home in Worcester, Massachusetts a few months before.

Now you know many of us have friends all around the world and rarely do we have contact info to their immediately families. When we send emails or trade phone calls on cell phones, all of us being so busy, we realize when the person’s life is less crazed, they’ll eventually get back to us. Never do we wonder if anything dramatic has happened.

And usually, if it has, they will drop you a short note and tell you what’s going on and you take it from there.

But this letter was so totally unexpected because I had been wondering why Jen hadn’t called me around the holidays, or responded to my half dozen emails. It wasn’t like her.

So here comes this letter from her Mom, which I must say, I am so grateful for otherwise I would have gone on wondering what had happened.

It turned out Jen died suddenly in her home several months before and I never knew it. And, really, how could I possible have known. Her parents had finally gotten her mail forwarded to them and there they found my Christmas card and gift to her. And thus, her Mom responded.

You know, you really are never ready to hear someone has died. You just aren’t. I don’t care if you knew them less than 3 years or your entire life. You don’t wake up in the morning expecting to hear that kind of news.

So here I was in the office, all alone, and just burst out in tears. Yes, I’m a sensitive soul, otherwise I couldn’t do what I do. But this one was a shocker. I sat back, trying to wipe away the tears which were not subsiding and I just couldn’t comprehend this could be true.

I don’t think I believe it yet anyway. It’s just beyond me, first how all those months could have gone by and Jen and I to have not spoken either by phone or in print. And also, that I didn’t know when it happened, couldn’t have known, and her family couldn’t have done anything more than they did to alert a whole host of personal acquaintances which moved somewhere between best of friends to business colleagues.

Jen and I worked together toward building the Foundation for Grieving Children. She listen to me tell my story on that plane that night and she encouraged me all the way. She offered her assistance in many ways and delivered on everything she promised.

When we were updating our database of services for grieving children, she took the ball and ran with it. She even got others involved (her friends Anna and Josh) and months and months later, the project was all typed in excel, ready for the next step.

When I didn’t know how to research a project in the most expeditious way, I could always call on Jen, my resident librarian and PR person and she’d always give me great advice.

But mostly, you need to know that she was one of the most generous people I’ve ever know. She was there for me in the beginning when I was rebuilding my life after my divorce. She believed in my dreams and visions. She used her money many times to get supplies and her time to make it all come together.

I’ll always remember how she asked how I was getting into Manhattan from JFK Airport the night we landed at nearly midnight. She decided I was coming along with her as the carservice was waiting, and after having dropped her off first near Lexington and 88th where she lived, she said to the driver “take her wherever she needs to go.” She made me feel like a queen.

About a month later we spent Fourth of July together on the East River Promenade watching the Macy’s Fireworks. It was so much fun. Or the time I met her at the doctor’s office to get her home safely after a procedure. Or, when she was moving to Florida and I helped her clean out the apartment as her beloved dog, Rooster, would run around and jump on the bags. He was so funny and how she loved him.

Or when she came back to visit for business and stayed with me at my home. We had such fun. Or when I just needed an ‘ear’ and Jen was always there to tell me it would all come together.

There are people who are planted in our lives for only a short season. Jen was that angel for me. She and I had a very short time together here, but we spoke of God and His works on this earth many, many times. We loved our discussions about faith and how it was working in our lives.

Many times since I learned of her death, I sit quietly and reflect on how much I valued her friendship. I wish you had known my friend, Jennifer Guberman, because you would have surely loved her…